When Justin Kodroff had his bar mitzvah party in 2006, Lil Jon’s “Snap Yo Fingers” and Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” were as big of hits on the dance floor as they were on MTV and VH1, which then still favored music videos over reality television.
His party at LuLu Country Club in Glenside was defined by the breakdancing lessons the party starters and DJs conducted for the pubescent guests — a fleet of seventh graders trying their best to “walk it out” and two-step with gawky limbs and ill-fitted dress pants.
Either today’s teens are cooler than those from yesteryear or it’s easy to romanticize the past, but the b’nai mitzvahs of today have certainly changed to align with today’s popular culture, although some tracks and trends are timeless.
A DJ for Horsham-based HotHotHot Entertainment since 2015, Kodroff has since leveled up to spend b’nai mitzvahs on the other side of the proverbial turntables.
Maybe the most obvious change to the b’nai mitzvah music of today? How it’s played.
Gone are the days of DJs lugging records, tapes, CDs and turntables to a venue. Instead, they bring a laptop loaded with thousands of songs, with thousands more available online, making spontaneous song requests for deep cuts available at the click of a trackpad.
With a minimalist setup, DJs are nimble, sometimes cycling through 400-500 songs for one event, Kodroff said, opting out of playing an entire three- or four-minute song.
Technology has accounted for the change in more ways than one. With kids compulsively scrolling on their phones, their attention spans have deteriorated, argued Michael Langsner of the Englishtown, New Jersey-based Xplosive Entertainment. Minute-long TikToks and Instagram Reels have captured the catchiest minute of a song, and that’s the minute kids want to hear.
“It’s not uncommon to be playing a minute-and-a-half or two minutes of each song before you switch to the next, because if you don’t, you’ll lose your dance floor now,” Langsner said.
Kodroff calls this new styling of DJ-ing “rapid mixing,” and it’s gaining popularity among younger audiences. For younger DJs like Kodroff, the shift is understandable.
“Being a millennial, I get it. We want things instantaneously, to have that gratification,” he said.
But for Langsner, who’s been in the business for more than two decades, the impact of TikTok has presented additional surprises, namely that the songs he played at b’nai mitzvahs and weddings 20 years ago are getting requested at today’s parties.
“I have a 7-year-old daughter, and one of her favorite movies is ‘Sing 2,’ So much of that music was all the music that came back,” Langsner said.
Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and Aretha Franklin’s “I Say A Little Prayer” have dominant basslines and beats laid over them in the animated film integrated in a soundtrack that blends classics and contemporary songs.
Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” are the latest throwbacks to make an appearance on Spotify’s “Viral Hits” playlist, indicating their popularity on TikTok.
Recently, Langsner even has received requests for Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” as even 35 years after the song’s release, he still can’t avoid getting rick-rolled.
“I always get a kick out of how certain songs stand the test of time and others don’t,” said Todd Frederick, DJ at Silver Sound DJ Entertainment in Malvern. “And it’s not necessarily a quality thing.”
Not all songs from yesteryear have been accepted by today’s teens. Line dances like “Electric Slide” are a sure way to have guests promptly leave the dance floor. But the “Cha-Cha Slide” and even “Cotton-Eyed Joe” are still played, due to their ability to appease both the younger crowds and their parents, who, after all, are either paying the party bill or generously carpooling kids there and back, Frederick said.
Langsner calls these songs, and others that are guaranteed crowd-pleasers “crutches,” though he prefers not to play them.
Frederick finds a great deal of merit in keeping line dances on his playlists, however, because they level the playing field of not just children and adults, but of those who have fancy feet and those with two left feet.
“It’s something that everybody can do if they know it, and if you don’t know, you can get out there and learn it without feeling like you’re the only one out there,” Frederick said. “It also enables people that are maybe not necessarily good dancers to get out and do their thing.”
While DJs have noticed kids appear interested in doing TikTok dances in small groups, scattered around the dance floor, line dances are still here to stay.
Though TikTok has clearly made its mark on the b’nai mitzvahs of 2022, the lasting power of the app is still in question, Frederick believes. With 60-second song clips going in and out of popularity depending on the day or week, it’s hard for DJs to tell what will be the popular tracks of tomorrow.
“Those things are a lot more short-lived,” Frederick said. “They come and they go, and then so on to the next thing.