I reckon this year, the year of 2017, is the year where I have branched out the most in terms of listening to mainstream music. Just like how I think 10 years ago in 2007 was the year where I branched out in listening to Christian music (as prior to that I only listened to Carman and Delirious?…yep, call me old fashioned, or sheltered, or both!), this is the year where I have sat up, and taken notice of many of today’s current pop songs. Not that I wasn’t that much in the know before (I knew several mainstream artists, like One Republic, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Justin Bieber, Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Timberlake, and others, but I wasn’t following them religiously- I didn’t go out of my way to purchase an album of theirs!), but it was this year where my eyes and ears were opened to the realities of the type of music people listen to these days. Partly from exposure to Cimorelli’s covers (of which you can check out on iTunes here!)- and then from there I wanted to see how the original sounded- and also partly because some of the neighbouring stores surrounding our café played pop music very loudly every single day; but whatever the case, I was exposed to more and more mainstream music each and every day this year, with some songs being inspiring, and others on the other end of the spectrum and quite disturbing.
Let me give you some context. Cause you all might be thinking that I’m a weirdo or I live in the outback or something, given that I do not listen to mainstream music all that much. And I still don’t. But let me give you all some background, so that you fully understand what I’m about to say and delve into in this post. So I was raised on Christian music, coming from a Christian family. I made the decision in 1997 to follow Jesus with my whole heart, and that was that. Mum and Dad were pretty safe in their decisions with Christian music, and despite the four of us travelling to Koorong, a Christian bookstore, every few months starting from the early 2000’s, my musical tastes were still limited. After graduating from listening to all kids stuff in the early 90’s like Sesame Street and Bananas In Pyjamas, we listened to The Donut Man, Quigley’s Village and Psalty the Singing Songbook, up until the late 90’s, then Mum and Dad introduced us to Carman around 2000. We were hooked. That was all we listened to.
But then Delirious? came along (to this day I still can’t remember how we came across listening to Delirious?, although I think we sung a few of their songs at church, and maybe Jon and I checked out the songs later on) and there was a time where we only listened to 2 artists. But in 2007, I think we bit the bullet. MercyMe, Newsboys, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Natalie Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Rebecca St. James, Michael W. Smith- we all were introduced to us that year, as we bought some albums from these artists at Koorong. I think we listened to some of these artists’ songs on our local radio station one day, and that was how our musical tastes were widened. It’s funny how events shape your life, and without a certain event, you may be completely different… Well I reckon the year of 2007 was a pivotal year for Jon and myself in terms of the music we listen to. Then the rest is history. We’ve been expanding more and more, bringing us to this year.
Before I go on, I can tell that some of you may not be connecting with what I am saying. You may be feeling very bored. And I don’t blame you. Cause you just read a paragraph or two about the type of music we listened to as kids, and do you really want to hear about that? Someone’s musical preferences, some stranger’s? No I don’t think you do. If I were to recount to you a history of all the types of music Jon and I listened to, it’d probably be very boring. ‘And then we listened to… and then we listened to… and then this artist resonated with me… and then…’…you get the picture right? Very repetitive and monotonous.
So let me instead try to answer, to the best of my ability the topic at hand, the one that’s been on my mind. About how Christian music and mainstream music do not have to be at odds, and how God can use both to further his kingdom at the same time. Yep you heard me. Mainstream music and Christian music (although I wouldn’t call them by those names, but I will delve into that later on in this post!) can coexist together, and just because you like Christian music (or music that talks about the Christian life, or points people to Jesus, or worships Jesus overtly), doesn’t mean that you have to dislike mainstream music, or music that has nothing to do with Jesus whatsoever (at least on the surface…). The converse is true also. If you’re a Christian but you’ve been listening to mainstream music your whole life, but you want to start to listen to Christian music as a way of outwardly expressing your faith, you can do that. Don’t think that you can’t just because you think your non-Christian friends won’t accept you. Mainstream music and Christian music aren’t mutually exclusive. You can sit and dwell upon that for a second.
