One of my earliest memories consists of riding around in my mom's old white Volvo screaming the lyrics to Bobby Brown's "Don't Be Cruel." My brothers and I knew every word and bopped around in the backseat having the time of our lives. The beat was funky and we just felt so... cool.
It seems like in the '80s and '90s, it was a whole lot easier to let your kids listen to the radio. Sure, there were some songs back then that were about sex and drugs, but most of them weren't making it onto pop stations. We may not be able to say the same for Brown's personal life, but even the lyrics to his songs back then were pretty clean. And, hey, we were listening to him back in the dark ages before the internet, so we were blissfully unaware of what went on behind the scenes.
Fast-forward to today, and when you turn the radio on with kids in the car, it's a total cringefest. If you've ever heard a child under the age of 8 sweetly sing all of the lyrics to Tove Lo's "Habits (Stay High)," then you know what I'm talking about.
But then again, blasting Raffi on a road trip doesn't exactly sound like fun — and listening to the Frozen soundtrack even one more time might lead to a parental meltdown of epic proportions at this point. There has to be a happy medium between raunchy sex- and violence-filled lyrics and annoying kids tunes, right?
Thankfully, there are some kid-friendly pop songs out there that are enjoyable for adults.
1. "What Do I Know?" — Ed Sheeran
Who doesn't love Ed Sheeran? This song is all about saving the world with music and love. Positive vibes and so catchy too.
2. "Symphony" — Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson
I mean, "clean" is in the name of the band, so this song has to be a winner, right? This ditty has clean lyrics and is total dance-party material.
3. "Something Just Like This" — The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
The lyrics are obviously open to interpretation, but it seems to us like "Something Just Like This" is celebrating the superheroes that walk among us and the fact that there is something fantastic about being "normal." Kids will love singing about superheroes and grown-ups love the positive message. Both will love the fun, futuristic beat. We'll just cross our fingers that no one under the age of 17 asks what a chain-smoker is.
Next Up: "Malibu" — Miley Cyrus
Originally published October 2012. Updated June 2017.
4. "Malibu" — Miley Cyrus
Y'all, if you had told me last year that I would be putting Miley Cyrus on a kid-friendly playlist, I would have laughed in your face. But Cyrus has reinvented herself yet again, and "Malibu" is a summery, sweet song with a country twang.
5. "Thunder" — Imagine Dragons
Now here's a song that a parents can totally appreciate along with the offspring. Imagine Dragons are so cool, and "Thunder" is about setting goals and shattering expectations. And it's just a darn good song. The official video might be a little scary for younger kids, but the lyric video (above) let's you listen without the visuals.
6. "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano" — Sampha
Even kids can appreciate a good ballad. Sampha sings about his passion for music and how much time he spent behind the keys of the piano in the home where he grew up in this sweet slow jam. So much soul in this song — even kids will be able to feel it.
7. "Can't Stop the Feeling" — Justin Timberlake
We don't like to overuse the word "dude" — but, dude. You can't help but dance around when you listen to this tune from the Trolls soundtrack. And it's so kid-friendly, it's not even funny. Thank you, JT.
8. "Born This Way" — Lady Gaga
Not all of her songs are kid-appropriate (we're looking at you "Love Game"), but "Born This Way" is super-empowering and Gaga's overall vibe is all about inclusion — which is something we can totally get behind. But for the love of God, just don't let them watch the official video for the song.
9. "Kill Em With Kindness" — Selena Gomez
This one has got a cool dance track and a whistle in the background that your kids will pick up and probably drive you crazy with — but, hey, how can you hate any song that's main lyrics are "kill 'em with kindness"? Some of the dancing in Gomez's video is a tad suggestive, but the song has a great message.
10. "Cheap Thrills" — Sia
A simple song about hitting the dance floor. Because sometimes that's all you need.
Next Up: "Dancing on the Sun" — Bahari
11. "Dancing on the Sun" — Bahari
This is a total summer anthem for kids who are out enjoying summer break. The lyrics are clean and the song's got a totally hippy, kinda '60s feel to it.
12. "One of Those Days" — Little Big Town
OK, so technically Little Big Town is a country group, but the line between country and pop is totally blurred nowadays and "One of Those Days" is so uplifting, we couldn't leave this fun, kid-friendly song off the list.
13. "Firework" — Katy Perry
Common Sense Media says this "unusually clean" Katy Perry song emphasizes self-esteem. It's profanity-free, has no references to sex or substances and encourages kids to rise above their insecurities, light their inner spark and let their colors shine. You go, Katy Perry.
14. "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" — Kelly Clarkson
How many times has the phrase "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" been uttered by parents around the world? Thanks to Kelly Clarkson, you can just let her empowering lyrics do all the talking for you.
15. "Good Feeling" — Flo Rida
Yes, Flo Rida is behind "Right Round" — the ditty about strippers that's the theme song for The Hangover — but "Good Feeling" is surprisingly clean and has a positive message about following your dreams.
16. "Lights" — Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding's voice is ethereal and fairy-like. This song is free of mature subject matter and full of fantasy and fun.
17. "What Makes You Beautiful" — One Direction
No worries about sex and drugs in this love song by One Direction. Check out rapper MattyB's cover of the song on YouTube from when he was just 8 years old. Pretty sweet!
Next Up: "Happy" — Pharrell Williams
18. "Happy" — Pharrell Williams
Yes, "Happy" has pretty much been beaten into the ground, but somehow it doesn't get old. And it's so fun to watch kids feel genuinely happy while they sing and dance to the lyrics.
19. "Pompeii" — Bastille
"Pompeii" is fun and educational: There are actual references to historical events in the song that might inspire kids to do a little research. Plus, it's just a really fun, danceable party tune.
20. "Hurricane" — The Vamps
The Vamps have already shown up on various kid TV networks, and their song "Hurricane" is featured in Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day with Steve Carell. This song is kinda in the same vein as Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" — it's cheery, fun and makes you want to get up and dance.
Expert tip: Common Sense Media advises parents to listen to appropriate music when the kids are within earshot. "Your child will sing along with whatever you select, so make sure you choose songs with lyrics you won't mind your child repeating if you aren't around," it says on their website.