Let me ask you all a question. I mean, I reckon it’s one of the most important questions ever asked. And it is this. That after the continued and sustained yet somewhat waning success of the Backstreet Boys as well as Westlife, the and the brief but nonetheless impactful tenures of One Direction, and NSYNC; is the boy-band genre done for good? Is there a supergroup or another up and coming pop band ready to wow us all like Backstreet Boys did in the past? I mean have you ever stopped to wonder about the future of what may be one of the most loved yet frustrating genres of all time? What is it you say? You really haven’t given it a second thought? Nah, neither have I! I think I may have stretched the truth back there, in the sense that boy bands aren’t really the main topic of one of the most important questions ever asked- not by a long shot. It was just a question I asked to grab all of your attention. But seriously, the question of who the mainstay boy-band groups like Backstreet Boys and Westlife will pass the baton onto, does indeed pop into my head from time to time.
I have heard a few songs of many of these bands- all of which essentially use pretty much the same formula of music and lyrics (radio friendly pop beats and lyrics about relationships, be it romantic, familial or platonic between friends!); and I for one can assert with confidence that some of these songs are pretty good and better than the current mainstream crop out there. It’s only been lately that I have found the boy-band genre, though cringeworthy at times, quite compelling and inspiring- definitely underrated. Therefore, my question- after I’ve found that boy-bands are somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine- is this. That after these guys like Westlife and Backstreet Boys retire or move onto other projects (because they feel like it’s time to do something else!), what next? Will the genre die, or evolve into something that is completely unrecognisable? Are bands like OneRepublic, Imagine Dragons or The Fray now considered the new boy-band? Well I won’t go that far just yet- and it’s simply because I believe we’ve already found the next big thing. The next 1D or BB or NSYNC. Enter in Spencer Kane, Joey Stamper, Caleb Grimm and Chad Graham.
Yep, I’m talking about Christian pop group Anthem Lights. And before I get into the bones about what this group is about…you all may groan and wonder why I’m asserting that Anthem Lights are dead certain to be a future force to be reckoned with in today’s society and culture- simply because they’re Christian. The world frowns upon Christian music with a passion and a vengeance- and this is what the world says. That if you are a Christian in the mainstream media, and are overtly using the name of Jesus to praise Him, but are still wanting to be in the mainstream media…well something have to give if you want to be successful and fulfilled, because the two don’t mix. Simply just because. If you want to make it in mainstream media, perhaps you can be more covert about your faith or abandon it all together. If you are serious about your faith, then don’t strive for mainstream media. All of this is what the world says. But for Anthem Lights (whom I’m not just placing in my list simply because they are Christian- these guys are actually quite talented musically and vocally!), they’ve bucked the trend and have shown us through their covers, pop songs, worship songs, Disney songs, Christmas songs and original inspirational tunes- that Jesus and the marketplace can and do intersect, and intersect quite beautifully. They’ve defied the odds, and that is why they are present on my list- and frankly they don’t fit yet on Jon’s ergo by process of elimination end up on mine no matter how out of place they seem to be.
Anthem Lights, formally known as Yellow Cavalier, signed with Reunion Records in 2011, and promptly released a debut self titled album- primarily directed to youth and young adults who are on fire for Jesus. Songs like “Can’t Shut Up” (a no-holds-barred proclamation of our faith in Jesus and that we can’t shut up about it!), “Can’t Get Over You” (a love song directed to Jesus declaring that we can’t get over Him!) and “Outta My Mind” (a pop song through and through essentially highlighting the notion that Jesus gets us out of our minds in the best way possible!) are the hit singles (along with Backstreet Boys-esque “I Wanna Know You Like That”), while “Lighthouse” and “Lifeline” are also personal standouts for me. If you’re a fan of the band but aren’t a Christian…well perhaps you may not like what these guys are preaching about on this debut album. Yet theres no denying the tight vocal harmonies and slick music production. Musically these guys were at the top of their game back in 2011.
