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Making Sense of the Grammys

Mark Beuving —  January 28, 2014 — 8 Comments

This year’s Grammy Awards (the 56th) has caused quite a stir. On some level, the Grammys are always a big deal. It’s got to be one of the most viewed, most diverse, most star-studded concerts every year. The event inherently celebrates God’s gift of music, and that aspect of the event glorifies God. Then there’s the quantity of famous people attending, performing, and award-receiving, so the event is bound to be big every year.

But this year was more stirring than most. Here are a few of the crazier highlights.

Katy Perry performed her song “Dark Horse” in a particularly satanic manner. She emerged from a crystal ball to dance on stage wearing a red cross in front of demons and other black-clad dancers imitating a human sacrifice. It was dark. The thing is, the song itself isn’t this crazy. It references magic in the chorus, but it’s referenced metaphorically. So in her choice to make her performance focus on witchcraft, I think Katy Perry was simply playing with that metaphor:

“So you wanna play with magic
Boy you should know what you’re fallin’ for
Baby do you dare to do this
‘Cause I’m comin’ at you like a dark horse”

She’s using the concept of “magic” as a metaphor to say, “don’t get in over your head by getting involved with me.” I really think it’s that simple. Unfortunately, she illustrated that metaphor so vividly that even the non-conservative media outlet E! Online tweeted: “Um, did we just witness actual witchcraft during Katy Perry’s #Grammys performance?” That definitely made for some dark viewing.

Then there was Beyonce, joined by Jay-Z, performing “Drunk In Love”—a pretty filthy song—in the most trashily scandalous way imaginable (in my opinion). It was crazy, and played its part in turning a potentially classy event into something awkward at best and sleazy at worst.

But probably the most talked about aspect was Macklemore’s song “Same Love.” The song bashes the church for being hateful and intolerant, bashes hip-hop for the same reason, and proclaims that:

“Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love”

Then Queen Latifah walked out, pointed out the 33 couples lining the aisles—many of them homosexual couples—and performed a 40 second marriage ceremony in which no vows were exchanged, no names were mentioned, and rings were hastily shoved onto fingers.

Now, here’s the thing. I love music. I love “Christian” music. I love “secular” music. I love the celebration of music that the Grammy Awards represents. But does all of this make me love the music world less?

No. I think there are reasons for the craziness of the Grammys. One primary factor is that while the Grammys intend to honor genuine musical excellence, the actual award ceremony is about entertainment. All of that stuff is great for ratings for the Grammys and the TV network, and the media buzz is great for record sales for the artists involved. Even after such a controversial performance at the VMAs, Miley Cyrus explained at New Year’s that it’s been a great year for her. She got a lot of heat, but celebrity is celebrity, record sales are record sales.

So even if the show itself got out of hand, I don’t think that devalues the music that ties all of these diverse people together.

And while some music and musicians are inherently dark or sexual or propagandistic, the Grammys still represent many thoughtful, earnest, and creative musicians. I’m not surprised by the sexual content in some of the songs, like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.” One reason I’m not a huge fan of rap/R&B is the persistent focus on licentious sex, fame, and wealth (though I’ll be quick to point out that not all of it is that way). But Taylor Swift was also there as a more wholesome alternative, and Lorde won Song of the Year for a song denouncing licentious sex, fame, and wealth.

I don’t endorse gay marriage (for a balanced and helpful discussion of this issue, click here), but I do think people like Macklemore should be free to explore that concept and sing about it. What I disliked about that song and the surrounding performance is the propagandistic nature of it. There’s no subtlety. It’s not pushing the listener to reflect. The message is just there in your face, which I think devalues it as art. And by the way, this is a problem that I have with most Christian music. So many Christian songs are not contemplating life, they’re not encouraging reflection. They’re just stating their message sermonically. This makes these songs great as sermons and weak as art (in my opinion).

So I’m not turned off to music because of Macklemore’s performance. He’s not the first to give a sermon set to music, nor will he be the last. The world eats this stuff up. We eat it up. It’s great to have something to be angry about. What saddens me is that the focus is taken off of the music, which the Grammys are meant to celebrate. It takes the focus off of the thoughtful musicians who are consciously or unconsciously glorifying God by using the gifts he has given them and reflecting the creativity God implanted within them. Music is still a precious gift from God, even if its award shows get out of hand.

