40 years of progressive diversity in Dutch children’s song program “Kinderen voor Kinderen”

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By Jorg Kennis

For almost 40 years, the yearly Dutch children’s TV special “Kinderen voor Kinderen” is known for its progressive songs. Its lyrics cover a wide range of topics, including gender and sexual diversity, cultural diversity and migration, disabilities and body positivity.

The year 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the Dutch children’s TV program “Kinderen voor Kinderen” (Children for Children). The show started in 1980, initially as a one-off initiative to let a children’s choir perform songs written by some of the nation’s most renowned writers and composers, based on suggested topics sent in by children from all over the country. Accompanying the TV show, a record was released, and proceedings went to the broadcaster’s charity initiative to support children in underprivileged countries. Due to the success, a follow-up edition was made in the next year, which started an annual tradition that holds on to the present day, leading to 39 records and over 500 songs to date.

Kinderen voor Kinderen can be characterized as a progressive show, with a very strong focus on social issues. This is related to the fact that the program is produced by public broadcasting company BNNVARA (formerly VARA). The Dutch public broadcasting system is unique in the sense that TV air time on the national TV channels is divided amongst several sub-licensees (such as BNNVARA) with about a dozen of these sub-licensees (called “omroep” in Dutch), all of which are based on a specific political, social or religious stance, or otherwise targeting a specific audience (like young people). Amongst the broadcasters there are ones that are Christian, humanistic, socially conservative or liberal. BNNVARA is generally considered to be left-wing leaning and progressive, and this shows in its programs, including Kinderen voor Kinderen.

The show was quite successful in its first decade, and became a bit less popular in the years following that. But it has risen to enormous popularity again since the 2010s. This is partly due to its current collaboration efforts with the National Book Week for Children and the “King’s Games”, an effort to promote healthy living for elementary school kids. The first four editions rose to a number one position in the Dutch record charts, and the same has happened to the majority of the last 10 editions. And as a measure for success in this day and age: the dozen most popular videos on the program’s own YouTube channel have reached individual viewing numbers ranging from 50 million to 10s of millions (the country in total has about 2 million under-12-year-olds).

969085Over the years, the target age group seems to have changed a bit. Initially it focused on kids in the last classes of preliminary school and even the early years of high school, lately its focus (as well as the major popularity) seems to be with kids in the early years of preliminary school. Also, the relation with the charity foundation stopped around 1990, but the focus on social issues remained.

It’s important to note that the diversity within the choir itself has improved over the years. It has been common in the Netherlands to joke about the posh accents of the singing kids, because initially they were only recruited in the more wealthy area of the country where the TV studios are located. Partly because of these remarks, the home base of the choir and dancing studio has since moved to Amsterdam. This greatly benefits the way the choir is assembled, now consisting of kids with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Browsing through all the song titles gives a very good sense of topics that were on the radar with kids in a particular era. Think of songs about seal hunting, anti-smoking, vegetarianism, unemployed parents, the advent of computers, climate change, environmental issues and deceased relatives. The program also covered several issues multiple times in various songs, since they remained major issues for kids, like divorced parents or getting bullied. It is important to note though that in each edition, the vast majority of the songs are not dedicated to these “heavier” topics, and many are just about having fun, animals, falling in love or general singing and dancing.

In this article, I’d like to highlight some of the songs that appeared over the years which are related to diversity and social awareness activism. Kinderen voor Kinderen released a number of songs about gender diversity, cultural diversity and even sexual diversity. It is remarkable to see how these issues can be addressed in a playful, age-appropriate manner.

imagesNaturally, it not easy to make a selection from over 500 songs. This list is therefore rather arbitrary. It contains a couple of my personal favourites, including a few that made international headlines (like the song “Two Dads”, about a kid who lives with his LGB-parents). Unfortunately, apart from the later ones, most songs are not available with subtitles or otherwise translated into English. For each of the songs in this selection, I made a translation from the original texts in Dutch. It is by no means intended to give a complete overview, or even a full transcription of the song’s lyrics, but merely to give a general impression of its contents. Also note the year of publication, to see how things were already addressed at that time.

Needless to say, I am a big fan of the program. As someone who is interested in media and marketing, I find it fascinating to see how the show remains relevant and successful. As a diversity activist, I am extremely proud of the program’s effort to reach a very young audience with an important, powerful and positive message.

