Why should the Devil have all the good music — and Taylor Swift and One Direction too?

So last night I was still thinking about that “Christian artist” bit from Christian Tribalism Today, and this classic track from Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip came to mind, “Thou Shalt Always Kill”:

YouTube Preview Image

The bit from the middle of that song got stuck in my head:

The Beatles? Were just a band.
Led Zeppelin? Just a band.
The Beach Boys? Just a band.
The Sex Pistols? Just a band.
The Clash? Just a band. …

And that’s what was running through my brain as I went back to look at those Billboard charts.

Christianity Today had told me that Chris Tomlin had just become “only the fourth Christian artist ever to hit No. 1” on the Billboard 200 album chart. They said Tomlin is the only “Christian artist” to do so since Toby Mac, and that Toby Mac was the first “Christian artist” to do so since 1997.

And reading the list of artists who had the No. 1 album between Toby Mac and Tomlin, I started hearing that list in the voice of Dan Le Sac:

The cast of Les Miz? Is going to Hell.
Taylor Swift? Is going to Hell.
Alicia Keys? Going to Hell.
Rihanna? Going to Hell.
One Direction? Going to Hell.
Jason Aldean? Going to Hell.
Mumford and Sons? Going to Hell.
Pink? Going to Hell.
Dave Matthews Band? Going to Hell.
Matchbox Twenty? Going to Hell.

This raises some theological questions.

Is this really what they mean when they say “only the fourth Christian artist ever”? If not, what else could they mean? If they believe that all these artists are not Christians, and that only Christians will be saved from Hell, then isn’t that a fair restatement of what they’re asserting about everyone other than Chris Tomlin and Toby Mac?

Is it presumptuous to claim such certainty about the eternal destiny of the young lads in One Direction? Didn’t Jesus warn us against such confidence in our ability to distinguish wheat from tares?

How is it possible that a person can be both a Christian and an artist, but not a “Christian artist”? What would make anyone say Mumford and Sons are not “Christian artists”? Is it because of the banjos?

And how did Matchbox Twenty have a No. 1 album in 2012? And did you see Pink’s performance at the AMAs? Wasn’t that amazing?

Tribalism twists Christianity into absurd, unrecognizable shapes. “Only the fourth Christian artist ever” takes those important words — “Christian” and “artist” — and makes them incomprehensible.

So besides Chris Tomlin and Toby Mac, who does tribalism anoint as the other two “Christian artists” to have a No. 1 album? Bob Carlisle, with Butterfly Kisses, and LeAnn Rimes, with You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs, both in 1997.

That was actually Rimes’ second No. 1 album in 1997, following her compilation album Unchained Melody: The Early Years — “early years” in her case referring to songs recorded when she was 11. That album featured songs like “Broken Wing” and “I Will Always Love You,” so it didn’t count as a “Christian” album the way You Light Up My Life did, with its collection of songs like “The Rose” and “How Do I Live?” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

In March of 1997, LeAnn Rimes was not a “Christian artist.” In October of 1997, she was. She didn’t experience a religious conversion, but her record label had an epiphany about how best to market Dianne Warren songs.

(My Friday music game post got lost in the shuffle this week, so please accept the above as a poor substitute.)

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  • Launcifer

    You’ve probably answered your own question there: the Devil’s got all of the good music to make up for also getting Taylor Swift and One Direction.

  • walden

    You’re taking this too far, I think.  Why isn’t this “Christian artist” just a genre term like “country artist” or “R&B singer”?  People move from category to category all the time.  Taylor Swift used to be a “pop singer”, then became a “country singer.”    So your earlier examples about the singing nuns – right, they should have been “Christian artists”.  Amy Grant was a Christian artist until she wasn’t anymore.  It’s by genre/brand. 

  • Launcifer

    That’s a thought actually. In a sense, this weird demarcation of who is or is not a “Christian Artist” is no more nonsensical than the arbitrary classification they use in pretty any other branch of the music industry.

  • Veylon

    Yes, but who decides what belongs in a genre? The book world has similar goofiness with Stone Summer going in Science Fiction and the James Michener books going in regular fiction even though they are more like each other than the other books in their respective genres.

    Where is Toby Mac’s genre listed?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    “Yes, but who decides what belongs in a genre?”

    It’s always fun to walk into a music store and see where _this_ one has put Lyle Lovett.

  • MikeJ

     

    “Yes, but who decides what belongs in a genre?”

    Way back in the dark ages of the nineties a new coworker and I were becoming friends, hanging out together after work. He asked, “so what kind of music do you like?” You should have seen his face fall when I told him, “pop”. He felt better after asking what I considered pop and I responded, “you know, The Replacements, The Posies, REM. “

  • Carstonio

    I might have assumed you were talking about Michael Jackson or Celine Dion.

    A decade earlier, three music fans might profess to liking heavy metal but use different definitions – Mötley Crüe/Ratt, Judas Priest/Iron Maiden, or Metallica/Slayer. I didn’t hear the term “hair metal” for the first category until well after Nirvana debuted.

  • vsm

    I’ve found that the key to entertaining music discussions lies in pretending pop and popular music are interchangeable terms.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So, uh, what’s the difference? (I dunno nuffink.)

  • vsm

    In one classification, popular music means everything that isn’t art (like classical and the more difficult forms of jazz) or folk music. Pop usually means the lighter varieties of popular music, which is sometimes loudly disliked by fans of other kinds of popular music.

    I think it’s nice to think that Justin Bieber and the truest Norwegian kult black metal are broadly speaking pretty much the same thing.

  • EllieMurasaki

    *nods wisely, as though enlightened* Thanks.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    I really really REALLY don’t like it when people who aren’t the artist classify any type of music as “not art”.

