Music Matters: The 10 Most Interesting Stories of 2012

A weekly review of music news through the lens of music as gift or god.

#10 The Minority Report: Why I Quit Listening to Christian Music

Drew Dixon over at the Christ and Pop Culture website outlines some great reasons why CCM artists do not delve in the heavier subjects of sin, suffering and doubt. He hopes that Christian musicians will write more songs that deal with these subjects instead of always focusing on the good, triumphant and living in victory. Further reading:  The 10 Kitschiest Christian Songs

#9 When Playing Nothing Gets You Something

Justin Howard, known as “Nordic Thunder,” won the Air Guitar World Championships.  Howard, moved around the stage pretending to play a non-existent guitar and narrowly beat out the other American in the competition. The prize for playing nothing? A handmade guitar! This might seem like a silly pastime but thinking about it deeply there are correlations to salvation through Christ. There is not a single thing we can do to earn our salvation but it is a free gift from God to accept. Like Nordic Thunder, life was meaningless before we met Jesus but now with Jesus the emptiness is gone and he is the one who fills you with his spirit.

#8 Working Hard for Something Old that Won’t Last

Thirteen violinists are competing in Toronto for the chance to rent out one of three Stradivarius violins for three years at no cost. These violins have a unique sound and have been treasured for centuries but what all of these violinists are competing for is a fleeting chance to play this old instrument for a short period of their life. One day their ability to play this prized violin for free will be taken away from them, with a slim chance to regain it again in the future. God, the ancient of days, on the other hand gives salvation as a free gift and yet he will not take this gift away from anyone who believes that his son Jesus is the messiah. Even after we mess up in life, God is still there with his gift of forgiveness through the blood of Christ. So the writer of this article is wrong when he states, “This is not the kingdom of God, after all, where the last shall be first.” The competition might not follow kingdom ethics but the one who reigns of the world does and his authority trumps any authority of man.

#7 Stained Glass Album Cover of a Gangsta Jesus

The rapper Game unveiled his album cover this week. The cover depicts Jesus as an African-American, with a bandanna across the front of his face and a teardrop tattoo near his eye set in front of a stained glass window with marijuana leaves. Game explained the cover:

“I did the album cover the way I wanted to. It embodies part of my career, my life; it’s all in that cover. And, you know, I love God, Jesus Christ is my savior and I’m still out here thuggin’.” Despite his newfound religion, he has resumed his usual hobbies of smoking weed — because “this is California” and he hasn’t read anywhere in the Bible that he can’t — and going to strip clubs because “that’s what I do.”

Many Christians would see that this is a man living with contradictions and not really wrestling with his sin in light of the gospel. Game then explains away his life within the context of the often misunderstood but heavily quoted verse, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1):

I know that might sound weird and that’s an awkward balance, but it’s my balance…I think that right before that person that wants to make judgments or pass judgment on my album cover, I think right before they do that, they should stop and they should look in the mirror and look at their own life.

#6 Ethnomusicology as Christian Responsibility

In this fascinating article, Nick Rynerson at Christ and Pop Culture argues that the preservation and study of music of all cultures throughout the world should be the duty of Christians. He states:

Within the Christian worldview, it is imperative that this culture be preserved and understood. As Christians, we are called to be redemptive culture makers. These cultures are important symbols that help us understand what Theologian Richard Lovelace would call “the spiritual realities” that are presented through culture, such as freedom, liberation and creative expression.

#5 John Cage at 100

Cage would have been 100 this week and the endless musical experimenter has had a profound effect on classical music as well as pop music. He was always able find beauty in the common things of this world by turning household items, cacti, etc. into musical instruments expressing their inner creation of the item in new and fascinating ways. But on the other end of the spectrum he was the master of the lack of noise, utilizing silence as a musical tool in the most complete way in his most famous work 4’33”. It is this living in the silence and noise while appreciating the mundane that Cage’s musical legacy will endure. For the Christian we need to learn how to escape to those moments of silence and connect with our heavenly Father through prayer.  Also we need to see that behind those everyday items of life is a Creator who provided those things to us and the beauty of the Creator bestowing his good gifts on us.

#4 Biology and Lady Gaga

Hey little monsters this one is for you. You know that group of ferns which botanists recently discovered? Well… guess what? All 19 of the ferns are being named after your favorite artist, Lady Gaga. According to Rolling Stone:

Among the more eye-popping fern names are Gaga germanotta – a nod to the singer’s real name, Stefani Germanotta – and Gaga monstraparva, which translates to “Gaga little monster,” an acknowledgement of Gaga’s dedicated “little monster” fanbase.

So little monsters be proud because you are now a beautiful fern not just a person idolizing another human being! See announcement video below (Thanks Duke University!).


#3 Does the Acceptance of “Gangnam Style” in America Mean Something?

When I first heard Psy’s “Gangnam Style” on the radio, I found it interesting that American radio stations would play a song which is sung almost entirely in a foreign language. I thought, “Is it possible that the musical palette of Americans could be broadening as we are becoming an increasingly global culture?” This is what Luke Larsen at Christ and Pop Culture explores in this thoughtful article. He states:

Somewhere between our subconscious spirit of American Exceptionalism and monolingualism rests a clear unwillingness to engage with media that is not in English. We respect ideas and concepts from other countries, but aren’t usually ready to open up to the world.

Then encourages all of us to leave behind our misconceptions about other cultures and embrace other human beings:

If we have any desire of reaching out to people outside our homes both personally and culturally, fear of “the other” — of people unlike ourselves — has to be a trait we learn to leave behind.

God has created so much beauty in the world that for a nation to ignore all the beauty which other cultures produce leaves us with a narrow view of God’s creative work through humanity.

#2 Lecrae’s New Album Gravity Debuts at #1

Christian rapper Lecrae’s newest offering debut as the #1 album on the iTunes hip hop charts and exposed his music to a mainstream secular audience. Unlike TobyMac’s #1 album last week, Lecrae’s album is theologically-rich and gospel-centered as he does not shy away from proclaiming the gospel on every single track. However, the song Mayday has created some controversy because it features the secular rapper Big K.R.I.T. Listen to the track below to see if Lecrae moved into territory not appropriate for a Christian artist.


#1 All Female Punk Band Sentenced to Two Years in Jail

Pussy Riot is a punk band who took to the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow singing their expletive-laden and anti-Putin Punk Prayer and were subsequently jailed. On August 17th the three women were sentenced to serve a two year stint in prison. There was immediate reaction from around the world as President Obama and a number of high profile musicians spoke out against the verdict.

The whole incident and trial bring up questions about sphere confusion with Russian Orthodox Church leaders being too closely connected to Russian politicians. Additionally, there is the idea of freedom of expression in a political environment where anti-government sentiments are not being tolerated. Then there is the attack on Christianity by the band itself trying to silence the voice of Christian people in Russia.  No party is innocent in this matter.