Yesterday, Mackenzie attempted to defend “Christian Music.” For what it is worth, I’ve listened to a lot of the bands he mentioned. I grew up with each of them, in fact, save the O.C. Supertones. I’m not even here to tell you that he’s entirely wrong. Those artists will absolutely give you the the sort of theological thoughts that will be beneficial as you grow in your Christian faith. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love most of the songs he linked to, and you should probably even go listen to them. Just remember that we were but angsty teenagers when those came out.
As well as Mackenzie stepped up to the plate, I’m fairly certain that what he did was point you to the benefits of certain Christian artists, rather than describe the whole of the industry. And an industry it is: there’s a huge market for Christian music, and record labels (and publishers, and store owners) know that. If you don’t conform to a particular image of Christianity, you might not even be allowed to sell your album in Christian bookstores.
But if we try to talk about the industry as a whole, we’ll find that there are at least as many problems as there are genuine examples of goodness–musically or lyrically. Most of Christian music has been derivative of mainstream charts: if a boy band was doing well (read: remember N*SYNC?), there’d be a “Christian” version, usually singing about God instead of girls (after all, His love was written on our hearts). The same was true with rock music (Linkin Park took off, and then bands like Pillar and Pax217 came and tried to do the rap/rock thing) and pop music (as Brittney Spears and other similar artists took off, suddenly there was a place for Jaci Velasquez and Stacie Orrico).
It isn’t necessarily a problem for Christians to attempt to cater to what is currently popular. But it would be better for us if we were leading the charge, rather than shuffling along behind the parade, picking up the ticker tape. By focusing on imitation rather than innovation, we’re short-changing the potential that music has to influence our lives.
The point against Christian music, however, is less about the derivative nature of much of it, and more the absolute massive amount of it that exists and is, plainly, forgettable. While there are some gems, including those mentioned by Mackenzie, there are a thousand bands that no one listened to for each of them. When the WOW music series came out, it showcased the best-of-the-best Christian bands (at least in “Contemporary Christian Music,” CCM). What quickly became apparent, at least to me, was that those 30 songs were also all that the radio played, meaning it was really all we had to offer. Any band not on WOW sounded like they were trying to be there (and not quite making it), and it was a fifty-fifty shot that any band from the album would have any other good songs.
Perhaps the worst offender over the years has been worship music. If that sounds irreverent, you’ll forgive me. I’ll put out the same qualifier I’ve had to do in the past: God can use even the least talented musicians and songwriters in good and positive ways, but we should still be striving to make beautiful music. I recommend you sing loud in church, even if you’re terrible (as I am, believe me). But when it comes to the stuff we’re producing, the stuff we’re selling and presenting to the world at large? That should be excellent. It should not be repetitive, and it should definitely not say nothing at all.
There is hope. Even in the wasteland of 3-chord songs (and even albums), we need not despair. Some Christians are making excellent music, and some are asking questions that will challenge us to be better believers. Bands like P.O.D. and Emery take every-day problems and present them in sometimes painful music–the former used explicit language in a way that should give us reason to think critically, while the latter managed to deal with suicidal thoughts in a simple and powerful way. The Christian hip-hop market has simply erupted with music that is not only lyrically fantastic, but has also broken into the mainstream by its solid production quality.
So perhaps some “Christian music” will seek after and wear your soul down with its repetition and boring lyrics. But those gems that Mackenzie pointed out? Those sort of anomalies haven’t gone away. In fact, I hope they are on the rise.