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.)

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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/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.

  • 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

  • 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?

  • 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?  

  • 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

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • John

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

  • 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.

  • Michael Pullmann

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…)

  • 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.

  • 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://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. 

  • 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.

  • 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://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.)

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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. “

  • Hexep

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

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • 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 )

  • 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.

  • Kadh2000

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • stardreamer42

     “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” – Avenue Q


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