For a long time I thought they were. I thought that artists that weren’t singing about Jesus, or to Jesus, or to their friends about Jesus, were not worth listening to. I thought that songs that didn’t overtly praise God, or provide us with a relevant message about how to live the Christian life, were not worth listening to. I thought that music had to be all about Jesus, and that was it. Throughout the late 2000’s and early 2010’s consuming Christian music was what I did. Some of it was for reviewing, but let me list some artists just so you get the picture as to what I was listening to, and what I was only listening to. Newsboys. Third Day. Casting Crowns, MercyMe. Steven Curtis Chapman. Natalie Grant. Rebecca St. James. For KING & COUNTRY. Brandon Heath. Josh Wilson, Tenth Avenue North. Building 429. Sanctus Real. Francesca Battistelli. Meredith Andrews. Group 1 Crew. Audio Adrenaline. Leeland. Kari Jobe. Jesus Culture. Planetshakers. Matt Redman. Chris Tomlin. David Crowder*Band. Hillsong UNITED. The list goes on. I think there were others. I’m sure there are others. And when I listened to the radio on Hope 103.2, whenever ‘mainstream’ artists and songs came on, I would inwardly cringe, and think to myself ‘they’re not Christian, why is a Christian radio station playing that song?’. And I would switch off. Immediately. I wasn’t proud of that phase of my life. But then one day in 2015, a couple of years ago, our musical tastes changed immensely. I reckon it was God showing us ‘hey I can use anything to further my kingdom, and to get your attention to what I am doing right now in your life’, but anyway, let me tell you what happened.
It’s no secret that probably the song of 2015 was Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”. Right now as of November 2017, there’s around 300 million views of the music video of YouTube, and with the song having a message so empowering and inspirational, without even talking about God or Jesus; it’s remarkable. The first time I heard it was one day at work, where one of the neighbouring stores (Chicabooti, back when they still existed!) was playing it as background music. I think over a period of a few weeks, the store played that song non-stop, and I probably had memorised all of the words. One night when the four of us went our to dinner at the local pub, there was a TV playing current video hits above our table, and “Fight Song” was showing. It was the first time I saw that video from start to finish, and boy was it powerful- the message being that you can rise above any adversity with determination and belief in yourself. I still didn’t know who the artist was, and at the time, I didn’t want to. This song didn’t fit in my box of ‘Christian artists singing songs for and about Jesus’ so I shelved it. Didn’t want to think about it, as I didn’t want to face my idea of God only speaking through Christian music shattering. So I forgot about the song. I though ‘well, that was an ok song, but it’s mainstream. So it’s a good idea to forget about it. Cause God wouldn’t speak through that anyway’. Boy was I wrong.
A couple of months later, in November 2015 I think, Chicabooti started playing background music of Rachel’s latest hit “Stand By You”. Again, I memorised all of the lyrics, and again, I dismissed the song, despite its inspiring message of standing by someone through thick and thin, regardless of what they’re going through. But later on, my brother Jon wrote a Message Mondays post about “Stand By You”. And then a few days later, about “Fight Song”. And a second Message Mondays post, connecting “Stand By You” with Newsboys’ hit song “Guilty”. A strange combo don’t you think? Well I read all of those three posts, word for word, and investigated Rachel Platten. I looked her up on Wikipedia. I thought ‘maybe she’s a Christian, and that’s why I resonate with her music so much!’. Wrong! I don’t know what Rachel identifies herself as in terms of faith and religion, but I am now a hundred percent sure that even if she is a Christian, she’s not overtly showing it to the world. So what about my view that only Christian music artists can inspire us to walk the Christian life? Did it shatter? I mean at the time of late 2015, Rachel was an anomaly in the type of artist I was listening to- did that mean I was backsliding in my faith? Were “Fight Song” and “Stand By You” great songs, or would I find flaws if I dissected them long enough, knowing that it was sung by someone probably not even a Christian? Later on in 2015, I realised that there weren’t any flaws in Rachel’s music. I was stumped.
Early 2016 was when we bought Rachel’s debut album Wildfire and it was in that year that our idea of music expanded and shifted to what it is today. It was when I discovered that mainstream music isn’t the worst thing that I made it out to be. And then I, like any other inquisitive person, investigated, and discovered that many ‘mainstream artists’ were artists I had already listened to and were a fan of. U2, Switchfoot, Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood, Lifehouse, Owl City, Skillet, Daughtry, Brooke Fraser, needtobreathe, Flyleaf and Relient K were a few artists that I found out in 2016 were predominately ministering to the mainstream, although these artists were outspoken Christians, and their work was sold in Koorong, so that didn’t count! In July 2016 though, country artist Hillary Scott, one third of Lady Antebellum, released a worship project full of hymns and original work, and I was puzzled, yet equally happy. Though I didn’t even know prior to the album that Hillary was a Christian, I was glad that she was, and is as outspoken as ever in her faith, of which I had no idea. But then I got thinking.