  • arcseconds

     I’m totally keen to do that from now on.

    Although I’m worried that it might mean actually listening to Norwegian kult black metal bands and Justin Bieber.

    (I can probably learn to like or at least appreciate Norwegian kult black metal bands (is Opeth close enough?).   Listening to Bieber on the other hand…)

  • Tricksterson

    How about a mix tape of the two?

  • vsm

    Actually, the Norwegian black metal and Swedish death metal scenes (which is Opeth’s home turf) have traditionally had a strained relationship. How about starting with Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas? I’ve never actually listened to it, but the story of its creation is pretty gruesome if you’re into that.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    popular music means everything that isn’t art

    O_o wut.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    My thoughts exactly.

  • vsm

    It’s an old classification made by people who thought classical was objectively better than all other forms of music and were reluctant to let jazz in. Other terms for art music include legitimate music and serious music, which aren’t much better.

  • LoneWolf343

     To avoid trouble, I tend to avoid saying if a particular genre is or not art. Instead, I just call it bad art. Nickleback is art, just really really bad art.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    What defines “good” art though? Or “bad” art for that matter? You could ask 1000 people that question and get 1000 different answers.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think LoneWolf’s point is that if it’s meant to be art–and whatever LoneWolf’s opinion of Nickelback, I’m pretty sure ze and we are sure Nickelback means their music to be art–then it’s art.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    Well, yeah. My problem is with calling things “bad” art. Bad by what definition? Calling something “bad” art seems, at least at first glance, to be far more objective than LoneWolf is probably intending it to be.

  • LoneWolf343

     Well, yeah, we’re talking about art here. Duh.

  • Hexep

    One can genre music pretty decently by the instruments used to create it. Electric Guitar + Drum = Rock, Rock + Trumpet = Ska, etc.

  • Will Hennessy

     Toby Mac’s genre should be listed as “My Best Days Were With that One Band, You Know, From the ’90s?”

    But, instead, you’ll find his music under “Preachy.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Why isn’t this “Christian artist” just a genre term like “country artist” or “R&B singer”? 

    Looks to me like that’s how Christianity Today uses the term.  I wonder why they would want to reduce “Christian” to a genre though.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

     Brand is probably a better term than genre as Christian music can be of any genre. The trick is that “Christian” has a much narrower meaning within the evangelical groups who consume this sort of music. In this case, it refers not just to a (specific subdivision of a) religion, but also a particular aesthetic designed to appeal to adherents of that religion. That’s why Johnny Cash doesn’t count in spite of all the Biblical imagery in his songs.

  • Lori

    Look at the LeAnne Rimes example again and you’ll have your answer—when artists move between genres the music is different.  The only consistent difference between “Christian” artists and non-“Christian” artists is the tribal branding. The covers that LeAnn Rimes did on her”Christian” album weren’t different in any significant way from the ones she did on the non-“Christian” album. Also, artists can go back and forth between genres. Once you’re no longer a member of the “Christian” tribe you’re out for good, barring some sort of huge, public “come to Jesus” and a return to a tribally affiliated label.

  • Carstonio

    Yes. Putting aside the Team Jesus marketing used by the CCM labels and Christian stories, it’s valid to use “Christian” to designate the artist’s genre and not hir religious beliefs. As a practical matter, it’s reasonable to assume that a artist is Christian if hir repertoire is dominated by Christian themes and songs of praise. Could such an artist belong to a different religion? Possible but very unlikely.

    It’s easy to misinterpret Fred’s point as simply wanting Springsteen and Cash on his team. From my reading, his concern is about the narrow definition of Christian music as pushed by the CCM industry, and how this ghettoizes and negates the Christian-themed works by many other artists.

  • SisterCoyote

    But that’s the thing! It doesn’t even work if you’re using “Artists who write songs about Christianity” as a genre label. There are plenty of artists who write (or wrote) very, very Christian songs – such as Bruce Springsteen, Mumford and Sons, U2, Johnny Cash, just off the top of my head – but they don’t count as Christian ArtistsTM for some reason. They’re definitely not “just” Christians who are artists. Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hopes and Dreams” off his last album, Mumford and Sons’ “Babel,” U2’s entire freaking album October, Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around,” or “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” or half his later stuff… The list goes on.

    They don’t count because Christianity Today and “Christian Music” don’t care about Christianity as a religion, nor even as a genre – they only care about the (lovely, profitable) tribal markers. If Evangelicals can only buy Real True Christian Music, that becomes a very, very profitable thing to be selling.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BYRV35EWCL4AKVA3APJHDTND6A Steve

    Elvis never entirely strayed from his gospel roots, and I expect if he had survived as he got older he would have returned to country-gospel music (where an artist can have a much longer lifespan; it also would have helped fulfill his lifelong ambition of joining the Grand Ole Opry).  For a Christian artist who still used Christian themes in his mainstream work, one can’t get much bigger than that.  But he had sin in his life, and he was a deeply flawed human being, which from the CCM marketing perspective means Elvis is out of the tribe (but then, by that standard, David would be too–and his songs are official canon!)
    And then there’s Pat Boone, but I guess that heavy metal album Boone put out a few years ago irreversibly damaged his credibility among the ‘Christian’ ‘music’ scene.

  • Rae

    Speaking of “was a Christian artist until she wasn’t anymore”, at one point Katy Perry released a Christian music album under the name “Katy Hudson” and some of the songs or home videos of her singing are even on Youtube. I know, it’s sort of off-topic and I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that she still even identifies personally as a Christian, but it’s still surreal and also epically bad.

  • vsm

    Apparently, she does identify as a Christian.

