Relevant online recently shared Hillsong’s new version of O Holy Night, claiming it will “give you chills.”
From the post:
“Hillsong Worship has released a stirring version of the Christmas classic, “O Holy Night”. The fully orchestrated take on the holiday staple not only features a full choir, but also the powerful lead vocals of Taya Smith.”
I’m really not sure what Relevant was seeing and hearing here. As with practically everything Hillsong does, it’s high on production value and low on actual substance. Hillsong has long turned the commercial Christmas season into a commercially profitable one for them with wild spectacles, turning beautiful carols into money-making pop songs. Here’s yet another example in O Holy Night, And I find it to be in particularly poor taste.
Here it is if you’d like to watch it:
First we have lead vocalist Taya Smith. Fans and closet observers alike will know her electronically-produced vocals from one of Hillsong’s top jesusy money-makers, Oceans.
When this one starts, Taya is standing center stage [Churches don’t have “stages,” remember?]. The theatrical lights come up. The spotlight is on her and only her. She’s wearing a gown that is, frankly, reptilian. Turn off the sound, forget the words she’s singing for a moment, and what’s the impression one gets? This is all about Taya. It’s not about a dear Savior, a law of love, a gospel of peace, or breaking chains.
Even if we couldn’t see the video, the audio alone would be tasteless enough. Instead of singing with the dignity, beauty, and artistry such subject matter deserves, she is singing in a style that is ad-libbed, sliding around between the notes with spread, non-committal vowels, a tragically affected tone, and a pinched timbre.
For example, check out the 4:13 mark. The strings [Maybe they thing the strings make their rendition more “traditional.” I’m afraid they don’t.] sing out over the relentless, artless crashes of the trap set. And there’s Taya. She’s got her arms outstretched. Perhaps this is choreographed as a bowing gesture. But if that’s the case, where is she bowing? Toward the
congregation audience. This is a Freudian slip if I’ve ever seen one.
In reality, though, she’s not bowing, not really. She’s got her arms outstretched, yes, but she’s making an example of herself. Regardless of intent, this gesture proudly screams “Look at me!”
When her vocals reenter, Taya begins sliding around while contorting her body and face, straining for notes. This is nothing short of histrionic. By 4:35, she appears to be approaching an orgasm or a bowel movement. Seriously. I have a degree in applied voice, but I have no other explanation for this face or the contortions. It is of no aid to the vocal process. It is a manner of performance that is borne out of a mainstream popular music movement that feigns passion to sell their product. While we can debate its appropriateness in that arena, it is sensual behavior unfit for any supposedly sacred space or endeavor.
Again, I’m not a prude. It just isn’t the venue, people.
The arrangement itself doesn’t add any dignity to the piece, either. It’s turned a beautiful song into yet another pseudo-religious power ballad, something we’ve been fed enough of in recent years. If you’re going to turn Christmas into a histrionic glam fest, at least give us something new.
Then there is this huge sea of people looking on in the audience, bodies swaying and arms waving as they might do in worship of any mainstream pop superstar.
Don’t be fooled. This isn’t about Jesus. Frankly, it never is with Hillsong. It’s about them building their own empire. If you get goosebumps, chills, or whatever, I guess that’s fine, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with with the Savior of the world, the renewal of the cosmos, or a broken curse.
It’s about Hillsong and their empire.
And once again, shows us how to take a thing of beauty, and turn it into a big, extravagant joke.