Monday, November 21, 2011

Label or Content?

Which of the following lyrics would you expect to hear on a Christian radio station? (answers at the end of the post)
  1. Save me, I'm lost. Lord, I've waiting for you.
  2. My tongue dances behind my lips for you
  3. All alone, smoking his last cigarette, where were you?
  4. I wanna get right with God, you know you gotta get right with God
  5. You make my teeth clench and my hands shake, do you ever see what you do to me?
What defines "Christian music"? (I'm thinking specifically here of Christian rock. Worship music and Christian pop are a little more obvious.)

Is it the record label? Switchfoot brushed off the description and for a long time resisted playing in Christian festivals even though their first label before going mainstream was Christian rock powerhouse Tooth and Nail.

Is it where it is sold? Evanescence vehemently opposed the description even though their first album was heavily promoted in Christian stores by their label. It took a near lawsuit to remove their album from the shelves.

Is it the radio station that plays it? Take the lyrics above. Sometimes you can find more redemptive value in mainstream rock than in some songs that are labeled Christian. I'll cheat and give you one answer from above- #5 above is from Anberlin's "Impossible" and is played frequently on Air1. The chorus, "Take what you want from me, it means nothing now..." sounds like surrendering to God. But the verses have more of a double entendre. The song, thematically, is very similar to Hoobastank's "The Reason" yet Hoobastank pulls a fast one in their video.

Disciple, Thousand Foot Krutch, Flyleaf, POD I first heard on the "new rock" stations. Switchfoot, Lifehouse, Mat Kearney, Anberlin, Mutemath I am just as likely, if not more so, to hear on an alternative hits station.

Is it the faith of the artist? Mat Kearney was interviewed a year or so ago in Relevant magazine and didn't once mention God. Yet, he has become more explicit in expressing his faith on his second album.

Flyleaf has been quoted, "I don’t know what you mean by a “Christian rock band.” It’s hard to say that because people all have a different definition of what that means. If it means that we’re Christians, then yeah, we’re Christians, but if a plumber’s a Christian, does that make him a “Christian plumber?” I mean we’re not playing for Christians. We’re just playing honestly and that’s going to come out"

Meanwhile, Chad Wolf from Carolina Liar (not a "Christian" band) said about his song (#1 above), "If someone thinks I'm singing about God in this song then I'm honored to have made that connection."

Or go back to Anberlin and their lead singer Stephen Christian, "I don't care who listens to our records. If it helps people in whatever circumstances they're in, that's amazing, but I definitely don't classify us as a Christian band." and elsewhere, "[My faith] affects every single aspect of my life, but I'm not a preacher, I'm an entertainer."
My favorite though has to be from Switchfoot frontman Jon Forman, "For us it's a faith, not a genre."

And isn't that the bottom line? Isn't the label Christian about describing one's faith, not one's marketing campaign? If the stats are correct that roughly 80% of Americans call themselves Christian, then wouldn't it follow that many music artists would identify themselves as Christian? And wouldn't it therefore be expected that those values come through in their music even if not labeled as such?
Listen outside of the box. You might be surprised what you hear.
(And the answers above: 2, 3, and 5 receive regular airplay on Christian stations. 2-Flyleaf "All Around Me", 3-The Fray "Where Were You?", 5-Anberlin "Impossible". #1 is Carolina Liar "Show Me What I'm Looking For" and #5 is Lucinda Williams "Get Right With God".)


Brian Poythress said...

I agree %101. I am the frontman of a band, and find it difficult to explain that I am a Christian, but we are not specifically a "Christian" band. Sure, our music teaches good morals, but I think we get farther by administering right morals and Godly values in our songs than by getting up there and saying "I'm a Christian, I'm a Christian! God you are good to me, and I love you, and you are awesome, and good, and you are awesome God!"
By the way, very good music choices. I'd heard all of the above songs.

Fatha Frank said...

Brian, thank you for your post. I like your attitude. I think we can make more of an impact by living out our morals and allowing them to pour out in all we do- our jobs, our families, and even our music.

georgia high school mom said...

I actually got goosebumps as I read this article. Christ is the love of my life, and I hear him in every song I listen to. But I must say, I don't listen to music that is overtly raunchy...don't so much hear Him over there. Jus' sayin'

Ismael Aponte said...

Ever since I was younger my dad told me one thing that stuck with me my whole life. He said "just because a song has God's name in it, it means the song is a Christian song. " and while I was reading this I realized that this is absolutely true. Count the number of songs that mention the name of God in it then take out the ones that were meant to exult God and see how many are left. I am Christian and I have been trying yo find myself in music and this has truly helped me do so thank you.

Anonymous said...

The label hurts artists who are Christian, actually. Take for example Toby Mac. He is definitely labeled a Christian artist and I contend to his detriment in terms of his total reach. I have heard him called the “Christian Justin Timberlake” but he most certainly doesn’t have the same mainstream success. Despite being equally or perhaps even more talented than JT he doesn’t have the mainstream appeal and I attribute that to the Christian label. Whereas Switchfoot, mentioned above, does have mass appeal. While not being overtly Christian in their lyrics, having seen the band and Jon Foreman solo, his message is obvious and quite clear. So to surmise, content is certainly more powerful than label. I think the label helps some believers feel good about their choices but the content is what matters in the end.