Yesterday I said that everything in this world is important because of the kingdom of God. If God’s righteous reign is to spread into every aspect of this world, then we need to take everything seriously. This is God’s world, and we should love every inch of it and long to see it redeemed (Rom. 8:19–25).

One of the major reasons we have trouble thinking highly of this world is the reality of sin. Our world is soaked in sin. Sin is responsible for everything from thistles to headaches to rude customers to cancer to death itself. So when we look at the world, we see sin. It’s unavoidable.

So let’s burn the place to the ground! Right? When the milk in my fridge gets corrupted, I plug my nose and pour it down the drain. There’s nothing lovely about spoiled milk.

But our world is different. Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew use a helpful analogy here. They explain that sin is like a stain. It’s messy, it taints what it touches, but it’s different than the fabric itself. There is still good fabric underneath the stain. If I love my favorite shirt enough, I don’t throw it out with my every coffee spill.

Here’s where I’ll carry the analogy a bit too far and into some cheesy territory. I do everything I can to clean my shirt. Very often, I can get the stain out. If that doesn’t work, I can always take it to the cleaners. And lucky for us (brace yourself for the cheesiness), we know the ultimate Cleaner who at the end of all things will bring us back our once-stained world, sparkling clean, renewed, reinvigorated, and—because our Cleaner is also the Master Tailor—made even better than before.

Cheesiness aside, I hope the point is coming across. This exercise would be so helpful for all of us: read Genesis 1 and 2, then skip ahead to Revelation 21 and 22. These are the bookends of Scripture and the parallels are stunning.

So what do we do? We engage every aspect of our world with Christian fury. We look to politics, economics, education, childcare, and entertainment with a passion to see God’s will done in each of these spheres. Rather than turning away in disgust because these activities are too corrupt, we ask ourselves what it would mean for each of these spheres to come under the lordship of Christ and be transformed by his grace.

Of course, this task is difficult. Impossible even. But if God’s plan of redemption is indeed as wide as creation itself, then we will have to represent him across the board. We can’t be defeatist and give up simply because we can’t do the whole job by ourselves. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing even if we’re bound to fail. We labor to see God’s will done in and around us, and we trust him for the results.

Our world is stained by sin, but it’s worth fighting for. Let’s attack the stain but rescue the fabric.

I have already made a lot of fuss about The Hunger Games (click here, here, or here), but I can’t resist at least one more post. A friend of mine watched the movie in the theater on opening night. The house was packed. The audience rode the emotional roller coaster until the film climaxed with a showdown between the “good” characters (Katniss and Peeta) and the last remaining “bad” character (Cato). And as Cato fell to certain death, the crowd cheered.

Did you catch that? The crowd cheered! As a 16 year old boy—who was born into a corrupt world system that forced children to fight to the death—fell from safety to be eaten by wild dogs, the crowd cheered.

In my first post on The Hunger Games, I said that I creeped myself out when I realized that I was enjoying a story about kids killing each other. As I read the books, I was disgusted by the members of “the Capitol” who were shallow enough to view a forced teenage death match as entertainment. But I realized that I was indicted when I found myself rooting for one of these teens to triumph by killing the others. (To be clear, I enjoyed the books for reasons that are far deeper than the glorification of violence—I’m just admitting that I too got caught up in the drama of the games.)

It’s no stretch to say that Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games in an attempt to show us how shallow we have become—to prophetically announce that we have become so entertainment focused that we will allow gross atrocities to unfold beneath our noses so long as our stomachs and eyes are satisfied.

How terrifying, then, that you could be sitting amongst a few hundred of your fellow citizens, taking in a prophetic statement about your society’s shallow apathy, and then hear them all break into applause when a teenage boy (himself marred and calloused, but human and young nonetheless) falls to his death.

I’m all for enjoying movies, and I’m not saying that the people in the theater with my friend are especially evil. We all have an ingrained desire to see the wicked punished, and in the movie, this 16 year old was behaving wickedly. But I do think that this example shows the extent to which we need to hear Suzanne Collins’ indictment. Is our generation really willing to fight evil in all its forms, even if we have full bellies and diversions galore? We think the coliseum in Rome was a terrible affront to the dignity of man, but can we really claim to be any better? Based on this particular instance, I’d say no.