Columnist Mark Beaumont doesn't like Christian music. Don't @ him, turn the other cheek
Today, I was denied by Christ. Christ was closed. The internet had told me that Christ was open until 7pm, but when I arrived by Uber at 6.10pm, I was told Christ wasn’t accessible, and I could only see him through a telescope from five hundred feet away. For an all-encompassing deity, it’s surprising to find that Christ closes at 6pm on Sundays.
This was Christ The Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro, where I’ve been at Rock In Rio, but it’s generally typical of His behaviour. I mean, is there anything Christianity can’t spoil? Sex, drugs, church youth group camping trips, Cotswolds B&B holidays for gays – all ruined.
It’s the God-fearing US right keeping sales of MAGA caps buoyant, global politics unstable and combat grade weaponry on the shelves of supermarkets, right next to the school rucksacks with handy sidearm pockets. It’s the Bible faithful refusing to mount two chaps on top of a rainbow wedding cake, claiming dominion over the goings-on in other people’s wombs and basically throwing their weight about out of a misguided sense of moral superiority they’ve somehow gained from believing – without question, otherwise it’s eternal arse-truncheon for you, heathen – every line of a compendium of ancient, exaggerated and often contradictory folk stories written in different languages by generations of people who didn’t know very much about geology or astronomy, falsified and mis-translated by centuries of manipulative, power-hungry cynics and boasting not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of it whatsoever. You might as well live your life by Trump tweets, or Sun exposés.
And boy have the Christians tried to ruin music. They burnt Beatles albums, picketed metal gigs, campaigned to ban ‘offensive’ records and sleeves, did everything they could to make sure we could only ever listen to nice, wholesome artists like Elton John and Wham!.
When they realised they were largely powerless to impose a moral prohibition on music, they tried fighting fire with brimstone. Remember Stryper? Jars Of Clay? Delirious?? Leading lights of the ‘Christian rock’ genre all, a phrase that promises the same level of danger, raunch and rebellion as ‘DUP convention’ or ‘Only Connect’.
Now there’s nothing wrong with musicians including issues of faith and religion in their music, of course. It’s an essential part of music fundamental self-expression. Whether from a religious perspective or not, Nick Cave has danced with both God and devil numerous times, Spiritualized are always requesting that Jesus come and help out on massive trombone and I’ll happily bellow along to Neutral Milk Hotel’s “I laaahv-yeeew Jezaaahs Cha-raaaayst!” on ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ after one too many bloods of Christ.
Right here in my iTunes library, here’s God showing me magic, lifting up the lowly and only knowing what I’d be without you. There’s no law against gullibility – you can believe, and sing about, what you like. But when an act defines themselves by any religion, they immediately make themselves un-relatable to anyone who doesn’t share that faith. At the very least, you’ve got to be willing to put up with a whole lot of evangelical preaching and rhetoric you consider nonsensical to enjoy what’s left of the music. Otherwise you suddenly feel very unwelcome, like being a fair-minded liberal at a Morrissey gig.
By the same token, it’s not the fact that they’re Christians that makes Mumford & Sons crap, it’s merely a convenient excuse. But when an artist discovers God and announces that they’re only going to make Christian music from that point on, it’s like losing a loved one to a cult, or Charlie Brooker to Netflix. Unless you buy in completely, you no longer have a connection. Generations of folk fans essentially lost Bob Dylan when he went Christian – and, coincidentally, shit – in 1979, and now it’s Kanye’s turn.
Kanye has walked with Jesus before of course, but with ‘Yeezus’ it seemed that he was ascending to sit alongside Him, on the sideboob of God. He appeared to be launching his own church, where followers eat of the croissant of the saviour and kiss the Arse Of Kardashian for good fortune. But with ‘Jesus Is King’ he’s found faith, unfortunately. He’s started the West Sunday Service event featuring gospel and sermons, pilfered from Psalms for song titles and announced he’ll no longer release secular music. It’s too soon to know if Jesus has cast his spirit of shitness across the music, but word is there’s no swearing on it. How he’s going about insisting on immediate pastries without a mild cuss is as yet unconfirmed.
Now I don’t pretend to lead any sort of hip-hop life. I’ve never wasted good liquor on the ground, knowingly rolled up to a club in any sort of luxuriant fashion or been particularly proud of a car. But there were elements of Kanye’s previous life I could relate to. I’ve seen my fair share of flashing lights – more cop than pap, admittedly, I’ve partied in Paris plenty, and motherfucking twatbiscuit, can I swear.
So even I’m starting to worry there’ll be nothing for me in Kanye’s music from here on in. And as ridiculous as it always seemed, his quasi-religious egotism is one of the things I like about the guy; the last thing we want to see is a humble Kanye West, recognising his place in the spiritual order, graciously applauding artists who beat Beyonce at award ceremonies and waiting patiently in line at a Paul patisserie.
Plus, for someone who claims to be a rock star, he’s missing a major point of the job. Rock’n’roll was about subverting traditional engrained ideas, of not doing and believing what you’re told, of questioning the world and everything in it. Every radical musician from Lennon to Frank Turner has questioned religion in song and to succumb to it feels a major step backwards, as if ideological progress never happened. To turn purely Christian, musically, is to deny progress, to champion conformity, to scrap sixty years of alternative culture. So it’s with clenched ears that I’ll be listening to ‘Jesus Is King’ when it arrives. God help us.