  • Lori

    Yup, there’s at least one person who will argue that she still identifies as Christian and that’s Katy herself. I’m not a fan, but it has been fascinating to me watching her try to publicly navigate the fact that she still considers herself a person of faith, but her parents clearly have issues with it. They love her and they don’t talk smack about her to reporters or anything, but they also clearly aren’t down with her choices. I’ve got enough personal experience with that to feel for people who have to work through it with strangers watching.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    It is entirely possible that she has left the tribe but still is a believer.  Her parents, who are still in, thus believe that, no matter what her beliefs, she is truly not a Christian, because for them it isn’t really about belief. 

    I live in South Texas, where nearly everyone is either Catholic or a member of the tribe (and some seem to somehow be both).  I’m neither, but I believe, so I refuse to let them dictate whether I can use the word Christian. 

  • Ttricksterson

    Her parents are apparently deeply fundamentalist.  She firaty started to break with their version of Christianity when she moved LA and in her words “I met some actual gays and Jews and found out that they weren’t bad people”.

  • Lori

    Yes. I understand why Katy views herself as a Christian, but her parents do not. My point was that having been there myself, I find myself sympathizing with the family over going through it in public. It’s hard to deal with the tension of viewing yourself as a believer and having the people closest to you essentially reject that view. The tension was ultimately resolved for me when I realized that I wasn’t actually a believer, but Katy is apparently going to have to resolve it some other way.

  • Lori

    And how did Matchbox Twenty have a No. 1 album in 2012?  

    This is a good question. How did that happen? I know I’m an old now and can’t keep up with kids these days, but I rarely hear Matchbox Twenty at all and literally can’t remember the last time I heard anything from them that was less than 10 years old. And yet the internet is telling me they had 2 hit songs last year. I can’t even.

    And yes, Pink’s performance at the AMAs was amazing. I have the weirdest soft spot for her.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Pink is awesome. I don’t think it’s weird to have a soft spot for her. She doesn’t pretend to be anything but what she is, she doesn’t play the patriarchy’s virgin/slut game, and she makes some great music. I can’t listen to “Fuckin’ Perfect” without crying. (And I can’t listen to “U and Ur Hand” without wanting to dance, which means I haven’t been able to listen to it in two years, bah.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    I should actually acquire the uncensored “Fuckin’ Perfect”. I know the radio edit, but that’s not the same.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    It is very not-the-same. Oh, I love the video too.

  • Lori

    No, my soft spot for Pink is a little odd. It’s not just that I like her music and attitude (which I do). It’s also an odd sort of almost motherly desire for her to be happy, which is strange because A) I don’t know her and B) I’m not the sort to have much attachment to celebrities. Like, I was glad when she & her husband got back together because she seemed so unhappy when they split up. See, odd.

    (I love Fuckin’ Perfect. The video for that is so good. Same for Raise Your Glass. Nerd Pink rockin’ out at the prom always makes me smile. Back when I was running I covered a lot of ground to U and UR Hand and Trouble.)

  • Kiba

    The first time I saw the Fuckin’ Perfect video it made me cry. Also, nerd Pink at the prom was one of my favorite parts of Raise Your Glass. I can’t wait until my hips stop acting up ’cause I miss dancing . T_T

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     This is a good question. How did that happen? I know I’m an old now and
    can’t keep up with kids these days, but I rarely hear Matchbox Twenty at
    all and literally can’t remember the last time I heard anything from
    them that was less than 10 years old. And yet the internet is telling me
    they had 2 hit songs last year. I can’t even.

    I heard
    ’em on Letterman.  It was a weird convergence of things, since I DVR
    Craig Ferguson, but there was something that caused Letterman to run
    fifteen minutes over and I was watching the fast forward thinking,
    “Wait, is that?”

    I haven’ intentionally listened to the radio
    since 2004 or so.  My dad borrowed my car one day last summer and he set
    the very first radio station in the car even though I’d owned it for
    over a year at that point.

    However, 2012 seemed to be year was the year that
    bands started trying to cash in on my junior high and high school memories.  I
    actually ran through a list of bands from the ’90s that released new
    albums in 2012 one day a couple weeks ago.  It was interesting:

    Eve 6: bleh
    Lit: one good song
    The Counting Crows: decent collection of bluegrass covers
    Smashing Pumpkins: boring and pretentious as always
    Everclear: I call it “Art Alexakis needs money again.”
    The
    Wallflowers: musically quite good, lyrically indistinguishable from
    lots of CCM.  As such, I could not listen to it for very long.
    Candlebox:  I know, right?
    Green Day: put out three albums, I didn’t care about any.
    Garbage:  surprisingly good, actually.
    Matchbox 20:  surprisingly good, also, too.
    Local
    H: they’ve actually stuck around, but don’t get much press outside
    Chicago.  The new one, Hallelujah! I’m a Bum was
    amazing.
    Soundgarden: this was the big one, the first release since the Soundgarden reunion in 2010.  The album sucks.  Big time.

    I’ve
    probably forgotten a couple.  But, yeah, that’s a whole bunch of acts
    that were big or at least moderately so back in the day.

  • aunursa

    (My Friday music game post got lost in the shuffle this week, so please accept the above as a poor substitute.)

    I’m starting a list to remember the girlfriend of Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o…
    (I’m sorry, I know I’m a terrible person.  I just couldn’t resist.)

    “She’s Not There” – The Zombies
    “Dream Lover” – Bobby Darin
    “Just My Imagination” – The Temptations

  • EllieMurasaki

    http://feministing.com/2013/01/17/notre-dame-football-cares-way-more-about-an-imaginary-dead-girl-than-a-real-one/

    Since Disqus is going to hide a bunch of that URL, here is the article title: “Notre Dame football cares way more about an imaginary dead girl than a real one”

  • AnonymousSam

    Ugh. At first I thought that was reporting on the incident which sparked the blog post, “America’s rape problem: We refuse to admit there is one.” The link quit working for me today, but I’ll post it anyway in case it’s just a server hiccup (it’s error 503, not 404, so it might be).

