Archives For Katy Perry

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.

When Katy Perry’s song “Roar” released in October 2013, I almost wrote a blog post about it. As much as I like the song (and my young daughters are constantly requesting it), I was going to point out what I saw as naïveté in the lyrics.

Perry sings about how life used to be, how she used to be insignificant, a zero. But now she’s dominating life. Why? Because she has the eye of the tiger. She’s a champion, and we’re gonna hear her roar.

What struck me as naïve is that simply calling yourself a champion does not make you a champion. I thought of the people who love that song. People who are feeling broken, oppressed, overwhelmed. These people would be singing “Roar” at the top of their lungs, thinking that declaring themselves champions and threatening to roar (and what would that actually mean in anyone’s real life situation?) would help them conquer their circumstances.

I almost wrote that blog post. But then I came across a handful of videos on Youtube that changed my mind. These were videos of cancer patients singing “Roar” with frail voices and absolute sincerity. Videos of down-syndrome teenagers singing “Roar” while footage rolled of them trying out and making the cheerleading squad. Real tearjerkers. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for a couple of examples—grab your kleenex.)

On the one hand, these people have debilitating and/or life-threatening diseases. Is declaring themselves champions and threatening to roar going to relinquish the strangle-hold of cancer or reverse the pervasive effects of a genetic disorder?

But on the other hand. On the other hand, these are champions. These are fighters. Whatever the eye of the tiger is, they’ve got it. These are boys and girls whose souls have withstood the crushing blows of cancer, even if their bodies are crumbling. These are teenagers with a zeal for life who refuse to sit in the background, even though society has not offered them any alternatives. They have spent their precious little lives roaring louder than lions, even if their vocal chords can’t produce more than whispers.

This stopped my original blog post in its tracks. It’s true that declaring oneself a champion is not going to reverse the oppressive and debilitating forces in a person’s life. But music has a power to express what lies beneath the surface of our thought lives. It names that which we feel but haven’t had the inclination, ability, or opportunity to explore.

So a weakened woman in an abusive relationship might listen to “Roar” and be reminded that she is more than her manipulative spouse declares her to be. A dying patient might hear this song and exult in the declaration that he will not go down without a fight, and that even if the illness steals his body, his soul will not be defeated.

What can a song do? Indeed. What can a song do other than inspire the resilient spirit of those who have a hidden reserve of strength in their bones? What can a song do other than rally those who have forgotten that in this world are things worth fighting for? What can a song do other than remind us of what we’ve always known but never expressed?

Music is powerful stuff. So I’m glad I procrastinated on my lame blog post. I’m glad that Katy Perry roared, and thereby inspired many others to do the same.