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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  • He says, while being a complete snob about it.

  • 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.

  • 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…)

  • popular music means everything that isn’t art

    O_o wut.

  • My thoughts exactly.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Tricksterson

    Some things are better left forgotten.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Tricksterson

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

    Fixed that for you.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

    double plus fixed

  • 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.

  • arcseconds

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

  •  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.”
    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.
    H: they’ve actually stuck around, but don’t get much press outside
    Chicago.  The new one, Hallelujah! I’m a Bum was
    Soundgarden: this was the big one, the first release since the Soundgarden reunion in 2010.  The album sucks.  Big time.

    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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.”

  • Tricksterson

    How about a mix tape of the two?

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • LoneWolf343

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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*

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.