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”:

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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  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


    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.”

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

  • 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.

  • Rosselle Jean Torres

    Fuck you! Taylor Swift is not illuminati!