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If you’re always looping the “best bit” of your favourite songs, you’ll probably love HitClips. This early 2000s music player aimed at the “tween” demographic played 60-second remixes of popular tracks that kids were encouraged to collect and display on keychains. While having lacklustre audio quality and a small music catalogue, HitClips are still remembered fondly by the kids who had them. So, switch on your 00s throwback playlist and read on as we look back at the history and legacy of HitClips.
HitClips is perhaps best described in its original TV commercial where someone with an aggressively 2000s hairstyle introduces it as a “slick micro-audio system” that “sampled songs, so only the grooves stick.”
To be more precise, HitClips was a portable MP3 device connected to a single earbud (that’s right, it was all in mono). Each HitClips cartridge contained a 60-second “microclip” of a single song, like listening to the track previews on iTunes. The cartridge featured artwork on one side and was attached to a keychain so kids could flaunt their taste in truncated music.
There were various HitClips players released, each costing $20. One looked like a necklace, while another imitated those dorky BlueTooth earpieces adults were always wearing at the time. There was even a player in the form of a working ballpoint pen – because every kid wants to listen to a 60-second clip of Baha Men’s ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ while doing their homework.
Each player would typically come packaged with a single HitClips cartridge, with kids having to pay $3.99 for each new cartridge they added to their collection (pretty steep for a 60-second track, but kids didn’t care).
HitClips initially launched with a small collection of tracks, but as sales picked up, more artists signed up to have their music shrunk to the format, hoping to expose their music to the difficult-to-reach 8-12-year-old market. By mid-2002, there were a total of 80 singles available.
Let’s do some HitClips myth-busting!
Just like Poo-Chi the Robot Dog, many people misremember HitClips as coming out in the 90s. However, they can be forgiven for this mistake since several articles (and for a while, even the Wikipedia page) have stated that HitClips was released in 1999. Some sites have even claimed HitClips debuted as a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy before being transformed into a standalone product.
The truth is that HitClips came out in August 2000 after Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics secured licensing agreements with popular major record labels like Capitol Records and Atlantic records. This allowed HitClips to launch with songs from Britney Spears, NSYNC, Sugar Ray, Faith Hill, and more.
What about the McDonald’s connection? When HitClips launched, there was an initial partnership with McDonald’s where people could buy the player and cartridges at the counter with their meal, which is probably why some think it was a Happy Meal toy.
As the initial hype train for HitClips began to wane, Tiger Electronics began to release follow-up products and accessories. One of the most interesting was the Yahoo Downloader.
Despite the Yahoo branding and use of the word ‘downloader’, this device didn’t work with the internet at all. It was basically a simple digital audio recorder you could plug into your computer’s audio jack to record a 2-minute clip of whatever you wanted onto a blank HitClips cartridge. The Yahoo Downloader could also function as a traditional HitClips player.
Other accessories included a miniature boombox-shaped device that let you play HitClips on full blast for all to hear, as well as a tiny FM radio scanner.
Tiger Electronics also released a HitClips alarm clock and a HitClips Dance Bot (which ended up being far less impressive than it had any right to be).
By 2003, it was a clear interest in HitClips had already crescendoed. In a last-ditch attempt to extend the toy’s life, Tiger Electronics created HitClips Discs. This new incarnation had cartridges that were shaped like miniature CDs rather than cassette tapes. As you might expect, the players were redesigned to resemble miniature CD players.
Other than having a hip new design, the main selling point for HitClips Discs was that they carried twice as much music. However, this pretty much defeated the entire point of HitClips. Since most pop songs are around 3 minutes long, having a two-minute cutdown of it feels pretty redundant.
Strangely, HitClips Discs were also advertised as backwards compatible with existing HitClips players. We say strangely because the disc format couldn’t physically fit in the older cartridge slots, which is a pretty massive oversight.
Tiger did expand the music catalogue, but a lot of what was on offer was simply rereleases of songs already in cartridge format. Unsurprisingly, this new disc idea wasn’t enough to keep HitClips relevant, and production ceased a little over a year later.
The idea for HitClips may be laughable by today’s standards, but the product wasn’t totally unprecedented. In the late 1980s, Fisher Price’s miniature cassette players, called Pocket Rockers, worked on largely the same principle.
Like HitClips, Pocket Rockers was less about being an efficient or desirable way to listen to music and more about being a fashion accessory. Since music has always been integral to how kids develop their identities, it’s no surprise why this kind of toy would resonate with the pre-teen demographic.
Considering HitClips came out just as MP3 players like the iPod were becoming more accessible to middle-schoolers, Hasbro did well to sell 30 million units by the time it ceased production of the toy.
Hasbro stopped making HitClips in 2004 after HitClips discs failed to reinvigorate interest in the toy.
Between 2000 and 2004, there were 109 individual tracks released across HitClips cartridges and discs. However, other cartridges were released outside of major recording artists, like the Simpsons Hit Pack.
Yes, actually. HitClips have become quite the collector’s item for 00s enthusiasts and people generally interested in old and obscure musical tech. Sealed HitClips players can sell on eBay for anywhere between $30 to $100, depending on their rarity, while individual song cartridges can sell for between $10 to $30 each.
Lee is curator of nostalgia and a long-time collector of loveable junk. An 80s baby, 90s kid, he knows he had it good when it came to Saturday morning cartoons. Spends his life trying to recapture the dopamine hit of playing Game Boy for the first time and believes Beanie Babies will make a fortuitous comeback. Obsessed with everything (and anything) retro, he is your trusted guide to a world of 90s toys, games and collectables.
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