Music at Mars Hill: A Little Perfume Genius to Prime Your Empathy

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.

I don’t easily give into artists who throw pity parties for themselves. As my music listening expands with new music, this cynical side of me — the one that has grown tired of Conor Oberst lookalikes — has been showing its face more often. To some extent, I think it’s totally normal to get this way. After all, if I were to get emotional at every singer/songwriter who plays the piano and has a shaky voice, I would be a sad, sad individual. Cheap emotionalism in music is just too easy to get away with these days.

Perfume Genius is the solo project of singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, and he recently released his sophomore album Put Your Back N 2 It just a few weeks ago. I’ve been giving the album a fair shake despite my gut reaction to the simple, quiet songs and emotional lyrics; I’ve found that the album has helped me to once again truly empathize with artists through their artistic expression.

But I should give some background information on this artist first because it’ll change the way you listen to this music. This guy — Mike Hadreas — has been through a lot. His first album, released in 2010, was recorded while he was going through AA after recently fighting a deadly coke and then meth addiction. Furthermore, being gay his entire life, Hadreas has gone through his fair share of bullying and fighting: “The thing is, I know what it feels like to be that freak in high school, getting the s*** kicked out of you for wearing leg warmers and glitter in your hair. School f****** sucked for me. I got made fun of really badly, I got into fights a lot, I was scared and mean and mad.”

But Hadreas isn’t apologetic about himself either. It’s just the opposite, in fact: He’s brutally honest about who he is. If his weird obsession with fetishes wasn’t enough, his official video for the song “Hood” actually got removed from YouTube for being inappropriate (it apparently features a gay porn star). But you can still listen to the song here:

So what are we to do then with an artist like Hadreas? It would be easy enough for me to just look the other way when I encounter people who are vastly different from myself.

The truth is, though, Perfume Genius’s music is beautiful. It’s full of longing, love, earnest emotion, and even hope. Check out the lyrics to “Normal Song”: “Hold my hand, I am afraid/Please pray for me, when I am away/Help him understand that no floating sheet no matter how haunting/And no secret no matter how nasty can poison your voice or keep you from joy.”

Creating great art or music is such a purely human thing — it’s something that touches people down in their core. No matter how different people are on the outside, on the inside we all feel a lot of the same emotions and go through a lot of the same stuff. I probably can’t support a lot of what inspired his music, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel a deep human connection with someone like Hadreas either. I might even go to the point of saying that we are called to recognize this godly connection — this “Imago Dei” — with everyone we come in contact with.

About Luke Larsen

Luke Larsen is a freelance writer, music lover, and indie game enthusiast hailing from the Great Northwest. His writing has been featured in publications such as Paste, RELEVANT, GameChurch, and Prefix. You can find him tweeting at @lalarsen11.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    I have actually been listening to this album quite a bit lately. I was unaware of Hadreas’ background though–that is interesting and opens up the album in a number of ways. I was struck on my first listen through at how many of the songs feel like old time hymns (Dirge and Sister Song).


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