Friday, January 28, 2011

Pop Music Contemplates God

I like music, and I like religion. No necessarily for the same reasons, but there is some interesting crossover. Particularly when music contemplates religion without preaching it, as in Regina Spektor's song, "Laughing With."

Between the M.C. Escher -style backgrounds and the (as always) truly lovely vocals and piano, this one never stays buried in my YouTube playlist for very long.

Another favorite, a little older (okay, more like a lot older, in pop years): Joan Osborne's "One of Us."

Interesting how Ms. Spektor and Ms. Osborne both use the close-up face shots - maybe to show off their luscious lips? Maybe it's just me, but it certainly seems like there may be a trend in lady musicians with prominent mouths singing about religiosity (okay, yes I know that's too specific to be a trend) -- after the jump, consider Tori Amos, with her song "Crucify."

See? The lips - there is totally something going on there!

Amos has another song that uses religious themes, although technically that one's a bit more about female masturbation, but Amos' recent contributions to the sex/motherhood/religion debate are really worth the read, and "Icicle" demonstrates a good blending of those spheres.

Moving outside of my beloved ladies for the moment, there is of course R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," with its gorgeous art-history -inspired imagery (painting of Saint Sebastian, anyone?) and quirky sense of humor (gotta love the wig).

Who else comes to mind? Going back to the womenfolk (sorry guys, apparently women are statistically more inclined to profess some form of spirituality than men; feel free to rip into my lack of religion-contemplating male pop artists in the comments!), there is my life-long favorite Jewel, with her songs "Who Will Save Your Soul" and "Hands," off of Pieces of You and Spirit respectively (although you can definitely make the case for the whole of Spirit circling around the God theme; "Hands" is just what I would point to as the most obvious example.

Finally, any quick, impromptu, really-just-wanted-to-make-a-list-of-some-of-my-favorite-secular-artists-singing-about-religion-and-or-spirituality list wouldn't be complete without a holla to the original pop artist utilizing religious themes: Madonna (whether these themes are purely used for shock value or not, I leave to you to take up in the comments).

All right, what can we make of all this? Personally, considering how much focus is given to spirituality in art, I'm surprised there's not more attention paid to it the pop music sphere. Is it too taboo? Too "churchy?" Not interesting enough? Too personal? Especially in America, where over 80% of Americans identify themselves as religious, I'd think this would be more of a big deal - what do you think?


  1. You could add Lily Allens song "Him" to your list

  2. Great post, Kate. I really love all of these songs - and Spektor's "Laughing With" floated on to my radar again in the last week, too. I wonder if maybe the "lack" of religion like this in pop is due to it being too - I don't know - serious? Pop seems to sustain light (?) notions of sexuality and love much easier and more frequently than any more serious or political contexts.