Faith, and the openness to what you believe, is a very private thing. But that doesn’t mean you should stop serving God in the marketplace, in the area that you are planted in. In the very area of Bankstown, where our café is right now, we are ministering to people, even if they do not know it. We are doing church there, even if they do not know it. And we are sharing the love of Jesus with them, even if they do not know it. But, do we overtly share the gospel? Do we stand up on the tables, and proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, and tell every Muslim that buys coffee to ‘repent, for the kingdom of God is upon us’? Do we tall every customer ‘God told me to pray for you, so Dear Heavenly Father…’? Do we tell every person who’s not of our faith that they’re going to hell, and that they better get their life in order? No, we don’t. The Bible tells us to be shrewd as serpents, and as gentle as doves when it comes to matters of a sensitive nature, and it also tells us to be all things to all men. So in that respect, what we’re doing in Bankstown can be applied to what Christians artists in mainstream are doing as well.
They are shrewdly and covertly sharing the gospel through song, not by overtly mentioning the name of Jesus, but through other creative means, as they believe that that is what God has called them to do at this moment in time. Does this make “Dare You To Move” by Switchfoot less powerful or less meaningful that “How Great Is Our God” from Chris Tomlin? Or what about “Hanging By A Moment” by Lifehouse when you compare it to “Oceans” from Hillsong UNITED? It was in 2016 when I realised that every song has its place, and that not every artist has to openly advertise what they believe, in order for their music to be understood, appreciated, and be inspirational to Christians. Shudder to think, but what I’ve come to realise now, is that if God used a talking donkey to get through to Balaam, then he can definitely use a non-Christian music artist to draw listeners closer to Himself.
Put it this way. If Casting Crowns never openly said that they were a Christian band (even though they are!), and there was no trace of info on the internet about the band members’ faith, or if they went to church; and if they only sung their songs “American Dream”, “Does Anybody Hear Her?”, “Slow Fade”, plus a whole bunch of new songs which do not mention Jesus at all, but inspire like the 3 I said above? Would I, or any other Christian for that matter, listen to them? Kinda depends on the music and lyrics, but at the time of 2015, I wouldn’t have. Or maybe I would’ve, but not as much as I am now, when they are an overt Christian band. But ask me that question now, and my answer would be yes. Right now, if Casting Crowns, or any other of my favourite Christian artists, changed genres massively, and only sung mainstream inspirational songs, and if I didn’t know what faith they were…right now I’d still listen to them. So what changed? Was it Rachel Platten’s 2 hit singles in 2015, and her debut album Wildfire? Was it Hillary Scott singing a Christian album in mid 2016? Was it Skillet, needtobreathe and Switchfoot all releasing stellar albums in 2016, showing us that being a Christian in the mainstream market is ok? Maybe that prompted me to change my thinking that listening to mainstream music and artists, and not knowing their faith, is ok? Nope, nope and nope. It was…drum roll please, Cimorelli’s Alive that released early this year that prompted me to really expand my music listening habits.
Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure you all know Cimorelli. We’ve talked about them on this site many times, and you can read all of these posts here. You may be sick of them already. But what I will say is that these 6 sisters cover pop songs almost every week, and these versions are sometimes even more poignant and impacting than the original versions. I’ve only actively started watching these cover videos week by week this year, but it is through these videos that I have discovered mainstream music and realised that it’s not all that bad. It’s not sent from the devil, it’s not sent to destroy us, and mainstream music (despite some explicit language in quite a lot of songs out there!) does have its place. Both types of music are similar in some respects. Both types are written by equally flawed humans, trying to find their way in the world. And even if an artist who’s not a Christian doesn’t have the same world view as me, it doesn’t mean that their song cannot and will not inspire. Think about it. Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes”, where he delves into the reality of him pushing people away and not being good at relationships. Logic’s “18002738255”, encouraging everyone that you have a reason to live if you’re still breathing, and not to throw your life away. Kesha’s “Praying”, which highlights the fact that no one is too far gone from love and acceptance, and we can pray for others around us to be who they used to be. And that’s just a few mainstream songs that I have discovered that are very impacting to me. Are these artists Christian? Nope, I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean that these song aren’t impacting nor encouraging.
