You’ve probably read articles about what’s wrong with Christian music. In one popular post, Michael Gungor explained why music on Christian radio stations seems so corny. In another, Switchfoot pointed out that C.S. Lewis didn’t talk about Jesus in his fiction, reminding us that not every piece of Christian expression needed to be a Sunday School lesson.
These articles are spot on, but they miss out on one important point: Christian music, in its current state, is popular. Very popular. No matter how repetitive, dull, and unimaginative it is, a lot of people want to hear it because they actually like it.
If you ask me, every song on Christian radio sounds the same. The guitars all use identical, “safe” overdrive settings while playing a I-V-VI-IV chord progression. The drums and bass are always doing the same 4/4, quarter note pulse, devoid of syncopation. The vocals are loud and overbearing, as if every syllable needs to be a tidal wave of feelings.
And it works. These sorts of Christian bands sell millions of albums, and their fans can’t understand why someone like me wants to hear anything different. How is this happening? It doesn’t have anything to do with the church – the problems with Christian music are just an outcropping of the poor state of the music industry.
I watched five minutes of one of those “sing-off” TV shows. (I can’t stand them.) The singers were obnoxiously loud, and the songs couldn’t have been more derivative. Sadly, it was exactly the sort of over-produced, “Radio Disney” style of pop music that I hear from the top Christian groups. (And I turned it off just as quickly.) When given a choice, this cheesy music is what most consumers will want to purchase, rather than listening to someone like Willie Nelson or Carol King. Music lovers are, and have always been, a minority group with a small impact on record sales.
In mainstream music, I hear great bands that never have the success of boring, pop groups. As a music lover, this frustrates me to no end, but it’s always been this way. The cast of Glee has had more hits than the Beatles, for example, because corny music always outsells the good stuff. In the Christian music industry we see the same thing, but since the playing field is smaller there’s even less of a chance that you’ll ever hear interesting music on those religious stations.
The people have spoken, and they want terrible music.
(Sorry, it’s not nice to leave you with such a depressing blog entry on a cold, Monday morning. Here’s a cat trying to play the drums to cheer you up.)
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)