I’ve always had a problem with Christian music. I used to wonder why, and then it hit me: it’s because it sucks. While this is now obvious, the real question is, why does it suck?
Michael Gungor from the band Gungor (which I had never heard of prior to this), wrote an excellent article on why Christian music generally sucks. It’s because it’s fake. From his article:
The false emotion that I’m talking about might be familiar to some of you. There’s just something more believable about the whispery sexy voice that is singing about sex on the mainstream radio station than the voice that copies that style of singing while putting lyrics in about being in the arms of Jesus. And it’s really not even the style or the lyric that is the problem to me, it’s the fact that I don’t believe that the singer is feeling the kind of emotions in singing that lyric that would lead to that style of singing. It’s that same kind of creep out that you feel when somebody gives a really loud fake laugh. It’s just weird and uncomfortable feeling.
There’s a pretension with a lot of Christian music that puts such an emphasis on the moralistic qualities of the music. “Hey, listen to this because it doesn’t describe explicit sex acts! Yay!” While there’s a point to that, when the music is reduced to just what it isn’t talking about rather than what it is talking about, the whole thing just crumbles.
This is what most Christian music centers around, or at least what the marketing centers on. Many evangelical Christian parents get their teens Christian music because it’s clean and “teaches good values”. But this destroys the soul of music. It makes Christian music literally the only genre that is defined by what it isn’t. And when you define something, not by what it’s contribution and worth is, but by its negative qualities, it’s impossible for that thing to have any value. It’s very definition limits itself. It’s really hard to make something great when your definition of greatness is, “Not awful.” Because of this, most Christian music can only be really great because it’s not really bad. Which actually makes it suck.
This concept plays out at Christian concerts as well, where the whole, “Don’t be bad” attitude really plays out. Gungor talks about this phenomena:
We just were part of one of the biggest tours of the fall in the Christian music industry…
But you know what made me sad? That empty bar every night.
Even though these shows were all sold out, I would imagine that the bartenders at all those clubs were like “oh man, Christian night… that means no tips for me.”
Sometimes the promoters would just buy out the bar so there wouldn’t be any liquor sales at all.
I’m not saying that I wished that everybody was getting hammered at the show… But for crying out loud, buy one beer. Or heck, if you don’t drink beer, buy a Coke.
But here’s what is super weird about this situation. I bet you if you took all of those Christians that came to the shows and split them up and had them go to “secular” shows, A LOT of them would have bought a drink. It’s the fact that there is this assumption among all of the Christians there that having a drink at a Christian event is sort of a questionable thing to do.
He’s talking a lot about the evangelical Christian culture that shuns alcohol, and as he goes on to kind of rant about, it doesn’t seem to have much Biblical basis. But in many ways, doing this at a Christian concert is just a reflection of what the music is about: not being bad. Gungor continues on about how fake Christian music really is dishonest and uncreative. We talk about innovative music that Christians make as “creative” because, as he points out, there is so much uncreativity in the industry that we have to point it out when we see it. What he says is entertaining, so I’ll quote him once more:
Do you notice that nobody really uses that word about other types of music?…
Nobody goes to an art gallery and says, “boy, that painting is so creative.” Why? Because it’s art! Of course it’s creative! Why else would it be there? It’s very nature is creativity. Or like Lisa pointed out to me today, “that would be like saying, I love your house, it’s so architectural.”
It’s interesting that the Christian music scene has become so dominated by mediocrity that anything breaks free from the norm is hailed as groundbreaking. It’s time to get away from a definition of music that is purely moral and start producing stuff that’s got real value. Of course, I am well aware that there are lots of Christian artists out there who make good music. But this is directed at the Christian music industry in general. The ones who make sucky music. By the way, this is one of Gungor’s music videos. I like it; it’s not defined by what it isn’t. (I highly recommend reading the original article. It’s long but good.)