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/172024/americas-rape-problem-we-refuse-admit-there-one

  • Kadh2000

     You missed
    “Imaginary Lover” – Atlanta Rhythm Section
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIc8krqspIc
     

  • stardreamer42

     “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” – Avenue Q

  • Will Hennessy

    The amusing thing here is, I had an ex who was convinced–CONVINCED–by something she read on the internet that Rhianna had made a deal with the devil due to some “illuminati” imagery in her videos (I know…), and so that Rhianna was going to be damned to hell for all eternity.

    And of course, my thought–if Rhianna made a deal with the devil, why is her music so bad? Did she have a worse spiritual agent than, say, Robert Johnson? Or Hendrix?

  • http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/ mr_subjunctive

    I’ve seen the same theory about Lady Gaga and the Illuminati. A Google
    search for “music industry Illuminati” turns up similar stuff about
    Fatboy Slim, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj, Christina Aguilera,
    Britney Spears, Black Eyed Peas, Madonna, Chris Brown, and Katy Perry.
    (Tupac, Eminem, Die Antwoord, and Lauryn Hill, you will be relieved to
    know, are among the anti-Illuminati forces, though Tupac’s usefulness to
    the cause is obviously a bit limited. OR IS IT????)

    I think the explanation is that the conspiracy
    theorists have decided to associate so many things with the Illuminati
    that it’s actually impossible to make a music video or write a song
    without the video or song becoming evidence of Illuminati connections.

    The
    explanation re: Rhianna’s music being bad despite a deal with the devil
    is obvious. She didn’t sell her soul for musical talent, she sold it
    for fame and money. If the soul-seller is willing to accept fame alone, the devil has no incentive to deliver talent as well: see also Ke$ha.

    (DISCLAIMER: I don’t actually think Rhianna’s that terrible.)

  • Launcifer

    Doesn’t anybody just make a deal with the devil anymore? You’d think they could at least go to the trouble to park up outside of Clarksdale and wait for someone to tune their guitars.

  • Tricksterson

    It’s all agents and middlemen nowadays.  Used to be Satan kept it real but he’s just mailing it in.  He’s got no soul anymore.

  • vsm

    After a particularly terrible artist he’s assisted hits #1, Satan gets drunk, puts on Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers and cries himself to sleep.

  • Madhabmatics

     if a music video has an eye in it, websites will say it is totally an illuminati propoganda thing

    unfortunately most artists have an eye or two so p. much all videos are illuminated!

  • Lori

     

    The explanation re: Rhianna’s music being bad despite a deal with the
    devil is obvious. She didn’t sell her soul for musical talent, she sold
    it for fame and money. If the soul-seller is willing to accept fame
    alone, the devil has no incentive to deliver talent as well: see also
    Ke$ha.   

    One does have to be very careful of the contract language when selling one’s soul to the devil*. Satan is the loophole king.

    *Have other people read the Jesse James Dawson books by K.A. Stewart? The need to negotiate very carefully and specifically with soul-buying demons is a big thing for Jesse.

  • Kiba

    Pink? Going to Hell. Matchbox Twenty? Going to Hell.

    Welp, that settles that. I’m going to hell too. No way I’m spending eternity anywhere that doesn’t allow them through the door.

    Also, did you see P!nk at the Grammy’s (I think that was the show) a while back where she sang while doing aerial acrobatics?  

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Pink sang from a suspended trapeze artist rig at the MTV VMAs a few years back; in the “behind the scenes” bits you could tell how impressed they were that she did it all while singing live, even in the many rehearsals they’d had to do.

    I’ve also got a soft spot for Taylor Swift pulling it back together after Kanye crashed her award acceptance – she had to come onstage and sing right after it happened, matching the performance of the pre-recorded transition bit where she was all happy and perky. They’d given her the option to skip it and wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.

    (It just occurred to me that VMA “behind the scenes” is more interesting than VMA…)

  • Tricksterson

    If Pink is going to Hell it will soon be under new management because she will kick the devil’s ass all the way from the ninth circle to the first and back again.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I apparently listened to Menudo as a kid. I do not recall this. (O.o)

  • Tricksterson

    Some things are better left forgotten.

  • LL

    Eh, “album sales” are kind of a ridiculous metric anyway. According to CNN (Jan. 5, 2012, about 2011 sales):

    “For the first time since 2004, total album sales — counting both physical and digital — rose compared to the prior year. They increased 1.3% in 2011 to 331 million units.” 

    Now that sounds impressive, but note that it’s total – meaning the total of everybody who released an album in 2011, including Adele (who sold the most “units,” 5.8 million). 

    Meanwhile, 84 million people “streamed” a single song (meaning, I guess, that at least 84 million people listened to it), “Super Bass,” by Nicki Minaj (the most streamed song in 2011). The “most streamed” artist was Lady Gaga.

    2012 numbers (from USA Today): Adele got the top album sales again, 4.4 million (One Direction was #3, with 1.6 million). That cruddy Gotye song had the most download sales (6.8 million). Overall album sales fell to 316 million. According to Spotify, the most streamed song (globally and in the U.S.) in 2012 was by Gotye (they didn’t give a number) and #2 was by Fun.

    So in terms of measuring overall popularity, album sales don’t seem to be too illustrative of that. I doubt this Chris Tomlin guy is going to approach Adele’s number of album sales this year. I know the labels like to tout sales, I guess using the logic that if people are williing to buy music, they must really like it.

