Archive for August 28th, 2011

The party song of a generation

Every generation of American teenagers has had its party song since mass radio audiences were possible. I can remember some enormously popular party songs during my growing up years. In 1981 “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang hit number one. As one who spent the greatest portion of his developmental years in the ’80’s I can say that “Celebration” was fairly harmless. In fact the lyrics are safe enough that someone is probably using it on Sunday morning gatherings with a slight word tweak here or there. A few years later Lionell Richie came out with “Dancin’ on the Ceiling”–again, fairly harmless unless dancing on the ceiling is a reference to a drug-induced state of dancing. But I don’t particularly remember associating Lionel Richie with drug use.

More recently Miley Cyrus produced “Party in the USA.” Once again I would place this song in the same general category as the two above, although not being performed in Sunday morning settings as far as I know. As a side-note: If you’re wondering if I am being somewhat sarcastic about the use of secular songs on Sunday morning, I am. Although, I will admit that some folks whom I have great respect for are using cleaned-up and sometimes unaltered popular secular songs in evangelical settings on Sunday mornings in a manner that appears to be effective. And yes, I realize we would have to debate what effective means.

Back to the topic at hand, which I think will garner support from most believers: the party song of a generation can tell us something about youth culture at a given point in time and I certainly agree with Plato that the songs of a generation can influence that generation. Katy Perry’s recent hit “Last Friday Night” is number 1 on several charts right now. This, my friends, is an example of a dangerous party song. The music content is quite good if judged by pop-music standards: fun-sounding, good hook, interesting close to chorus that represents reflection and sets up next verse, interesting and fun bridge with chanting of TGIF–reminds me of cheer section of “Hey Mickey from 80’s.” Of course the problems emerge with the text. This song goes way beyond pushing the limits of “I’ve got dad’s keys and we’re having a safe but good time on the town.” I believe there may be a couple of felonies listed. Out of control sexual behavior  is promoted throughout the song. There is a general encouragement toward carpe diem Huxley style (i.e., drug-enduced states are the key to experiencing paradise). Inception would be an example of a popular movie with the same Huxley philosophy in place (of course, Perry’s version is less thoughtful). Perry’s song represents a total “in your face” rebellion to the value-preserving institutions of any great society.

Of course, Perry did not invent this rage against adult-authority attitude in pop music. Many would credit the Rolling Stones as being the first to do it openly  and bombastically.

However, I would argue that Perry’s approach may be more persuasive for a larger demographic. Like Madonna she communicates her rage against the church and authority of all types more subtly through a pop sound as opposed to a pure rock sound. In fact, rage may not be the right word to describe this approach. The anti-authority sound of the Rolling Stones and other male-dominated bands who followed in their footsteps sounded more like rage, but even Twisted Sister figured out that the message would reach a larger audience if it was presented in a fun manner (e.g., “We’re Not Gonna Take It”).

In sum, I am not arguing that because of this song, the youth culture today is somehow worse than it has been. But I will say that a song of this nature reaching number one should alarm us and remind us that we are in a constant battle for the minds and hearts of our youth. And perhaps this reality reminds us that Christian artists who seek to find alternative ways to present a relevant sound with more wholesome lyrics are doing us a great service.  We may have to endure trite lyrics from Nashville’s best attempts at relevant Christian music. As I remind my students the 2% rule is always in place: only about 2% of the music in any given era will be enduring. Let’s hope “Last Friday Night” does not make the list.

Trying too hard to market to millennial males can backfire

This post could be considered a follow-up to my last post regarding the relationship between apologetics and worship. I suggested in the article associated with the last post that one must be careful when using a Fideist approach. Truthfully, I am still wrestling with the use of such an approach for evangelistic purposes in a corporate worship setting. I certainly know of churches that appear to be winning lost souls using such an approach. However, we must be careful in how we market our selves, not that anyone is super excited about the word marketing being associated with evangelism anyway.

 Consider the following example from the business world. Burger King has realized after a few years of heavily marketing to millennial males that their narrow and short-sighted plan has backfired. It appears the cool King scares kids and is probably not a favorite of moms. I’m not suggesting that any churches I know of use sexually explicit marketing to draw people to an altar call, but do we sometimes use crude communication to be cool and thus attractive to the 20-something or 30-something male demographic. I will be the first to admit as a man that we men generally struggle with the edge of where communication is interesting and entertaining and where it begins to become crude. Most men I know are guilty of crossing the line at times. I think most ministers will admit that crude communication even happens sometimes in a staff meeting. But, should we not seek to be super careful to make sure we keep our communication holy in the context of public worship. And yes I realize God cares just as much about my crude thoughts and language that might be shared with 1 or 2 as he does with language that is shared with a group. However, it seems to me that we should collectively seek after the ideal in corporate worship settings. Let me also clarify that I am not trying to single out a single personality in the evangelical church that might be guilty of such behavior. Rather, I am seeking to encourage thoughtful self-reflection that will help us to carefully consider our methods.