Every song has a message. I’ve learnt that much this year. And I mean every song. Some messages are inspiring, some are warnings, some messages are simple, some are complex, some messages are just ‘have a good time’, and some are just ‘go get revenge on this person because of x, y, z’. But all songs have messages. It’s whether we should follow and adhere to what these songs promote is the question. When navigating the mainstream music scene, I reckon as a Christian, we need to use discernment. Sure we may not know an artist’s belief, but if they write a song as inspirational as “How Great Is Our God”, for example, yet we still don’t know if they’re a Christian, do we listen to this song, even if we are inspired by it? If in the next week, the same artist releases a song with a bunch of curse words, and singing about sex, drugs and the occult, does it make the message of previous inspirational song, null and void? Can God still speak through the first song? I believe He can. It’s a tough issue, and an issue that Christians are divided about. Some still reckon guitars, drums and synth are from the devil, and only sing hymns on the organ on Sunday mornings. But the fact remains is that God isn’t limited by who He chooses to speak through. He may speak through you and me as Christians. But He also may choose to speak through those you least expect. A foul-mouthed music artist. An atheist actor. A homeless schizophrenic man. A preacher with dodgy theology. A new age spiritualist. A Buddhist. A homosexual transsexual. The list goes on. There is no limit to who God chooses to speak into your life. And that includes music artists. I know that may be hard for some to accept, and believe me, it took a while for me to fully grasp the concept of God using anyone for His glory, but I know that because He is God and is outside time, He is able. And. He. Can. Do. Anything. He. Wants. And. Use. Anyone. To. Get. Our. Attention.
So the man yelled “God speak to me!”
And the thunder rolled across the sky.
But the man did not listen.
The man looked around and said “God let me see you.”
And a star shone brightly.
But the man did not notice.
And the man shouted “God show me a miracle”
And a life was born.
But the man did not know.
So, the man cried out in despair.
“Touch me God and let me know that you are here!”
Whereupon God reached down and touched the man.
But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.
It’s a real shame that the man in the above ‘story’ or ‘scenario’ or whatever you want to call it, chose to ignore or maybe failed to see the beauty all around Him, and God speaking to Him because it occurred in such a way that was foreign to Him and that He did not expect. Laugh all you want guys, but it’s sad, because we do it too. God give me a miracle, we say. And we’re home safe at the end of the day, when if we left work a minute later, we’d be in a car crash. Isn’t that a miracle? God give my parent/child/loved one healing, we say. Then God moulds and reshapes our loved one’s heart, and leads them to Himself, rather than fixes their physical ailment. Isn’t that a miracle? Same with music. God I need a sign, I need to know that you’re real. And we’re listening to the radio, expecting to hear a song like Third Day’s “I Need A Miracle”, or Casting Crowns’ “Praise You In The Storm” but instead we hear Daughtry’s “Home”, Cimorelli’s “One More Night”, Alessia Cara’s “Scars To Your Beautiful” and Switchfoot’s “Live It Well”. Isn’t God still speaking to us? I believe He is, and He’s equally as likely to speak through Christian music as mainstream music. But it’s still something to ponder about and discuss. Also, something to ponder about is the definition of Christian music and mainstream music. I think Switchfoot sums it up best. But again, there’s still debate, and it’s something that we have to address as the Christian and mainstream music markets become closer and closer through more and more crossover artists.
To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds. The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty. Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music. None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me. I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that. We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot. You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling
As I finish up for the week, I will leave you all with quite a few songs, both Christian and mainstream, that I have been blessed to hear over the past year. Do I need to know the faith and religion of all of these artists? Some I do, some I don’t and the ones I do not, it’d be nice, but the fact is that it’s not essential. These songs make me think and, in essence, brings me closer to Jesus Christ, and His infinite love, as they each wrestle with various topics of life, death, love, hate, joy, peace, God, the cosmos, and everything in between. That’s all that really matters, don’t you think?
Which songs have impacted you the most? Are they “Christian” or “mainstream”? Let us know in the comments below!