Sunday, July 15, 2012

Christian Music Controversy: Part I - Changes & Recent History & My Thoughts

Amy Grant's 12th album, Heart in Motion, including the controversial and popular song "Baby Baby"
As a sub-genre, Christian music is a unique one, because unlike most genres that are based on certain musical styles (bluegrass, country, rap, rock, swing, etc.) the idea of Christian music is one is based on content. As such you get sub-genre upon sub-genre, such as Christian Rock, Christian metal, Christian acapella, and so forth.

In fact, a century ago, people in general probably couldn't begin to anticipate what contemporary music would sound like, and be equally surprised that music sub genres would exist that would have loud screaming genres of music that Christian artist would participate in, in the name of their Christian message.

As music industry has been progressive in many ways, the Christian industry keeping up with this progressive nature unsurprisingly spurs controversy after controversy.

Controversy in the industry can spur from when public-spotlight Christians have personal crisis that creates judgment and criticism (such as Amy Grant's divorce of Gary Chapman in 1999, followed by marriage to Vince Gill in 2000).

But more often than not, criticism has often spun from Christian artist achieving mainstream success with vague lyrics that stray from the topical genre. Again, Amy Grant was a key victim of this past couple decade with "Baby, Baby" (1991). but other victims included bands like Jars of Clay ("Flood" 1995), or Sixpence None the Richer ("Kiss Me" 1997).

But in the past decade, these type of controversies seem to have subdued and there are a number of artists who's songs cross back and forth between contemporary Christian radio stations and popular radio stations, with little discussion or controversy in the Christian subculture.

One of the first artists that seemed to make this transition with limited threatening discourse was Switchfoot who's had an incredible run seem to begin in 2002 when their songs cross over with a significant lift from the release of the film A Walk To Remember. The film, based on the book by Nicholas Sparks and staring Mandy Moore featured three tracks "You" (off their 1997 Legend of the Chin album), "Only Hope" (off their 1999 New Way to Be Human album), and "Dare You To Move" (off their 2000 Learning to Breath album).

This cross-over created far less controversy. Similarly, cross over seems less offensive, especially if the songs are openly spiritual, such as Mercy Me's 1999 independent release and mainstream release of "I Can Only Imagine." The song crossed over in 2003 to mainstream radio where it peaked at number 5 on the Billboard adult contemporary charts.

Today, songs by artist like Daughtry ("Home"), The Fray ("How to Save A Life" and "You Found Me"), Kris Allen ("Live Like We're Dying") have crossed the other direction from mainstream to Christian radio.

And of course, Country music has long blurred this line, with many country songs dealing with the topic of faith in a way that doesn't even make a bleep on the radar of controversy.

My Thoughts

In general, I find the whole conversation about these things are generally trivial, but occasionally very important.

I strongly believe that it is important for Christians to be aware of culture, including the form of media from which they soak up culture, and understand how this impacts them, and their walk with the Lord and their Christian community.

On the other hand, most Christian controversies steam from a judgmental attitude in the name of "protecting others" rather than positively impacting ourselves. So when the Amy Grant or Jars of Clay controversies outlined above occurred, the crutch of the argument was not about how songs like "Flood" or "Baby, Baby" where negatively impacting the Christian community (really, how where there?) but about creating something to complain and judge artist about.

And perhaps, we've moved past arguments of people being "sell outs" or "too mainstream" in these overarching discussions. Instead the controversies that stir up now are contained to smaller communities more engaged in these discussions or ingrained in the contemporary christian music (CCM) culture.

I think of Derek Webb who seems to purposely create controversy based on his libertarian belief and social politics that often differ (and are communicated in ways) that differ with mainstream Christian messages. These discussions are probably relegated to certain smaller communities more ingrained in this culture, then the mainstream Christian radio culture. I imagine these types of controversies will continue, especially as the past decade's progressive and post-modern Christian culture has created another layer to the conversation of faith, culture, the Christian message, and it's delivery. 


Loren Eaton said...

I really like what The Rocket Summerhas done in this regard. While putting out music with lots of Christian content, the band has only marketed it to mainstream listeners.

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