Since their inception, Allan, Kyle, Caleb and Chad garnered quite a fan base, with avid and passionate fans called ‘The Lightbulbs’. With the vocal quartet (of which Kyle and Allan left at various points and were replaced by Joey and Spencer respectively!), unveiling an acoustic EP in 2012, and 2 more studio albums (You Have My Heart and Escape) in 2014- which spawned the radio hits and personal favourites of mine such as “Just Fall”, “Top Of the World”, “Fight Forever”, “Hide Your Love Away”, “Follow Your Heart”; it was not until the release of countless of mainstream covers that these guys were noticed all over the world. A look at their youtube page reveals the countless covers they’ve recorded and filmed as music videos (take a look at their number of cover albums on apple music here!)- and while they’re all too many to count, a deeper analysis can and will reveal that they’ve made plenty of bona fide anthems and inspirational melodies their own. Tweaking the lyrics a bit, or creating medleys- these four friends have found a way to infiltrate the mainstream industry through their covers- and that doesn’t mean that they’ve forsaken their faith though.
Though many critics and listeners alike may classify Spencer, Joey, Caleb and Chad as a boy band, similar in genre to Plus One, BoyZone or the Backstreet Boys (even though they are by definition are a boy band!), these four young men of God have stood firm in their faith for Jesus Christ, and are ministering to both the mainstream and Christian markets. Sure, they’re not signed anymore, and sure, they’re more famous for recording heartfelt and poignant covers; but one look at their youtube account and the number of views that are building up, then I’m sure you’ll know why they’re popular and in a unique position to be one of today’s most influential artists- each of the four members are on fire for Jesus, passionate about their faith and passionate about their music also. Let me just say off the bat that I am probably not the band’s targeted demographic. Some of the time, I can find some parts of Anthem Lights’ music and lyrics a bit cliché and/or cringe worthy, and other times, some lyrics are just God breathed, motivational and inspiring- it’s my opinion that probably the ideal listener that would gain the most from exposure to the band would be younger teens. As much as I loved the group’s debut album, parts of album #2 and #3 (You Have My Heart and Escape) sounded too much like them trying to fit into mainstream media by not singing about Jesus. Though now I realise it was them ministering to other parts of the world more covertly, at the time I thought they had sold out. And this makes Painted Skies all the more inspiring and remarkable- because after the debut project, it is the 2017 all original release that has captured my heart time and time again!
Funded through Kickstarter, Painted Skies was an enigma when I listened to the album- I wasn’t sure what to expect musically and lyrically, and even thematically. Although I did think maybe 80 or 90% pop/boy-band material musically. What resulted after me listening to Painted Skies several times, was a greater appreciation of the band now- 4 grown up men of God, of which the music reflects their spiritual maturity. Sure there are not as much tracks about Jesus present in these 10 heartfelt tracks, but with plenty of material covered, from their struggles in life to romantic relationships, I reckon Painted Skies is the start of a new fresh journey as a band, as they travel into untapped markets musically and lyrically. And though plenty of critics may suggest that Anthem Lights have run their course; I would have to disagree- this is the start of something special. With the piano prominent radio friendly pop tune “Who I’m Meant To Be” opening proceedings alongside a stirring 1 minute intro about the heart of the album with each member speaking about what this particular project means to them; it’s quick to see that Joey, Spencer, Chad and Caleb sing quite well together, as they inspire and provide us with confronting questions we may be afraid to ask. In this track, the band tackle the issue of coveting, and encourage us to instead of wishing for someone else’s life, to try to be who God has meant for us to be. Unashamedly and fearlessly declaring the ever-true words and catchy refrain that ‘…I don’t wanna spend my life trying to fight for what’s not mine, I don’t wanna lose myself in someone else’s dream, I know I was made with a purpose to reach past the surface, live life fearlessly, I want nothing less than to be who I’m meant to be…’; this track is a statement of the band’s priorities, that they are only concerned with doing what God has called them to do. And so it should be with us as well- not concerned with the person on the left, on the right, or in front, or behind. Only comparing what we do to our own previous efforts, and also with the Word of God, seeing how what we do relates to God’s plan. Comforting yet also challenging, “Who I’m Meant To Be” sets the tone for the rest of the album.
