A few years back, I wrote the most visited editorial in our site’s history titled No More Bleeping Christian Music. It went viral overnight, instantly enraging one side while empowering the other–complete with plenty of snark and accompanying gifs. I took a brave, deep dive into the dark and dank corners of the Christian music industry. Corners where artists dropped f-bombs in their worship without warning, welcomed guest artists who didn’t subscribe to the Kool-aid, and justifications of “being honest and real” poured over anyone who batted an eye.
Pretty scandalous stuff.
The editorial was read tens of thousands of times and I fielded thousands of comments–something any writer always loves to see happen. Engagement isn’t all good, however. I came out of that process bruised up, and humbled, but also confident and proud that I spoke some hard truth that was ultimately appreciated.
In the article (or “judged-filled rant,” depending on your perch), I litigated the curse word in Christian circles and questioned its necessity in the music that most of us have grown to love, respect, and trust. I worried that we were beginning to see a shift in acceptable lyrics, and we were witnessing the early stages of what I viewed, at the time, as an epidemic.
While I’ll admit that we’re not to the point of what we all experienced over the past couple of years, the issue hasn’t exactly disappeared either. Multiple times a month, our team drops singles from our playlists on Spotify and Apple Music, deletes albums from the site, and pivots away from artists who decide to swear or be overtly sexual in their music.
It’s making good on a promise I made at the time that, “as a Christian media company moving forward, I’m done with the ‘bleeping’ Christian music. We’ll bring zero attention or promotion to any album, or song, that contains explicit/profane/blasphemous/sexual language defined by the general society as obscene.”
I’m proud to say, NewReleaseToday has held to this standard. Why? It’s not because we determined years ago to sit on a throne and play content police, pointing out everyone’s faults according to our plank-filled eyes. Gross. It’s because we care about you–our readers. Christian music fans. Parents of kids. Youth pastors. Radio programmers. Developing minds. Other artists. All coming to us to seek refuge from the barrage of what society continues to deliver and plug as acceptable.
Christian music has always been different. This is why when it started sounding–and looking–similar to what the world was offering, I spoke up. I had to.
And then I let it go. Every month since, various artists have felt a need to creatively express themselves with crass language, questionable visuals, and controversial posts, and we have steered clear, allowing the consumer to discover them apart from NewReleaseToday. I said my peace. I stated how we would operate moving forward, I fought a few dozen social media wars, and onward life goes.
I find myself perplexed that I’m here again, writing about the content of what we continue to hear and see in Christian music. I guess it’s been a busier month than usual, and some recent developments have ignited new alarms.
In the past two months, we’ve had a few glaring examples of how this issue continues to invade what once was sacred space.
Derek Webb, a self-professed “Christian music agitator” released a video just in time for pride month for his controversial LGBTQ+ affirming track, “Boys Will Be Girls.” In it, he teamed up with Christian musician and drag queen, Flamy Grant (cute), who recently activated his fanbase to prove his relevancy and scored a temporary #1 album and song on iTunes. “The music video captured the transition of Webb from his typical white t-shirt and 5 o’clock shadow,” the accompanying flame-fanning press release read, “into a fully bedazzled and blue-wigged drag queen.”
Always one to get ahead of a controversy, Derek’s team had responses baked in, for all the comments they would eventually get. “Well, you know what they say,” read one doozy of a line. “‘There’s no hate like Christian love.'” Yes. That was actually in a press release for a “Christian song.” Let’s call all the detractors hate-filled bigots before they even open their arrogant, out-of-touch, mouths. Preach it.
Let it be forever known that I don’t care if Derek Webb thinks I’m a bigot.
And how dare you mock Amy Grant. She’s a legend.
Back in 2017, I pinned the increase of swearing in Christian music squarely on the rise of the independent artist. I argued that as more and more artists were leaving the label system, their overall accountability diminished. No longer needing to white-wash for retail, radio, or any other gatekeepers in Christian music, they were finally free to fully express themselves.
And for the most part, I’ve found that theory to hold.
Until this month.
Capitol Christian Music Group, owned by Universal Music, is the largest producer and publisher of Christian music. They have dominated for decades. Their artist roster far exceeds any other label, or label group, in Christian Music, representing such iconic artists as Newsboys, Hillsong UNITED, Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, TobyMac, and Amy Grant–the non-drag version.
This past week, they emailed out new music from Jesus Culture, We The Kingdom, The Belonging Co., and the new album and video from Dante Bowe. That last inclusion surprised me because Dante’s new album is getting lots of attention for all the wrong reasons. The recently released music video for his vibey, summer “Gospel” jam, “Wind Me Up,” features dozens of scantly clad women partying it up in sexual pose after pose. The lyrics are about desire, companionship, and arguably lust. His album is full of more of the same, in between some great worshipful moments, but it’s hard to know what I’m getting into when we’re talking about Jesus’ nail-scarred hands one moment, and giving in to sexual desires while dropping bombs multiple times on the bridge in the next.
The same major label group saw JUDAH., one of its artists, release a new single this past week titled, “Beatitudes,” complete with an explicit version and a “Family Version.” He drops the phrase, “I’m out of f&*^s,” on verse two. The clean version of this Christian song changes it to “I’m out of lucks.”
This is new and something I haven’t seen. We have a major Christian label pushing sexual and explicit lyrics and videos alongside legacy church worship albums and contemporary Christian artists.
Well, that’s not confusing at all.
Imagine thinking your entire song loses its overall impact if you can’t drop the f-bomb? Imagine defending that a song loses its overall impact if it’s not included.
How about we just not include it?
Let it be forever known that I don’t give any lucks if JUDAH., or his fans, thinks I’m a prude or part of the problem of today’s stuffy church that they don’t want any part of to begin with.
The defense for inclusion of this content is simple. If you don’t like it, you’re the problem. You’re a bigot. You’re old-fashioned. You’re a transphobe. You’re holier-than-thou. You’re judgemental. You’re out of touch. You’re what’s wrong with every single church in existence. And who wants to be any of those? What if we all said defiantly, “me. I don’t care what you label me. Fine.” I’d bet the conversation would change pretty rapidly instead of shutting up in fear that you’ll be labeled something uncomfortable.
So, is any of this important? The church, and our society at large, have many problems. Swearing is admittedly small potatoes that we don’t need to be spending lengthy editorials on. Again.
Well, I do believe this is part of a growing, larger culture where anything goes. That whatever I deem well and fine is, in fact, well and fine. And that’s dangerous. It’s divisive. It doesn’t belong in the church. And we are warned against it.
So let’s stop doing it.
It serves no purpose. It divides the flock. It distracts from your message. And it makes me stick out my neck which is sure to be chopped off by a few people in the coming weeks.
Which then makes me want to swear.
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Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991.