I hope that I will be able to continue my tradition of expanding my Kinderen voor Kinderen collection for many years to come. Thumbs up to the program’s dedicated team of writers, composers and producers: I think Kinderen voor Kinderen is a program that is unique in the world.


Scroll down for a selection of songs (including a partial translation of the lyrics and a link to the respective video) in these categories:

  • Gender Diversity
  • Sexual Diversity
  • Cultural Diversity and Migration
  • Disabilities
  • Body Positivity
  • Physical Agency
  • Physical Changes during Puberty

Gender Diversity

Jongensmeid (Boyish-girl) – 2011 (video)

They were so happy when I was born / Finally a girl, everyone said
Nothing could disturb their happiness / But I turned out to be quite something else
My brother is sometimes teasing me / What do I want: A boyfriend or a girlfriend
But heck, I don’t mind / I am me, I do my own thing

I am a boyish-girl / I will not accept a dress
I don’t like pink, don’t like nail polish
But I cross around on my skateboard / With ease!
[…]
My dad wants me to behave / You are a girl aren’t you, he says
I get so tired of all these questions / Let me be myself


Jongensdingen, meidendingen (Boy-stuff, girl-stuff) – 2015 (video)

The party has started / I kick off my soccer shoes
We won again
But I’m looking forward to tomorrow / Then I go to ballet
I won’t hide it any longer

Because it seems girl-stuff / Spinning a pirouette, jump
I’m enjoying myself / Just do my own thing
Friends are scared, weird stares / But they just have to accept
I’m enjoying myself / I do my own thing

Boy-stuff, girl-stuff / I do both
Soccer or ballet / Yes all of that suits me
Boy-stuff, girl-stuff / I don’t see a difference
I don’t give a damn about what they say
I just do / Just do what I want
[…]
Cool hats, trying on sneakers / Pink walls, peeing sitting down
Standing in front of the mirror for hours / What colors are you wearing?
Boy-stuff, girl-stuff


Wat maakt het uit? (What does it matter?) – 2018 (video)

She plays soccer / He likes shopping
Pink is his favorite color
Of all the cars, she knows the names
You never see her in a dress

Why would you think in for him or her?
As long as you’re happy nothing is weird
Everything goes as long as we’re kind to each other

What does it matter? / We are all special
What does it matter? / We are all equal
Does your sister want to join the fire brigade? / Is your brother a model?
Don’t think it can’t be done because it can
What does it matter?
Absolutely, absolutely nothing / Absolutely, absolutely nothing

He has two mothers / She has two fathers
And that’s actually pretty cool
On ballet lessons, there’s now a boy
And he dances incredibly well


Sexual Diversity

Joris en Jan (Joris and Jan) – 1988 (video)

Joris and Jan, that’s quite a remarkable bunch / If you see one, the other is not far away
They are together in class at our school / During soccer in the weekend Joris it at the goal
At the same club where Jan is in the field
Even during holidays those two / will travel along with either one of both sides
They make homework together / Watch TV together
I wonder: What would someone else think of that?
I’m Jan / And I am Joris
[…]
Perhaps later they will jointly get an apartment
I have an uncle who sleeps together with his friend in the same bed
Then they are homos and my dad says that that’s gross
Oh man don’t act like an idiot / It’s called a faggot or a gay
Still I think Jan is a nice chap / And I think Joris is a pretty
Don’t show anything guys, there they come
Hi Jan / Hi Joris

I already know what’s being said by the others
Because they are all jealous like crazy
You can see it from their faces / That’s why they call us faggots
Which is not true
But if it were: so what?
They blabber anyway

Joris and Jan, that’s quite a remarkable bunch / If you see one, the other is not far away
And whether the whole class if for or against us / My friend is Jan, mine is Joris


Twee vaders (Two fathers) – 2005 (video – with full English subtitles)

We live in a terraced house / We have nice stuff at home
We live very normal with the three of us together
Bas works at the newspaper / Diederik is a laboratorian
I was adopted by them as a one-year old baby

I am still the single child / But I don’t mind that
That way I get all attention, all love from those two
Bas takes me to school / With Diederik I play the violin
And together the three of us watch soap operas on TV

