In Defense of Dirty Music
Every year, usually around Christmas time, choir nerds everywhere dust off the musty taffeta dresses from the choir room closet, pin a wreath of cheap fake flowers and ribbons in their hair, and sing 500-year-old songs to parents and friends who love them enough to suffer through a madrigal. I had been in several of them by the time my high school choir director, whom we all called “Max” (instead of “Mrs. Maxwell”) let us in on something: the non-religious songs we were learning, with delicate harmonies and intervals designed to kill the second sopranos, were dirty. See, the truth isn’t that people 500 years ago were running out of words and decided to just stick lines of “fa la la…” in there as filler. All those lines are there because the words were too dirty for them to write down. They knew them. Their friends knew them. They all sang them. They just didn’t write them down.
They couldn’t write them down because the church ran the world, and if someone had the written words and they fell into the hands of the church, they could lose everything. The church, you see, demanded dignity. Piety. And money. And if it didn’t get it willingly, they took it. Do you know why there is so much religious music from that era? Because religious music is all that was allowed during Lent. Because the music commissioned was largely at the request of the church.
“So when you sing,” Max said, “sing it like you’re getting away with something. Because you are. If all the words were there, you wouldn’t be allowed to sing it.”
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of rants from friends of mine who are upset by some of the music that is bouncing up and down on the pop and hip hop charts. They complain about the music objectifying women, about it being too sexual, that it flies in the face of respectable standards, etc. I listen to pop music, and some of it is crap. Admittedly, I don’t listen to a lot of hip hop because it’s just not as much my thing. “Why don’t you listen to Christian artists instead?” they ask. Well, because a lot of them suck. And for the love of everything holy, do not suggest I listen to LeCrae. Every time someone suggests him, I die a little inside.
While they have every right to not listen to the songs they find offensive and to speak out about them if they feel that strongly about them, a lot of the time, their arguments don’t hold water for me:
- The same people who argue against Pitbull are the same people who can sing along to I Think We’re Alone Now, Wild Thing, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Hanky Panky and every other song Dick Biondi played on the oldies station, without any care that they are just as morally objectionable. They also don’t seem to have payed any attention to what is on country stations, either, because there’s plenty there to object to if we’re going to start holding secular artists to holy standards.
- They are the same people who watch Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Pretty Woman, Nicholas Sparks movies, and a million other things that are just as “bad” – maybe worse? – but they don’t seem to have a problem with watching sex, murder, etc.
- Some of them are just uncomfortable with talking about sex, or with the type of sex referenced. Rape is about the lack of consent, not about how gentle the sex is or dependent on sobriety. Calling passionate, fast, rough sex rape doesn’t help anyone.
- If you hold some of the basic tenets of Christian belief, two among them likely include the idea that we are made in the image of God and Jesus was human (and divine, but the human part is what I’m talking about here). This means that our sex drives aren’t here by accident – and Jesus had a sex drive, too. Scripture doesn’t say what he did about it, but if he was human, he had a sex drive.
- In that light, desiring someone doesn’t mean you’re objectifying them. If you are only seeing a person as a body part to serve a purpose, then you’re objectifying them. Being turned on by them is not.
- Being desired and wanting to feel desired isn’t sinful. Like anything at all, it can go too far, but I’m exhausted of the insistence that desire and sensuality is sinful. But I suppose that’s another post for another time.
- I don’t think that letting your hair down and shakin’ what the good Lord gave you is sinful, either. If God didn’t want boobs to shake, they wouldn’t be placed/composed like they are. If hips weren’t meant to move, it wouldn’t be a virtually instinctual response to a good beat. I’m a terrible dancer and haven’t danced in public since I drank (so, a long time ago), but when Pharell’s Come Get it Bae comes on in the car or at home, I give it everything I got.
I know that everyone has their own boundaries and I’m not saying that there isn’t music that crosses my boundaries. I am just saying that my boundaries are in a different place. The church has a pretty horrible record for running things. Including itself.
Dirty music isn’t new. People have sung dirty songs for as long as there has been music. It’s not limited to any one genre or culture or group. It’s not even all identified the same way; the things I find offensive may be completely acceptable to you. In fact, I find a fair amount of music marketed as Christian music pretty dirty. Don’t think so? Check this out.