As a Christian, I believe that we are made by the most Creative Being in the entire universe. I think that art should be beautiful, whether it is a song, a painting, a film, or a book, it should challenge us, and have some form of depth. I believe this kind of art should be especially prevalent in Christianity, since we are trying to bring glory to the Creator…but unfortunately, in my opinion, most Christian radio music is poopy tacos. Now, before you jump me and beat me over the head with CCM albums and family-friendly-ness, allow me to explain myself.
As Christianity progresses, we have become an increasingly lazy group of artists. For example, I bet if you played the chords “Am, Em, G, and C”, there would be about 2333213721947395201 WOW Hits that have been these chords, and you could sing along. Some songs with these exact chords would include “Here I Am to Worship”, “Mighty to Save”, “One Thing Remains”, and “From the Inside Out”. While I will say that yes, there are only so many chords in this world, it seems strange to me that so many “worship hits” have the same chord progression. The reason? According to a recent study by Medical University of Vienna in Austria, human beings crave familiarity—ESPECIALLY in music. That said, if it’s a simple melody and easy to clap along to, that baby will sell like hot cakes on a cold, sugar-craving-people-filled day. MANY psychological studies show that people choose songs they're familiar with over songs that more closely match their reported music tastes. And because the music industry is 87.89% owned by four huge corporations (Sony, Universal, EMI [which is actually owned by Universal, so technically there are only three companies], and Warner Brothers) chooses the same-sounding music and pushes it to their target audience, knowing how to capitalize on the masses. Unfortunately still, most Christian music is OWNED by these corporations. Because of this familiarity and same ownership of music corporations, Christians only get exposed to the same chord progressions, time signatures, harmonies, and explosive chorus after a silent verse / bridge again and again and again and again and again….
While if you enjoy Christian radio, and you enjoy worshipping to it, that’s fine. But I would go as far to say that this is what I imagine a CCM Scripture reading might sound like if you try to figure out their theology on “worship” music:
“Allow me to read a passage from Genesis 1:32.
’And on the eighth day, The Lord created the finest chords known to man. A minor, E minor, G, and C He created them. For thou shalt only use these chords for the music thou create for thine worship to increase tenfold, sayeth The Lord.’
This is the word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.”
The other beef that I have with popular Christian music is that there isn’t standalone Christian music. The reason for this, yet again, is record labels. Christian music is often mimicked after “secular” artists, because after all, it’s gotta be “safe for the whole family.” “Have you heard of (insert Christian artist name here)? Yeah, they’re like a Christian Maroon 5.” While I understand that parents don't want to let their kids loose on music with sexual content and curse words, I still think that we're missing the point. By mimicking top 40 music, it sells records—but instead of making Christian music on the cutting edge of culture, it makes it a continual cultural knockoff of something that was “big” 2+ years ago.
This begs me to ask the question, why don’t we Christians strive for something greater in our music? Why don’t we try to go outside of things that have been done? Why isn’t our music on the cutting edge? Why are we ok with merely listening to rehashed pop music with different lyrics?
Now, I’m not saying that it’s not ok to be influenced by certain artists, but I AM saying that we could do a better job of getting better music into the world. If we truly believe that we have been created by THE MOST Creative being EVER, what has made us so afraid of trying to create? When we look, we find that this behavior has been shaped by our Christian-bookstore culture. In order to be played by a Christian radio station, you have to cater to “Becky”.
How does one cater to “Becky”, and who is she (and no, she’s not the one Beyonce says has good hair)? Well, according to recording Christian artist Matt Papa—
She’s a 38 year old soccer-mom with 3 kids. She drives a mini-van, because if she didn’t, well where would she put all the crayons and goldfish? She is a loving wife and mother and is actively involved at her church. She lives in the suburbs but volunteers at the local food pantry. Becky is pretty awesome. And one more important detail about Becky…..she listens to christian radio exclusively. Yep, that’s right. And you actually already know her.Becky isn’t one person of course…she is the prototype target audience created by the christian music industry for christian radio. True story. She’s been around about 6 or 7 years now. Christian radio demographic research discovered that “Becky” is the one who is listening, so “Becky” is the audience they relentlessly target. So here’s what happens:
Christian radio plays songs for Becky. The labels know that in order to sell music, they have to get songs on radio. Radio = Becky. So the labels coerce their artists and bands to all write and record songs for Becky….songs that will make her feel good. Songs that tell her she is good. Songs that are “safe for the whole family”. Songs that remind her of her snow-flake-ness and tell her to turn that frown upside-down. Songs that focus on love and hope. Songs that aren’t confrontational. Songs that aren’t theological because man, that stuff is up in the clouds. Songs that don’t talk about blood and crosses and depressing stuff like that. Songs that focus on Becky and her busy life. And if the artists or bands want to write songs for another demographic or another purpose, that’s fine, they can just make music somewhere else. There is money to be made.
So, here we are. Bands/Artists who want to be heard write songs for Becky. Christian radio, therefore, is for the most part an altar where chipper, inauthentic, boring, unscriptural, untruthful, gospel-absent, ear-tickling, man-centered songs are offered to an idol named Becky.
I’ve been on a couple labels in my short musical career, and I testify that this is (sadly) how things work. I love Becky. I really do. That’s part of the reason I’m writing this. Becky needs to be ministered to just like I do and just like everyone else does. But Christian radio/industry people: please MINISTER TO HER!! Stop giving her what she WANTS….GIVE HER WHAT SHE NEEDS and that is the GOSPEL….or stop calling yourself “christian”. There is NOTHING “christian” about telling someone who has cancer that they are ok. Stop tickling her ears. Becky is a human being who needs to hear the truth of Christ, not an object to use for your financial gain. Woe to you. And here’s a novel idea: Why not target other people besides Becky?!?! The gospel has no demographics! Christ shed His blood for all people everywhere and you have mis-represented Him. I pray with all my heart that the money tables in your temple would soon be overturned.
What’s depressing is that after doing some research, this turns out to be true. Christianity today wrote a think piece on “Becky” back in 2007, which you can read HERE. The main problem with focusing in on “Becky” is that this means that in order to have a successful CAREER (notice I did not say ministry) in Christian music is to cater to Becky so that your songs will get radio play, you can sell more records, and keep getting record deals. At the end of the day, the reason that CCM is the way it is is those sweet, sweet dollar bills.
Money is a motivator. If you listen to Christian radio and support CCM artists, I am not writing to shake a finger at you, but I am asking the question—does the music we listen to in American Christian Culture preach the life-changing news of the Gospel, or preach about a “God” who wants us to be happy all the time? God is the true bringer of joy, full of grace, He is beauty, He is love, He offers us forgiveness, He is our Savior, He is Holy, all-pursuing, barrier-breaking, boundless love. I just don’t think that Christian radio paints a full portrait of the Gospel, but only mere glimpses of the masterpiece that is the Good News. By allowing Christian radio to target only a niche audience—“Becky”, is that really conveying the Gospel? Are we becoming consumeristic in what could be an amazing opportunity for evangelism? Our money talks. What we listen to is what they will continue to play. The albums we buy will lead to the kinds of music Christian record labels produce. When we feed the machine, it will produce where there is a demand. What kind of a demand are we calling for?