Monday, June 28, 2010

Artistic Freedom Pt. 1

As an avid music listener-and a follower of Christ-I have a recurring struggle over what I should and should not listen to.
The criteria by which I judge the merit of music has evolved as I've grown older and has therefore effected the nature of my sonic diet.
Does the music contain:
Sexual content
Drug references
potential for growth
relevance (the best songs have appeal long after their release, aka Elvis).

Generally speaking, this is the mental checklist I use when evaluating music. Of course I don't actually whip out a pin and pad every time I listen to the radio or browse through but these give a good idea of what I'm milling over in my mind.

I tend to weed out songs with strong language, sexual innuendo or illicit drug references. As a follower of Christ, I don't think these songs are what I feel God would have me listen to.
If a song has this kind of content, I don't tend to bother with the other qualifications. Often times music like this sucks anyway, so it's no loss to me. Yet on occasion I'll find a great sounding song with 'inappropriate content.'

For example: "The Pursuit of Happiness' by Kidd Cudi. The song starts off with him describing getting high and driving around drunk. The 'F word' shows up once. Yet I feel like the song is showing an non Christian searching for the answer to true fulfillment in this life. I would call it a good piece of artwork but does the negative content negate the positive?

Philippians 4:8 Says:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)

Well if the production quality is excellent the lyrics are commendable for their spiritual depth but there are sexy background dancers, is it something we should dwell on? Personally, I use two methods to judge things from here.

How does the art paint (pun intended) immorality? Does it flippantly embrace sin or does it give us a picture of reality? Ke$ha is without a doubt in the first category. Not only is her music irritating, it also promotes all kinds of negative things. A superb example of presenting reality can be found in K'NAAN (who's an artist at the world cup this year BTW).

K'NAAN is an African Reggae singer who grew up experiencing the sorts of things we Westerners tend to think of when we picture Africa: Disease, war and hunger. He will use profanity (and occasionally other content). However, K'NAAN using a few curse words and Eminem dropping the 'F bomb' in every other lyric are not the same thing.

The second criteria: Do you feel a conviction listening to it? As a Christian do I feel comfortable listening to this in light of my relationship with my heavenly Father?

Judging music in this fashion I tend to get a pretty varied and healthy musical diet. There will always be a morally gray area, an artist who doesn't quite fall easily into one camp. My struggle to find harmony in the vast array of music available is an ongoing quest. It's a journey and a thoroughly pleasing (and sometimes frustrating) one at that.

What motivates you to listen to the music you like? Or, in a broader sense how do you evaluate the media input you digest every single day?

Thanks for reading!



  1. I'm one of those people who can't help but listen to the content of the lyrics. Music is God's way of speaking to me in many ways. In fact, I have a CD I burned of every song that got me through freshman year without killing myself. Music means a lot more to me than it means to your average religiously-neutral person. Even though ninety-five percent of my iTunes library is Christian, that's not to say that I don't find pleasure in listening to secular (or non-Christian) music. I enjoy My Chemical Romance, Mika, and even some of Taylor Swift on occasion.
    My youth pastor taught us, "God doesn't dislike hip-hop or rap or death metal; it's not the genre. It's the content of the words and whether or not its meant for His glory."

  2. I think music is one of the greatest gifts God has given to us. It's such a basic part of our human nature. It can have such a profound impact on the listener.
    I like the quote from your youth pastor :). It's a valid point. I think we as Christians tend to quickly label music as 'bad' just because it's different or most of the artists in that genre aren't Christians.

  3. Personally I think that the spirit of the music or the heart of it is what matters in the end. And that includes the attitude of the lyrics. I overlook foul language in secular songs with a strong message I believe in, but I can't stand songs without a foul word and without any depth. I LOVE music very passionately, it powers me through life and I depend on it sometimes. It can empower you and lift you up, and the power that it has shouldn't be ignored. I find it disappointing when advertised Christians listen to absolute garbage, and when asked about it the excuse is 'It's just music, it doesn't affect me.' I also find it interesting that some secular music has more depth and beauty and originality, and does more credit to God given perspective, than Christian music. That quote is great, Steph, btw. Levi: Loved the post(s, I haven't commented in a while but I read them all :)

  4. Elizabeth:
    It saddens me (and sometimes ticks me off) when people don't pay attention to what they're listening to.
    As for Christian music: To often the sad truth is it's not very good. Even the lyrics (while clean) are not exceptional. I don't even listen to a lot of mainstream Christian music anymore because of this. There are Christians making good music but you won't hear them on the radio.

    On another note; I'm glad to know you're still reading = ). Please don't feel obligated to comment anymore than you want to. It's just good to know somebody's reading and enjoying it.

  5. There's a great Christian radio station I listen to in Denver called "WAY FM". They have stations all over the US, and might have one wherever you live. ( The station is geared towards Christian teenagers so they can enjoy music which is like much of the mainstream media out there. Skillet, TobyMac, and Hawk Nelson are just some of the artists typically played.

  6. How important are lyrics? I mean do you ever listen to just music, for music's sake, or does it have to have words? When there are no words, is it all good?

  7. Steph: I looked them up, thanks. We don't get that station here in NC.

    Tragedy101: Great questions!

    Assuming the song has lyrics, they are of great importance because the convey the world view of the writer. An exception to this, would be techo music in which the sparse lyrics almost become a part of the beat itself. In that case lyrics aren't very important.

    I don't often listen to music for it's own sake. Even when I do, I'm still conscious of what the music is trying to convey.

    Finally I would say that a piece of music doesn't have to contain lyrics to be good.

    Classical music is a great example. Of course, the composer is still drawing from their own world view to help craft the music though a piece might not contain lyrics, how the artist views the world effects the art. Look at Picasso for example his world view as very different from Rembrandt.

    At least that's my opinion on the on the matter.
    Sorry if this was too long.


  8. This is a hard subject to put input on without making it pages long! Music is something hard to explain in general, but it's something that humans have a God-given gift to naturally understand. Think about it, how would you describe music to someone who has been deaf since birth? But that's off subject.
    Secular or Christian doesn't make a difference in music. Both were created by unique children that God created specifically to be who they are and He cherishes them to the utmost and equally, and I'm sure just as God listens to every prayer and whisper, He definitely listens to their music. That being said, God is pure and we as humans are not, so it is not safe for us to listen to some things that may promote unhealthy thoughts or self-talk, the reception of which really depends on the individual. Profanity, innuendos, drug referencing, none are God honoring and in the general population will not to produce God honoring thoughts.
    Very nice blog, by the way, and great discussion!

  9. Thanks for the compliments and your contribution to the discussion. Frankly I was a little surprised that this topic got such a response. Apparently I not the only one with a strong opinion on the subject : ).