    But increasing numbers of people don’t buy music anymore – they rent it. Spotify and other streaming models are becoming the preferred way of listening to music. 

  • MikeJ

    I know the labels like to tout sales, I guess using the logic that if
    people are williing to buy music, they must really like it.

    Because sales are the only thing that actually matter to labels. The very definition of quality is selling lots of copies. What metric would you expect them to use?

  • LL

    Some people would say that streaming matters as much or more now. That was kinda my point, though I might have buried it. 

    I myself prefer to own music. I don’t want to stream, I want to own. But I’m practically elderly, so my preference runs counter to the trend, which is streaming. 

    I’m saying that labels (via Billboard) tout album sales as if they’re illustrative of popularity. And they no longer are. Or at least they’re no longer the primary facet. And the fact that the labels probably make more per unit sold vs. streamed (I don’t know what those numbers are) means their emphasis on sales is understandable, but it doesn’t make much sense. I’m supposed to be impressed by this Chris Tomlin’s 73,000 albums sold (per Billboard and Christianity Today), but up against Nicki Minaj, Adele, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rhianna, et al, this number is not impressive. At all. 

    I mean, I guess it’s impressive for a “Christian” act to top Billboard’s overall album sales, until you compare it to how many albums top pop acts used to sell. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” sold about one million albums its first week on the Billboard charts, and continued to do so for something like 2 months. It ended up selling 29 million, total. 

    It isn’t that Christian music is selling better than ever (necessarily), it’s that the much more popular music isn’t selling as much by comparison. If more of Nicki Minaj’s misguided fans bought her album instead of streaming one of her songs, she’d easily outpace 73,000 albums sold in one week.

    Album sales aren’t the only thing that should matter to labels. And the fact that this Chris Tomlin guy sold the most albums last week (or whatever week it was) does not make him the most popular artist. I’d say Nicki Minaj, Adele, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rhianna and a few others still got him beat on that score. I’d never heard of him before  Fred mentioned him today, and a quick listen to his music has demonstrated to me that the ladies listed above don’t have anything to worry about, saleswise. Not from Christian artists, anyway.

    That the biggest selling album last week was a Christian artist doesn’t really seem like anything to brag about, it kinda sounds like the canary in the coalmine for album sales. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    *shrugs* I’m twenty-four and I like to own my music. This may be related to my having umpteen remix vid ideas (not the patience to assemble most of them, nor the vidding skill, but every so often I get one done) and it being hard to put music in vids without having the music file on hand. Also to how I like to listen to music at work and can’t stream anything from a work computer and haven’t got a smartphone but have got an MP3 player.

  • John

    Except for LeAnn Rimes, I’ve never heard of those “Christian artists.” Me? Going to hell!

  • Michael Pullmann

    One Direction isn’t going to Hell. One Direction is from Hell.

  • Paul Durant


    One Direction isn’t going to Hell. One Direction is from Hell.

    Since they only go one direction though, does this mean they are going to heaven? Or are they on some other course that never intersects Heaven or goes back to Hell, drifting through space for all eternity?

    Deep questions.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BYRV35EWCL4AKVA3APJHDTND6A Steve

    If we accept the notion that space is curved, eventually One Direction will return to Hell.

  • Vermic

    (Sorry, Marcus Mumford, One Direction and Pink, but it looks like you’ll be joining the Singing Nun … in Hell!)

    Pitch this concept to a TLC executive, Fred, and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.

  • http://twitter.com/richterscale Charles Richter

    This might sound like pedantic semantics, but I think that Christianity Today and the “Christian music” industry are fairly self-aware with regard to their use of the term “Christian artist.”  The catch is that the term is not an adjective-noun pairing that simply denotes an artist who is Christian. Rather, it is a compound noun that connotes a brand, as mentioned above. To them, a “Christian artist” is very specifically someone who can be perceived as inhabiting a particular socio-religious space, someone who performs Christianity as a culture.

  • Tricksterson

    “someone who performs their definition of Christianity as a culture” 

    Fixed that for you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    “someone who performs RTC’s definition of Christianity as a culture”

    double plus fixed

  • Tricksterson

    Since he was referring to Christianity Today I thought that was implicit.  Although since I did take it out of context I can see your point.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Christian music. You know, I remember a gentleman once who actually had Christian rock, complete with a gothic type fonted record which had as the title, “To Hell With The Devil”.

    I was a bit amused. :P

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    That was Stryper, probably the best known Christian metal band. They were big for about ten minutes in the late 80s-early 90s. 

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “And how did Matchbox Twenty have a No. 1 album in 2012? ”

    Same way they did in the nineties, by banking on people who buy their music at the same time and place that they buy their socks and deoderant.  Not to be a snob about it. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    He says, while being a complete snob about it.

  • Chuck Anderson

    Reminds me yet again of why I refuse (whenever possible) to use the word “Christian” as an adjective.  I’m not trying to join the grammar police here, but I think the meaning of the word is actually important!  Christian means “little Christ” – in other words, it is an identity, a proper noun, if you will.  It is NOT a descriptor of a type or method of counseling (one of my hobby horses as a psychotherapist), a world view or a type or genre of music/art/literature/whatever or even a description of a religion (WAY too much ink – and blood – spilled over that one!).

    “Christian” is WHO I am, not WHAT.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I am reminded of a scene in The Simpsons in which the family is in church and Reverend Lovejoy is reading a few announcements: 

    Lovejoy: “This Sunday night you’ll have a chance to ‘party down’ in the church basement to the Jesus rock stylings of Testament.”  
    Bart: *Snorts* “Everybody knows all the best bands are affiliated with Satan.”