“Good Fight”, a 3-minute explosive, bass guitar driven toe tapping, danceable pop tune ala Newsboys mid-90’s era, is an infectious ball of energy and fun; and as the four members trade vocals effortlessly and seamlessly, declaring that everyday they’re in a war with themselves, and everyday they’re fighting the good fight with themselves, thematically I’m reminded of the impacting and inspiring jazz/soul infused “Good Fight” from Unspoken. And like that tune of the same name, Anthem Lights gently remind us that though every day is a struggle, determination and belief in ourselves can get us through each day. “Better Together”, though a song on Painted Skies which I initially found grating and highly distracting, is the band’s most recent single, and a pop song through and through. At the time when I reviewed Painted Skies three years ago, I concluded that the song was a low point, however on hindsight, this track has so many layers attached to it. Though cliché after cliché is heard here, with the band exclaiming that ‘…hey-ey-ey you-ou-ou, you know, know, know, know it’s true-ue-ue, we’re better together, better together, better together, gonna love you all my life, you know we can never find another, we go so good with each other, we’re better together, better together, better together, gonna love you all my life…’; the same chorus that is on the one hand cringing and grating to my ears; is at the same time compelling and captivating, as we are reminded of the song God could be singing to us, that when it’s us and Him, we’re better together to an infinite degree! And while I could go on and on about Painted Skies until the cows come home (see, I love this album heaps more than the rest of their studio efforts!), I’ll just point you to my review, and then also end this ‘analysis’ by speaking about “You’ll Always Be My Son”. The acoustic guitar prominent Steven Curtis Chapman “Cinderella”-like melody “You Will Always Be My Son” is one of the group’s most emotional and personal songs to date, and is completely sung only by Caleb, as well as his wife Kelsey; about their love for son Emmett, telling the story of the fraction of the love Jesus has for each one of us- it’s a song that I’m sure will bring tears to all who listen, as it’s such an honest, personal and beautifully sung track.
While these four men of God have tried their hand at mainstream music and have succeeded in a way, they still haven’t forsaken their Christian faith and upbringing. If I was to say the name ‘Anthem Lights’ now- while you all have probably seen videos and heard songs as you have read my post thus far; probably one of the first things that come into your head are the various covers or medleys these guys do, of mainstream songs, or even the individual member’s side solo careers as well. However, behind the slick vocals and stellar harmonisation from Spencer Kane, Joey Stamper, Chad Graham and Caleb Grimm, are four men who are passionate for Jesus, and it shows in their original material, particularly Painted Skies and their self titled debut album. But to show us all that their all still serious for Jesus… Anthem Lights proudly presented to us in between studio albums…wait for it! Yep, a 10 song hymns album, titled Hymns (how original!), comprising of 5 medleys (what they do best!) and plenty of inspiring harmonisation and catchy hymn renditions to immerse us in the worshipful spirit. So, what do you do when you release a successful hymns album, standing at 27 and a half minutes, which is far too short? Well, you release Hymns Volume II of course! This time for a duration of a mere minute longer (or a staggering and impressive minute longer, depending on your point of view)! Yep, Hymns II is also under 30 minutes in duration. Though impacting and challenging, this release has also impacted those who listen, although it is still a mixed bag. One listen to both Hymns and Hymns II remind us all how these guys are still on fire for Jesus, and we can indeed be encouraged by the band to worship the Lord Almighty. Hymns are indeed timeless and have been recorded plenty of times throughout the years, artists’ renditions of traditional hymns can be hit and miss sometimes- with a hymn either staying close to the original, or completely altered beyond recognition. The outcome being powerful, gripping, haunting and compelling, or distracting and less than memorable, and we can see both outcomes on both of Anthem Light’s new projects- a big letdown in the medleys and sheer brilliance in the rest of the tracks (ironically the ones with only one hymn present in each song). Despite the stumbles here, it is these two albums, as well as Christmas Hymns, which cement these guys’ stature as one of today’s most inspiring ‘new-ish’ artists- for both mainstream and Christian markets, and an artist to definitely look out for in the coming months and years.
