Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
As something of a followup to an article I wrote a few weeks back, this week I wanted to address a video by one of my favorite music reviewers on the Web, Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop. In the video (which is posted above), he finds himself perplexed at the following question: “Does the message or moral integrity of a song’s lyrics effect how much I can enjoy the music?” He talks about the fact that sometimes, if he likes the music of a particular artist enough, he can tolerate the lyrics and message of the song, saying that it “buries itself in the back of my head because I don’t see it as a huge deal I guess. . . . Ultimately, what’s offensive is the message and only the message.” However, later on in the video, he questions this idea, saying “but then again, I feel like music and message are so tightly-knit that you really can’t pull them that far apart, especially since music is vital to our culture when it comes to communicating our current ideas and feeling.”
In our age of moral relativism, you will very rarely hear a discussion like this one being brought up in culture outside of the Church, so when I watched this I was fascinated by its logic. Other albums that have come out recently have also made some particularly big splashes in this topic, most notably albums like Lou Reed and Metallica’s album Lulu, rapper Lil B’s album I’m Gay, and Tyler, The Creator’s album Goblin. Each of these have offended a lot of people and expressed the very things Fantano is talking about here: racisim, sexism, homophobia, or just downright creepy sexuality.
And when I say they offended people, I’m not talking about the conservative Chris Tomlin-listening Christian community here: I’m talking about metal-heads, rap lovers, and even people looking to make a quick buck (Tyler, The Creator and his band Odd Future were kicked out of an Australian music festival for their lyrics recently). It’s quite normal to find discussions like this one in Christian communities — but that should come as no surprise for people who believe that there are actions and messages of good and bad merit in the world that we have to choose between. In other words, is our culture’s morality really as relative as it thinks it is?
If Fantano’s video is any proof, I think its an indication that our culture is not quite as sure on where it stands as we’d usually assume. Music, like most all of the things we give value in culture, means something. I won’t go into the deep way in which even just the creation and enjoyment of music point to real meaning in life; just take a listen to your favorite album to see that at work. The way a message is delivered is as important if not more important than the message itself — to the point of the two being essentially inseparable. But that doesn’t mean we should be close-minded and secluded from culture — quite the opposite in fact. Instead, we should be open to the messages our culture are sending to us through entertainment and art with a discerning heart and the knowledge that the messages we create, receive, and eventually live out really do matter.