I have two fathers / Two real fathers
Sometimes tough and also strict
But we have a real good time together
I have two fathers / Two real fathers
Who, if they need to
Both can be my mother
[…]
Sometimes I get bullied at school / Of course that’s nasty
Your parents, they are homo! / They find it strange
Then I shrug my shoulders / So what? I am their son
It’s not like with others / But to me it’s very normal


Cultural diversity and migration

Gastarbeider (Immigrant worker) – 1981 (video)

I am not allowed to hang around with the boy from the Greek restaurant here at the square
Because my parents say they are neat people, but they are immigrant workers
That they are different / And foreigners / And strangers
That they are the odd ones out
That they are displaced people

I know his name, he’s called Yannis / We are about the same age
But because by chance he is not from here
And handsome and dark, he is not to be trusted
I just keep talking to him / I won’t care
And if my mother wants me to stop doing that from now on
She has to tell what bad things he has done
[…]
I know his name, he’s called Yannis / We are about the same age
But because by chance he is not from here
And I come from Holland, I’m not trusted there
He just keeps talking to me / He won’t care
And if his father wants him to stop doing that from now on
He has to tell what bad things I have done


Baklava of rijstevla (Baklava or rice custard) – 1993 (video)

My dad lives in the Netherlands / My mother in Morocco
Because she just returned / her native country pulled on her
My dad now says to me: It’s up to you
Are you going to her, do you stay with me
And now I’m sweating
[…]
So now I have a father’s land were you can ride a sleigh during winter
And I also have a mother’s land with beautiful mosks
Two countries, that’s double great / And still I am moping
Am I going there, or staying here
I just cannot choose
[…]
Baklava or rice custard [traditional Dutch desert]
Marrakech or Appelscha [Dutch town]
Are you going, yes, are you going, no
Are you staying here, are you going along


Nou en? (So what?) – 2006 (video)

Since November last year there’s a girl in my class
Who had to flee because there was a war there
She was struggling with the language in the beginning
But now she talks more in the local dialect than all of us

She’s wearing a head scarf, and I wear a cap – So what?
She likes hiphop and I like ballet – So what?
Even though we are not all similar, we are all equal
Black white big small poor or rich
[…]
When I watch the evening news, I don’t really understand
Why is everything to good here, and so bad over there
Because when we look up when it is evening
We all see the same moon and stars in the darkness


Waarom moet ik gaan? (Why do I have to go?) – 2015 (video)

Six years ago I arrived at Amsterdam Airport
We left everything, in our country far away
But I quickly made new friends and I was really happy
But now everything changes, we are not allowed to stay here any longer

Why do I have to go? / I have my house here
It’s not safe in my country
Still I am being sent away / They say it’s no longer possible
Why do I have to go? / Here is my home
I live in the Netherlands
Who can explain to me? / Why do I have to go?


Disabilities

Mijn broertje (My little brother) – 1982 (video)

My brother is not fully / Not quite as it is supposed to be
He doesn’t see the world like us / Is also more cheerful than us
And happy with the smallest things
It is because my little brother / Is mentally disabled

My dad and mom and me / We love him very much
We speak our own language at home / And this we all understand
For us this is then very normal
But others are frightened / When they hear his voice

I know it can be scary / for outsiders that is
What do you say and what do you do / Pity, good behavior?
My aunt shudders from his kiss
This makes my parents / Very sad
This makes my parents / Very sad

My brother has a very beautiful / and separate school
Where he plays with all his friends / works and laughs, never gets bored
And none of them feels mistreated / Sometimes I am almost jealous of him
My little brother has down syndrome
My little brother has down syndrome


Rock ‘n’ rollstoel (Rock ‘n’ wheelchair) – 2007 (video)

Hey! / Did you see that?
She cannot walk / She cannot stand
Hey! / Did you see that?
She cannot stand

Hey! Open your ears
Because I can talk
You don’t have to stare like that
Or am I wearing something from you?

Hey! / Did you see that?
She can dance / She is quite cool
Hey! / Did you see that?