While the group have recorded plenty of more varied material- including a Disney album, a full on worship album and a Christmas hymns album, I’d like to especially mention a couple of tracks which have gripped me and impacted me greatly. “Just Be You” is an acoustic guitar driven melody featuring the beautiful and powerful guest vocals of Sadie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, and was released as an acoustic only single back in 2017. Anthem Lights and Sadie harmonise together quite brilliantly, as they earnestly reiterate that there is only one of us in the universe, so we cannot and shouldn’t try to live someone else’s life, nor should we wish to be someone else, as ‘…no one can do it just like you, something magic in the way you move, You’re original, you know it’s true, don’t let anybody take your tune, You ain’t got a single thing to prove, You’re original, so just be you…’. Though only played on the acoustic guitar, Spencer, Joey, Chad, Caleb and Sadie all fervently and passionately impart to us the knowledge that we are unique, and that we are each here on this earth for a greater purpose, simply because we are still breathing. Similar in theme to Britt Nicole’s “Gold”, “Just Be You” comforts, yet also confronts, as it asks the question of are we living our own life or someone else’s.
Yet it is “Dear Hollywood”, from You Have My Heart that has ministered to me the most out of any song from Anthem Lights ever! As the group (which included Allan back in 2014) passionately and fervently relay to us an earnest prayer/letter to Hollywood- outlining that the big and gigantic neighbourhood/entertainment business can do and should do in order to be a light in the darkness; we are reminded that much, much more needs to be done to spread the love of Jesus everywhere, and much, much more needs to be done about loving people everywhere generally. As believers we are he salt and the light of the world, and as shown in the compelling and stirring music video, Anthem Lights take a very sensitive issue and turn it into an anthem that is non-intrusive and bite-sized so that we all can comprehend the gravity of the situation- that humanity as a whole is broken because of sin, and Hollywood is one of the places that can be a force of good and can show the love of Jesus- if only people open their eyes to the reality of Jesus’ unending and lavish love!
“…These songs [and] this record is our anthem to the world saying, “Listen, we know there’s a lot of darkness in this life, but in the end, light is gonna win.” And we wanna be the light to people and just show them who the light of the world is…” As Anthem Lights point to Jesus in everything that they do, I’ve mentioned time and time again that belief in the stories behind the song and the calling behind the song is paramount in terms of whether an artist is genuine, and whether an artist is as influential as the public makes them out to be. And as we can see how much effort and time Anthem Lights have put into making their craft as great and impacting as possible, we can marvel at the fact that yes, they’re not that all well known. Yes, they do not tour. But also, their presence on Youtube is paramount and critical and needs to be recognised as a very good thing, particularly when they as a band are also juggling individual solo careers also. With Chad having released his first solo album First, as well as Caleb being part of a duo with his wife called Caleb + Kelsey, and Spencer and Joey also recording solo offerings; sky’s the limit for this band that will definitely go far! Anthem Lights have also recorded a podcast this past year also, while they have competed in the competition Best Cover Ever a few years ago, covering “Cool For The Summer” from Demi Lovato. There’s quite a lot of balls in the air at the moment, yet these guys are juggling them with ease! With Anthem Lights previously reiterating that they will always keep creating worship music in tandem with pop music and other types of genres; sky’s the limit for these guys. So while we wait to see what they’ve got next in store, let us worship God with these heartfelt, poignant and honest songs- pop songs, worship songs and everything else in between. And see how Joey, Spencer, Caleb and Chad minister to our souls!
Does Anthem Lights make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “Can’t Shut Up”, “Can’t Get Over You”, “Fight Forever”, “Just Fall”, “Better Together” and “Dear Hollywood”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!