  • Isabel C.

    I, um, enjoy both Rhianna and Ke$ha. (And am kind of pleased that female singers are embracing their sexuality and good-time-having in the same way that their male equivalents have been doing for just about ever.)

    I would cheerfully sentence Taylor Swift to Hell, on the other hand, because: “You Belong With Me.” See also LeAnne Rimes and codependency anthems “How do I Live” and “I Need You.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t know, “You Belong With Me” produced the University of–Rochester? Some college, anyway, did a version where singer and sung-to are both male. (And sung-to’s ex is still female, so bisexual erasure is not a thing in this song.) I’d find you the link but Youtube and work don’t mix. I mean, lyrics are still on the creepy side, but queer remixes of songs that were het in the original? GIMME.

  • Isabel C.

    I always liked the “Single Ladies” remix for that reason, much as I find the original a little iffy in message. (Sort of. I applaud the sentiment that if you can’t give me what I want, you don’t get to complain when I go somewhere else; I’m not loving the specific put-a-ring-on-it thing.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    “Single Ladies” remix? Where?

  • walden

    Genre and branding are linked — and to some extent just a marketing thing.  Possibly tribal but that’s true of every genre of “popular” music. Swift went from pop to country — but her songs are just about the same before and after (apart from a little steel guitar or fiddle in the background, and more country references to replace the suburban high school references.)
     “Christian artist” refers to people that market themselves as such — performing at events for people wanting to hear that music.  So that would evidently refer to somebody like this Tomlin guy, but not to Elvis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericrboersma Eric Boersma

    Mumford and Sons, despite their incredible overt Christian imagery in their songs, will never be labeled as CCM, because they say “Fuck” in some of their songs. Growing up in and around that culture, that’s basically what it was about: copying contemporary artists without using the profanity or sexual imagery. It’s something, I guess. I’ve long since grown out of that musical style, though I’ve kept around a few of the old standbys (Jars of Clay and Switchfoot still do some interesting work, for example). I’m glad I did, too: there’s nobody in the CCM scene that’s anywhere near The Decemberists.

    Which is too bad. I’d listen to a Christian knockoff of The Decemberists. Unfortunately, songwriting doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that CCM focuses on these days.

  • Lori

    there’s nobody in the CCM scene that’s anywhere near The Decemberists.   

    Even if they never wrote anything else I’d love The Decemberists for writing an incredibly perky song about the apocalypse and a non-dirge song about a mining disaster. Double points for the fact that the vast majority of people have never heard of the disaster in question. I appreciate that in a band.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericrboersma Eric Boersma

    Wow, I’d never heard of the Speculator Mine disaster before now. I honestly didn’t realize that “This bulkhead’s built of fallen brethren bones” was an allusion to an actual mine, I thought it was just poetic license. 

    They’re the only band I’ve ever listened to that made me look the definition/history of three different words in the same song (When the War Came). I will forever love them for that.

  • Lori

    I bet I know which 3 words :) (I knew a little about the man because I’ve read some about the siege, but I didn’t remember him without looking him up. I had no clue about the botany terms.)

  • Sam Kabo Ashwell

    I started hearing that list in the voice of Dan Le Sac:

    Minor point of order: the voice of Scroobius Pip. Pip’s the rapper, Sac’s the DJ.

  • Chloe Lewis

    Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther

    BY A. E. STALLINGS

    Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,   
    The booze and the neon and Saturday night,   
    The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?   
    Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?   
    Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons   
    And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?   
    Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,   
    The booze and the neon and Saturday night?

    (from Poetry magazine, at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/13 )

  • Jessica_R

    I think it also speaks to the difference between craft and culture war posturing. This is an utterly secular song covered by secular artists at a secular event and it’s utterly glorious, spine-tingling, and numinous in a way a Carman video could never, ever be… http://youtu.be/JK_DOJa99oo

  • arcseconds

    Wasn’t a Gregorian chants album on the charts a while back?

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Yeah. I’m actual monks aren’t considered Christian music, the label is more or less meaningless. Then again, I kind of think that about genres anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    Wasn’t a Gregorian chants album on the charts a while back?

    Yup, back in the nineties. When I went to get the album at a local music store, I became frustrated when unable to find it and had to ask if they had it in stock. It turns out I had been looking in the wrong section, expecting to find it under “Religious Music” when it was actually shelved under “New Age.”

  • Baby_Raptor

    I think it’s about content, and limiting what content the people inside the walls have access to. As has been pointed out here, there are a myriad of songs that deal with God and God-related issues, but they’re by people who swear, or also talk about sex sometimes, or who don’t have sparkly, pristine public lives. 

    The people monitoring the walls for “bad things” the people shouldn’t see don’t want their minions hearing things that might challenge them. Sometimes, even when those things come from approved, acceptable sources. See, for example, DC Talk when they were huge. Supernatural had some really amazing songs that dealt with real things Christians would struggle with. “It’s Killing Me” was a good one. “Since I Met You” was another.

    What did the radio stations play? “I’m Into Jesus.” “Consume Me.” Occasionally, if they wanted to be edgy, “Red Letters.” They focused on the songs that were ‘uplifting,’ or that ‘glorified God’. 

    It’s like they don’t want to admit that sometimes, life would throw a rock in your face. It wouldn’t always be easy. 

    Sorry for the old example, I’ve been out of the Christian music scene for quite some time. 

    A slightly more up-to-date example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhYjUapKKak

    Amazing song, that speaks to quite a few people both in and out of the “Christian bubble.” It deals with struggling to believe despite the lack of proof. 

    I’ve been told this is a “dangerous,” non-Christian song because it doesn’t “glorify God.” Well, no, it doesn’t. But does that completely negate any worth it has? I would say no. I doubt my non-believer opinion is worth much to the people who decide this type of stuff, however. 