She is quite cool
Hey! Are you getting it?
We are the same
And if you ask nicely / You can take place in my chair for a bit

Hey! / Did you hear that?
That cool intro / That groovy beat
Hey! When you’re finished talking
Then we go dancing
But watch your toes / Because I will not brake


Body Positivity

Voor de spiegel (In front of the mirror) – 1994 (video)

Our neighbor has long blond hair / It looks like the hair of a mermaid
My mom always says to the neighbor / Her hair is prettier than that of a queen
But my mom has long slim legs / Even prettier than that of the prettiest woman
And the neighbor often says to my mom / I’d immediately trade my hair for your legs

Everybody who is looking in the mirror / Want to look like someone else
Here there’s something too big, there there’s something to small
In front of the mirror it turns out nobody is perfect

My friend has deep blue eyes / Both as blue as the Mediterranian sea
My brother can speak of little else / He also wants eyes that sweet
But he himself has nice round buttocks / My friend says they look like the buttocks of James Bond
And that she’d immediately trades tomorrow / He her blue eyes, she my brother’s ass
[…]
One is getting too thin
The other stays too fat
One wants a nose like mine
The other a nose like me
[…]
In front of the mirror it turns out nobody is perfect
In front of the mirror it turns out nobody is perfect


Physical agency

Kussen (Kissing) – 1988 (video)

I do enjoy it / When there are visitors at our home
But the beginning and end / That is a burden for me every time
Every time the come and co / I get annoyed badly
Because of that completely unnecessary, unavoidable ritual

When everybody starts kissing each other / I always want to disappear
Because of that view I always get in a very bad mood
And my turn is coming up
When they are kissing each other / I loose all my energy
Because every time I got involved in this ceremony
[…]
It’s fun to have your birthday  / I know that very well
Then aunts and uncles bring you and abundance of gifts
But a birthday is also a punishment in one aspect
When I have to give a round of kisses / the fun is over

When mom and dad’s brothers and sisters / come all to kiss me
Then in my head, I flee with a scream of help
For this unappetizing joke
But I try to  slip away from them / Those dirty old fat lips
And myself, I at anything possible / only kiss in the air
Smutch!


Physical changes during puberty

Heb jij het al? (Are you having it already?) – 1987 (video)

Say, are you having it already? / Yes, are you having it already?
That feeling as if you tummy would just explode?
Do you have once every four weeks / Also those nagging stitches
Say, are you having it already?
That uhm… / That uhm… / Well, that thing!

My mother is sometimes quite moody / And is complaining about everything
Even though we are kind to her / It’s not affecting her, at least it’s not affecting her much
She lays down on the couch sulking / And that constantly says: just leave her
It’s just part of a woman
Still, I would be glad when those monthly caprices are gone
[…]
My mom gets really weird vagrancies / And is not completely herself
She recently told me: you are eleven / It will not be that long for you
This morning indeed it came / And even though it doesn’t bother me right now
It can be pretty annoying, that’s for sure
But hey, I am now included in the row of “having”-ers
[…]
Yes, are you having it already / Or I you one who hopes it comes quickly?
Are you deeply inside / a little jealous of your girlfriends
Ah, it will start rather quickly and then you are just like them
Are you having it already?
What fun! / What fun! / You are part of it!


Het Tietenlied (The Tits Song) – 1996 (video)

Yesterday my life was just the way it was
I was playing on the streets and my class was just my class
I thought this was what is was supposed to be and that everything would stay like this
Sometimes it was nasty, but I had everything I wanted

I was just like all the others, there was nothing weird with me
I sometimes was in a fight, but I was still part of everything
Collecting soccer images, game coins, and playing with my doll
But for an hour now my world has been turned upside down

I was in the bath / Just in the bath
Fooling around with the soap
You know, using flocks of foam / decorating my tummy and shoulders
When all of I sudden I felt two humps / Where I think there was nothing before
Not much, but still, they are really two humps
And that’s not supposed to be, I am supposed to be flat
So for an hour I am in a nasty mood
Help! Help! Help! Help! I get tits!

Tits, she gets tits
Tits, real tits

How is this supposed to work with gymnastics and during summer at the beach?
Then they see those two things, and then they “got” me
Now I can wear a sweater, so that you can not see anything
Because nobody can know, especially not the boys

Yvonne also has them, but that’s just fat
Shall I tell them that I’m sick, then I stay in bed for a year
I no longer go to school, if anything I will get a paper route
Because this is getting worse when I look at my sisters

 

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