You don’t even have to be a devout Christian to have hits with Christian-centric lyrics. Just look at Billie Eilish’s “All the Good Girls Go to Hell,” a song by a performer who tends to make Christians nervous.
I’m an atheist but I find religion fascinating. So when I hear songs with religious undertones and themes, I’m a fan. But when I hear songs about religion and how it is the “only” thing that will save me, I feel alienated.
Now comes Kanye West’s Jesus Is King and FKA Twigs Magdalene, two pop albums deeply rooted in personal relationships with religion.
It isn’t the first time pop stars have dabbled in religion. Musicians from Dolly Parton to Little Richard released gospel albums. Religious standards like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” were recorded by Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. Ray Charles built his legendary reputation by incorporating gospel into pop.
Even though half of America still belongs to religious institutions, church membership has been declining for decades. We’re much more conscious as a society of the melting pot of religions our community has. Now, in 2019, we say things like “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and you won’t get lynched for saying you’re an atheist or even a satanist. So, shouldn’t pop music be evolving with society to be more freedom-of-religion savvy?
FKA Twig’s new album Magdalene reflects the profound influence the story of Mary Magdalene had on the singer. But while it’s about Mary Magdalene, it’s not about the Bible. She uses religious themes to tell a personal story. Tracks like “Holy Terrain,” “Home With You” and “Fallen Alien” tell a story of a woman giving her all to a man and asking for nothing in return, similar to Magdalene and Jesus. However, she focuses on the emotions from the story, rather than the religious tale.
FKA Twig ft. Future, “Holy Terrain”
Kanye’s newest album Jesus Is King focuses solely on religion rather than picking out themes and emotions—sounding like someone preaching straight from the altar. It’s obvious that Kanye is using his fame to spread the gospel here. Is that ok for pop music to do in 2019 though?
Tracks like “Follow God,” “God Is” and “Jesus Is Lord” are not even hiding the fact that they’re about religion. The video for “Follow God” literally begins with a man preaching. This doesn’t feel like Kanye is making art, it feels like Kanye is trying to convert his fans.
Kanye West, “Follow God”
Kanye’s religion is no surprise. He’s written religious-themed songs since the beginning of his career and is very outspoken about his beliefs. But this latest album seems to take it to another level. It doesn’t even sound like a pop album anymore, it sounds like an album made for the church.
It’s not wrong to make religious songs. It’s just confusing to have them considered as pop music hits.
It seems like concentrating on a certain religion in a song isn’t really affecting its popularity. Kanye’s “Follow God” from Jesus Is King is already in the top forty of Billboard’s Hot 100 this week.
So, are religious pop songs a hit in 2019 because pop stars are making religion cool or is the audience for pop music becoming more religious and pop stars are adapting? God only knows for now.