    Anyway, I rambled. That’s my two cents. 

  • Edo

    It’s like they don’t want to admit that sometimes, life would throw a rock in your face. It wouldn’t always be easy.

    This hits very close to home for me.

    This week has been spent grieving some too-young cancer deaths (in particular one whose partner had to take her off life support, and is still waiting…)

    One of my sinful pleasures is listening to the nearest CCM station; it’s so genki, it makes me rage a bit. On Wednesday, it stopped being pleasurable, because it struck me that no song on the playlist could address grief. To the extent that they acknowledge difficulty at all, it’s about holding on to the promises, keeping your chin up, all things work for the good in this best of all possible worlds.

    The station advertises itself as “positive,” “uplifting,” “encouraging” – but its quirky evangelical political correctness bans it from being consoling.

    Very off-topic, but forgive me; I needed to say that.

  • Lori

    I’m sorry for your losses, and that the consolation you needed while dealing with them was in short supply.

  • http://snarkthebold.blogspot.com/ Edo

    They’re not really my losses (I know none of the dead or dying personally; I’ve just never sympathized before, and it has me all shook up), and wasn’t looking for consolation in the local Christian station so much as a nice little buzz of rage. The sort of tribal rage that Fred’s written about before, in fact.

    But thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=561316050 Gavin Buckley

    Yes the artists who write sons about Christianity but aren’t considered in the club is bizarre. I have had many confused moments when seeing a band corralled under the banner of “christian artist” but being completely unable to find any overt, obvious evidence that they are a “christian artist”. Particularly odd are that these days you can listen to christian ambient/electronic music which doesn’t have any singing in it at all. And yet Mumford & Sons and Johnny Flynn pepper their songs with obvious references to faith and will never be considered CCM.

    I often wonder what will happen if David Bazan comes back to the fold and considers himself as a Christian again. His prodigal son record would be fascinating. But it doesn’t make complete sense without the last two breaking-up-with-God records he’s done. And if his ability and talent resulted in huge record sales you’d never hear him on CCM radio in spite of playing Cornerstone year after year even when he has come out as non-Christian. 

    Speaking of which I stumbled across the big Christian radio station K-LOVE and their marketing this month to “only listen to Christian music for 30 days” and that hurt my brain.  Especially as the next band that came on after that was Rascall Flatts – presumably a song taken from an album not blatantly titled This Is One We Call Our Christian Record. Marketing ideas like that always remind me of this notion that you could walk into a christian grocery store and only buy christian food.

  • banancat

    Really, I didn’t expect this hipsterish music snobbery here.  Ok, you’re all super duper cool and superior for hating some popular music that the unwashed masses just love.  Clearly you all have amazing refined taste to make such a big deal about hating stuff that everyone else loves.  That’s how you know you’re better than everyone and how you can let them know it too.

    Seriously, if you don’t like certain music then don’t listen to it.  I don’t enjoy listening to Taylor Swift but I don’t feel the need to make a point of disliking her music.  I don’t even make a big deal about not enjoying Nickleback.  And I don’t look down on the people who do enjoy those artists.  But I certainly am impressed with all of you who have taken a stand against popular things *eyeroll*

  • Lori

     

    And I don’t look down on the people who do enjoy those artists.  But I
    certainly am impressed with all of you who have taken a stand against
    popular things *eyeroll*   

    There is some irony to finding this bit of reverse snobbery on a blog whose main feature is pointing out why a book series that has enjoyed incredible popularity is nevertheless a total POS.

    Yes, L&J’s work has larger implications and the potential to cause greater harm than bad music ever has or will, but still. People like some things and dislike others and often feel strongly about those likes and dislikes. The level of supposedly “hipsterish music snobbery” in this thread is so trivial compared to what often comes up in music discussions that for me it hardly even registered.

  • Isabel C.

     Um, I make my dislike for Taylor Swift public because her songs glorify stalkerrific behavior, and I feel like that needs to be mentioned. Likewise LeAnne Rimes and ludicrous overinvestment in romantic relationships.

    And there have been a whole bunch of comments getting all enthused about popular singers as well.  I’m not sure who you think you’re defending or why you think they need the defense, but…sit down, Legolas.

  • Lori

     

    Likewise LeAnne Rimes and ludicrous overinvestment in romantic relationships.   

    Wasn’t “How Do I Live Without You?” actually about Jesus. I mean really, actually about Jesus, not some romance? It’s off the soundtrack to some miniseries about Jesus. I obviously didn’t watch it so I don’t know exactly how it was used, but I got the impression it wasn’t as a romantic thing.

    The way people use the song to be about their undying love or whatever is OTT for sure, but people do weird shit like that all the time. [Insert disucssion of the shear whackadoodleness involved in playing “Every Breath You Take” at your wedding. That shit’s nuts, but it’s not on Sting & the guys.]

    I can’t believe I just kinda, sorts defended LeAnn Rimes, aka half of one of the bigger train wrecks of Hollywood coupledom. And that’s really saying something.

  • Isabel C.

    That would make it less icky, but I’m not sure? I thought it was from the Con Air soundtrack, myself.

    But I hear you on dubious song choices. The Macy’s Parade where one of the floats featured patriotic dancers performing to a medley that included *both* “Born in the USA” and “American Woman” was…kind of epic.

  • Lori

    Why can’t people get the message out “Born in the USA”? We’ve been having this discussion for literally decades now and yet people just keep right on using it as if it was F Yeah! “Merica in song form. If you want that you need to look elsewhere.

