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 is typical, the Grammy Award show this year had its fair share of ups and downs — the ups including Adele’s standout performance and Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney Houston and the downs being just about everything else. However, what stood out as being particularly strange to me about this year’s awards show was that issues of spirituality and Christianity remained at the forefront of the show thematically. Framed by LL Cool J’s prayer for Whitney Houston and Nicki Minaj’s whacked-out The Exorcist homage, I was caught off guard by how much Christianity was still at the forefront of creative thought in our culture.
However, it seems as though there is a certain part of Christianity that pop artists are more inclined to address. Nicki Minaj’s performance was essentially a coming-out show for the more artistic, creative side of her branding. In her performance of her new songs “Roman’s Revenge” and “Roman Holiday”, she played her alter-ego: a boy named Roman Zolanski who is undergoing spiritual and societal pressure. In an interview with Hip Hop DX, Minaj recently explained the character:
“I had this vision for [the Roman character] to be sort of exorcised—or actually he never gets exorcised—but people around him tell him he’s not good enough because he’s not normal, he’s not blending in with the average Joe. And so his mother is scared and the people around him are afraid because they’ve never seen anything like him. He wanted to show that not only is he amazing and he’s sure of himself and confident, but he’s never gonna change, he’s never gonna be exorcised. Even when they throw the holy water on him, he still rises above.”
It’s clear enough that Nicki Minaj is, of course, not making any kind of religious or spiritual statement. Instead, it seems like she is more interested in using the imagery as a device to talk about herself and her quest for greatness (albeit in a bit a pretty half-baked manner). Ever since Lady Gaga wrote a pop song about Judas Iscariot and the betrayal of Jesus though, it seems like just about anything is possible. So what’s the big controversy all about? Should we be offended by Nicki Minaj?
It seems that in our culture when someone wants to be “artistic” or “creatively daring”, they usually end up doing something that will offend church-goers — which, let’s just admit, is no big challenge. While most people were more offended by the fact that you couldn’t dance to the new songs, prominent members of the Catholic Church have already raised a flag about the performance, even stating that it’s up-in-the-air whether or not Nicki Minaj is possessed. While the song and performance did put the Catholic Church in a position as being “the haters”, so to speak, this pop star isn’t exactly making a serious attack on the church.
Not only do I not think Nick Minaj is possessed, I also think it might be a good idea to rethink how and when we protest certain parts of our culture as the Church. We already know what pop culture thinks of us for the most part, so are we protesting just for the sake of protesting? Are we getting offended because we think we’re supposed to? If we’re honest with ourselves, is it our pride, or the glory of God we are worried about protecting?