The more I listen to, discuss, study, and worship through the beautiful God-given art that is music, the less tolerance I have for things that lack passion, myself included. The angry, harsh screams of the metal genre channel a rage that’s pointed and freeing; the sad, whiny cries of the emo genre lament about sorrows that are relatable and tangible; the expressive, artistic poetry of the hip-hop/rap genre offers a window into a subculture foreign to me. These expressions are born from passion, from suffering, from hardship—not unlike many of David’s psalms or Job’s replies to those around him. Of course, these whole genres are not to be praised but rather the artists that represent those genres well (check out Oh, Sleeper, Real Friends, and Kendrick Lamar).
When looking at any art form or cultural expression, the temptation is always to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially for evangelicals. Yes, a lot of metal is empty and stupid, a lot of emo music is laughable and melodramatic, and a lot of rap is deplorable and repetitive. But not all of it. And this is true of more than just whole genres, but artists themselves.
I’ve found that (almost) any song or movie or book is redeemable if you’re willing to get past language that you’re uncomfortable with and embrace subject matter that won’t be found on Disney Channel. Look beyond Drake’s radio singles that praise money and sex and you’ll hear him sing, “Time after time after time, money’s all I get and there’s still money on my mind but I ain’t ever satisfied” on Future’s ‘Never Satisfied,’ or beyond Bring Me the Horizon’s very explicit, anti-religious lyrics and you’ll find a man searching for something and someone more on their song ‘Drown’: “Who will fix me now? Save me from myself, don’t let me drown.” Both of these ‘secular’ artists make very biblical points: all the money in the world won’t satisfy you and no man can fix or save you.
This approach to music is not merely for personal enjoyment, it comes with evangelistic intent, too. When unbelievers see us damning Katy Perry’s music on the basis of being ‘non-Christian’ or perhaps overly sexual, they don’t focus on that, they see us rejecting a person and the good art that they make. Again, yes, we should recognize that the content isn’t praiseworthy, but without communicating that Katy Perry is beyond the grace of God or that the pop music she gives to the world is not as great and catchy as it is (even if you hate radio pop). Moreover, if we can show the world that Christians in fact celebrate people, good art, and God-given truth regardless of where it’s found or who it comes from, then we represent the Lord well and we shatter misconceptions of what the Lord is doing in this world.
Refuse to settle for surface-level art forms and dispassionate musicians, directors, and authors. We have so much to learn from different people of foreign backgrounds and far away cultures with new insights into life, the Lord, and the human condition. Great music, great cinema, and great literature should be celebrated as great gifts from the Lord.