Years ago, on an NPR interview program, I heard a representative from a Christian Music publishing company admit – without prompting – that CCM was “over-marketed.” By that he seemed to mean that CCM was carefully crafted to appeal to a narrow segment of the population, and that narrow focus probably hurt the performers and the music.
He acknowledged that many good performers who were openly Christian and writing songs on Christians themes – Johnny Cash and Bono were his examples – would never be considered “Christian Rock” because they didn’t fit the narrow focus or the squeaky clean image that publishers wanted. Basically, Bono said “fuck” in public once and forever lost the chance to be CCM.
All that squares with a recent post on Reddit’s r/atheism I am a secretly atheist female backup singer for a popular Christian Contemporary recording artist. And I have stories.:
The culture around Jesus music is even more fucked up then you’d think.
For example, there’s such a thing as “Christian sexy” in the general look required by everyone hired to work onstage with a CCM singer/band. There’s a quality to someone’s face that classifies them as “probably Christian” (typically pale perfectly clear skin, wide eyes, button noses, stick figured) without being sexy (big lips, big boobs, big ass, though exceptions are made for gospel). Basically the goal is to have a really pretty face that any guy would want to fuck, but innocent-looking enough that nobody can accuse you of flirting.
A lot of marketing departments will put together a composite person that represents their target audience. Some of the CCM marketers call their composite “Becky”. The anonymous redditor quotes CCM star Matt Papa:
Christian radio plays songs for Becky. The labels know that in order to sell music, they have to get songs on radio. Radio = Becky. So the labels coerce their artists and bands to all write and record songs for Becky….songs that will make her feel good. Songs that tell her she is good. Songs that are “safe for the whole family”. Songs that remind her of her snow-flake-ness and tell her to turn that frown upside-down. Songs that focus on love and hope. Songs that aren’t confrontational. Songs that aren’t theological because man, that stuff is up in the clouds. Songs that don’t talk about blood and crosses and depressing stuff like that. Songs that focus on Becky and her busy life. And if the artists or bands want to write songs for another demographic or another purpose, that’s fine, they can just make music somewhere else. There is money to be made.
On Top 40 Christian Radio, typically 37/40 songs will be recorded by male artists. Why? Evangelical women listen to radio, and a lot of them are lonely, and it’s all wish-fulfillment. I talked to the artist I’m singing backup for, and asked him why his latest record has so many love songs with the ocassional “because of His Grace” or “Take You to Church” thrown in. He said flat-out “because I needed a hit”. He’s as jaded as I am, though he still believes in God. His last record was introspective, dark conversations with Jesus, and the label told him it was too deep for radio. So he wrote a bunch of sappy bullshit and the crowd praises the Lord and sings along desperately to his love songs.
As the redditor acknowledges, you could probably replace the words “Christian Contemporary” in her post with “Top 40 pop” or something similar and it would still read as accurate. But CCM pretends to be something more than the worldly music that they play on other stations.