Great Tune / Hook, Dubious Content

Been listening to a few tracks this morning which, while having great music has dubious content, lyrically or visually. What does it say about us as human beings that we can produce such wonderful music and yet surround it woth profanity.

May I offer the first four candidates (Cert 15) and welcome any other further contributions.

6 Comments on “Great Tune / Hook, Dubious Content

  1. Great artist (and Anglican! :-)) T.S. Eliot articulated a Christian view of art when he said (paraphrasing) that the greatnesst of work of art can not be decided solely by literary standards but whether or not it is a work of art can only be determined only by literary standards. By any reasonable standard, e.g. Christian rap (certainly the stuff you posted recently) is utterly third-rate and (compared to genuine masters like Jay-Z or Eminem) comically inept. Kanye West, for example did Jesus Walks

    . It features a couplet than one imagines Welsey Owen types would give a hearty amen to :

    "So here go my single, dog, radio needs this/They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus/That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes/But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?"

    However the song is good because Kanye West is a musical genius, whereas "Christian" rockers and rappers are…..not so much. It would indeed be great if the best rapper was a Christian, but "the best art is or should be Christian" in no way entails "bad Christian art is therefore aesthetically superior to the bad secular kind"; indeed such a mindset (however just implicit) is a slap in the face to genuinely First Rate Christian Artists like Eliot himself, or (gay Anglican! ;0)) Auden, Donne etc

    Your original post sets a contrast between "hook" and "content", which is a very odd dichotomy to apply to contemporary music. "Hooks" are as if not more the "content" than "lyrics" (pop songs are surely not primarily or even at all e.g. translations of a thesis/worldview into a different media/modality)?

    • You really need to listen to some more contemporary christian music before you dismiss it in the way you do. For example, do you not find music like Natalie Grant's "Your Great Name" uplifting?

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      What about some absolute classics like DC Talk's "Jesus Freak", arguably the greatest Christian song of the 90s?

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      Yes, Kanye West is a great artist and you are right to highlight the dichotomy of lyrical / visual content and artistic content which I am attempting to explore, but I think your problem with Christian music is not so much the artistic value (or otherwise) but more the doctrinal content and the particular evangelical culture it emerges from, both of which you are at odds with. It's almost as though you CAN'T make, that you are unwilling to make the same distinction that you do with Kanye West…

  2. U2 are my favourite band and most evangelicals I know love them! Bono, like Elvis, is someone can imagine grappling with Jerry Lee Lewis' famous line on the "devil having the best tunes" ; I'd argue that such an approach is actually more honest than blandly assuming that making rock music that has no reference to drugs and sex makes it both aesthetically and morally 'good'. The point about doctrine is not about my agreement or otherwise with it, rather its suitability to being espoused in 4 minute pop or rap songs. Isn't it something of a (justifiable?) truism that 'art' that advances a pre-existing ideology becomes propaganda? And that's in reference to novels, where the artist has hundreds of pages to play with. D.H. Lawrence's sexual 'philosophy' – stripped from context – might be ludicrous, but he's one of the 20th Century's finest novelist, whereas Ayn Rand, whose objectivist philosophy expressed in tomes like Atlas Shrugged continues to resonant with Ron Paul types, is not. I'd argue that 'party songs' for example are a more natural thematic match to the *medium* of pop songs than (e.g.) espousals of aestheticism – and I'd also argue that most people (on same level) know this, and that it's inane to judge pop songs in philosophical/ideological terms.

    Wouldn't you agree that music's appeal is largely non-rational? To me, elevating a song because of its 'doctrine' represents a curious break from what songs are most naturally for. And I'd maintain that – although I will listen to the above links! – that the Christian Music world has a plethora of artists who can't produce genuinely great riffs (imagining a scale with Keith Richards etc at the top) but are well-intentioned . Gore Vidal once remarked that a decline in literary standards has meant that we treat writers like they're in kintergarten: Johnny must be a great writer because he means well and feels like he is. Similarly, a lot of people who like Welsey Owen style music would agree with a variation of "Eminem might be a much better rapper than any Christian ones, but I don't want to hear about violence and bitches". Surely the correct response to that is : "well, why don't you just read or sing the Psalms, instead of demanding a match between your faith and a particular artistic form that is in no way self-evidently natural"?

  3. Peter,

    I have no idea why you placed these videos out there for viewing. LISTENING to music is one thing, but writhing bodies is another. Use some common sense, man. There is enough shit out in the general public to keep our eyes turned from. No need to put on your site.

    • I understand entirely what you're saying, but the whole point of the thread is to raise these very issues. I chose a particular range of videos to show stuff which was recent and some stuff from 20 odd years ago which we don't seem to find as much a problem any more (Madonna, Like a Prayer) though at the time it was highly controversial.

      And then there's the Alizee where only if you understand French you can really get what the song is about.

      But does any of that stop them being art?

  4. And Peter did give a certificate 15 warning, Steve. Nothing in those videos is substantially worse than you'd find in X-Factor, soaps or the myriad of other shows that evan evangelicals are "allowed" to watch in good conscience! That might be an indictment of society of course, but , generally speaking, its a good thing that the Church has moved on from the bad old days of thinking that artistic treatment of sex was necessarily pornography rather than art (Ulysses, for example, is the 20th century's greatest novel, and there's lots of sex in that)

    Also, I'm not sure that Like a Prayer is the best test case. Much of controversy centered around the black Jesus figure, a reaction that didn't do the Bible belt any favours (i.e. a white Jesus figure would have been just as offensive, so focusing on race suggests skewed priorities. Whereas the burning crosses – which are racist symbols not primarily Christian ones – are legitimately fair game for artists. Like swastikas, they surely deserve to have their power diminished through intertextual playfulness!)

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