    And I really don’t get why “American Woman” is tricky either. The lyrics are not ambiguous and you would think that by now folks would have gotten the memo about not choosing songs based solely on reading the title.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Was it written for that soundtrack or just used for it? If the first, yeah, it’s about Jesus. If the second, it is if given the right context, but then the same is true of lots of songs.

  • Lori

    I must be confusing two sappy Rimes songs because the all-knowing internet is telling me that it was written for the Con Air soundtrack. Oy Complain away, Izzy.

  • vsm

    Whitney Houston’s version of The Greatest Love of All at least used to be very popular in Finnish weddings. It’s not exactly inappropriate, but most couples who picked it probably didn’t mean to make a statement about the importance of loving oneself.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Since when are Pink and Beyonce not hugely popular? Since when is someone a “hipster” for simply disliking certain bands? I don’t see anyone here who has said anything hipster-y at all. It is entirely possible to dislike a popular musician or band simply because you dislike their music and/or personality. Lots of music of any kind is crap.

    I dislike Taylor Swift because she uses the patriarchy’s good girl/bad girl dichotomy, where “good girl” falls in love and “bad girl” gets laid. She can write all the songs about her exes she wants for all I care, but her “poor little heartbroken virginal me” schtick is obnoxious, sexist, and harmful.

  • Lori

     

    I dislike Taylor Swift because she uses the patriarchy’s good girl/bad
    girl dichotomy, where “good girl” falls in love and “bad girl” gets
    laid. She can write all the songs about her exes she wants for all I
    care, but her “poor little heartbroken virginal me” schtick is
    obnoxious, sexist, and harmful.   

    Swift didn’t used to bug me that much. Some of her songs were kind of catchy and whatever, OK. I still think that most of her songs aren’t unusually horrible in isolation. The problem is that she’s developed a pattern that’s exactly what you describe. That is not OK.

    She actually appeared at 2 public functions recently in dresses that were not twee and did not look as if Here Comes The Bride should be playing over them. I’m hoping that’s a signal that she’s going to grow the hell up and develop a public image that isn’t about playing into the Madonna/whore industrial complex, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Carstonio

    I’ve only heard a couple of Swift songs, so I can’t judge the overall quality of her material. I tend to avoid artists who are backed with saturation promotion and media hype – I can easily imagine myself in 1964 dismissing the Beatles for that reason. It didn’t think of Swift as pushing the old Madonna/whore dichotomy. To me she looks like a teenager, and I had dreaded the possibility that her promoters were following the Britney Spears playbook.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Taylor Swift is 23 years old. She writes her own music, runs her own career, and likes to date 18-year old boys.

  • Carstonio

    I’m glad to hear that she’s in charge of her career and material. I’ve long disliked the practice of treating performers as golden geese.

  • MaryKaye

    We took my adopted son to his grandfather’s RTC funeral, and I did come away feeling that they couldn’t do consolation or comfort without running afoul of their theology.  The family stepped in and did do some, in the form of a video presentation about the dead person’s life; that was helpful.  The service itself was not.

    I kind of had the impression that it wasn’t okay to grieve.  This is weird as Jesus is recorded as doing so himself.  But I guess if Heaven is much better than Earth and saying the magic words guarantees that you’re headed there, all grief is is a form of selfishness–wishing you had the person back here when really he’s in a better place.

    I wish we could have done better by my son.  Good funerals are hard, but such a gift to the living.  A young friend of my family killed himself, and his friends did a service that was heartbreaking and right and true.  (And included showing how his life was all of a piece and making his own choices was a big part of it, so we should not beat ourselves up trying to think how we could have stopped him.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericrboersma Eric Boersma

    I’ve long felt that one of the truest measures of a preacher of any stripe is how they handle funerals. A preacher who gets up on the pulpit to deliver the eulogy and does a standard Sunday morning service (please turn here, here’s the reading, here’s the message — and it’s always the same: come to Jesus, like our beloved friend did/didn’t) rarely holds any interest for me past that point. One of the cores of the human experience is the grieving process for people we’ve lost, and as a preacher, it’s your job to speak truth to every part of the human experience, not just the good or easy times (or the fire and brimstone times). Real preachers are those who can speak to our pain as we grieve. The best are those who can grieve with us. They’re rare and valuable — hang on if you find one.

  • P J Evans

     When we had the memorial service for my father, the minister gave the homily on feeding the five thousand (loaves and fishes).
    My mother was snerking quietly, because people had brought us more food than we could eat – the fridge was stuffed, and some of it had been put in the freezer.
    (But at least we weren’t getting a come-to-Jeebus sermon.)

  • Lori

    Both my father & BIL are ministers and I’ve been to my share of fundie funerals, but I don’t believe Ive ever been to one involving a sermon about the feeding of the 5ooo. Unless your dad was very involved in the local food bank or something I can’t even figure out how that would work.

  • Phantasmastic

    I feel I have to point out that you actually heard that in the voice of Scroobius Pip. Dan le Sac does the music.

  • http://vovinyl.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    I think I shall never forget the experience of moving into a small town in the south and being told that my new coworkers liked metal.

    I felt a sigh of relief–not complete, as there’s a lot of racism and homophobia and all sorts of other delightful stuff floating through that scene, but it at least excluded RTC nonsense. A starting point, if you will.
    Then one pulled out his phone and showed me the awesome video from his favourite band: “See, this is in the future, where they’re executed for their beliefs, it’s awesome”….SIIIIIIIIIIIGH.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    a “Christian” album the way You Light Up My Life did, with its collection of songs like “The Rose” and “How Do I Live?” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

    I love, love, love this part. The greatest snark is that which can pass completely over the heads of its targets.

  • Rosselle Jean Torres

    Fuck you! Taylor Swift is not illuminati!


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