Grammy Malaise

I have a confession to make. I watched the Grammys last night. I don’t know how many years it’s been since I’ve seen the Grammys, but I decided this year to break my long streak of paying no attention to them at all. As I watched last night, I remembered why it was that I haven’t given heed to these awards. As a cultural moment, the Grammys are supremely and exquisitely vacuous. In fact, I would say that they are quite depressing. As far as the decline of civilizations is concerned, the Grammys are right up there with gladiatorial games and barbarian invasions.

That is not to say that I don’t enjoy various forms of pop music. I do. But a banal three-hour long self-promote-athon I can do without. The only redeeming aspect of last night’s viewing was that I DVR’ed it and was able to fast forward through a good bit of the program. From now on, I think the better part of wisdom will be to meditate on Ephesians 5:16 and skip it altogether.

A pastor friend of mine recently said that the best secular musicians are those who look straight into the beauty of the face of God, refuse to worship, and then sing about it. I think that’s about right. There is a kind of image-bearing genius and beauty in the performances of many of these musicians, but their brilliance tends to be marred by weightlessness and vanity. Indeed it is still true that all creation groans to be set free from its original corruption. Pop music galas are no exception (Romans 8:20-21).

It is difficult to be shocked anymore. The envelope has already been pushed so far that there are hardly any other places for it to be pushed. Nevertheless, if anyone were able to find new ways to shock and awe polite company, Lady Gaga would be the one. Her performance last night was odd to say the least. She was carried into the ceremony in a giant egg from which she hatched herself on stage to perform her new hit single “Born This Way.”

Ironically, this song and Lady Gaga’s performance was perhaps the program’s best attempt at profundity. “Born This Way” is making a theological point. It contends that sexual orientation is an innate and immutable quality of the human condition—a trait that we are “born” with. Whether you are gay, straight, or whatever, God made you this way, and for that reason you should embrace it. Or as Gaga herself puts it, “I’m beautiful in my way ’cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track baby. I was born this way.”

The message of the song drinks deeply of the “is-ought” fallacy—the idea that we can determine what ought to be by observing what is. The song’s message also flies in the face of the Bible’s depiction of a fallen creation. It is true that God created human beings in His own image and that as a result every single human has intrinsic value and worth (Genesis 1:26-27). It is not true, however, that God endorses every thought and intention of the human heart. We live in a Genesis 3 world in which humanity and the cosmos are fallen and compromised by sin. That means that some of our desires are misdirected—even some of the ones that we are born with. That we desire sin from birth is not a cause for celebratory anthems but an indication of just how desperate the human condition really is (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Jeremiah 17:9).

In as much as the Grammys are a cultural barometer, I saw no surprises in last night’s spectacle. There were the flickers of image-bearing brilliance, but there was also the darkness of God-ignoring art. I was reminded of just how needy we all are of real beauty and real truth (which are of a piece in my view). I was also reminded that we are a people in desperate need of the only real profundity that there is in the world—the gospel of King Jesus crucified and raised for sinners-from-birth.

24 Responses to Grammy Malaise

  1. Lisa Ralston February 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Thought provoking essay, Dr. Burk. I hadn’t thought of pop culture from this perspective, but I think you’re exactly right.

  2. BPRJam February 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    I often wonder if the Dove awards are different in any significant way.

    Of course, there is the “God honoring” part – at least as far as we can tell. But the vacuous self-promotion seems to me to be roughly the same.

  3. Scott February 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    So there’s no place to sing a song unless it’s a “worship” song? There were some good performances, by very good musicians, last night. The Avette brothers & Mumford and Sons were fantastic. Their music has depth and creativity that you don’t find in the pre-packaged pop mess we were inundated with last night.

  4. Brent Hobbs February 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Thanks for enduring that for us. I decided several years ago it wasn’t worth it to watch any awards show. It’s all movie and music “stars” slapping each other on the back and telling each other how great they all are.

  5. Larry Geiger February 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    I think that Michell agrees with you:
    http://michellemalkin.com/2011/02/14/grammy-awards/

  6. Jason Russell February 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Denny might just might be upset that he never got nominated for his song, “Inez.” 🙂

  7. Kelley Kimble February 15, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    I, like Denny, have avoided watching the Grammys for several years for the same reasons he cited. However, I also agree with Scott. I had never heard of Mumford & Sons or the Avett Brothers and I got to see that part of the show while stopping by my parents’ home. I am a musician myself, and after I came to Christ I became less and less interested in secular music. I have found, however, there is sometimes a very fine line between that which is secular and the place where we cry out to God. So for the most part I am still uninterested in pop music and its excesses and its false gods, but I will try to refrain from painting everyone with a broad brush. After all, I have a good friend who is a member of the Church of Christ, and they still believe that musical instruments should never be used to praise God.

  8. Paul February 15, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    I agree with Scott. There ARE moments where the grammys, probably in spite of themselves, actually get it right. The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons were two, and giving Esperanza Spaulding the best new artist award is a third (Esperanza can sing – and play – better than pretty much anyone else that got nominated or won during the televised portion of the grammys).

    Focusing on Lady Gaga gets you, well, Lady Gaga. But, you know what? You get Lady Gaga precisely because that’s what you pay attention to. The sad part is, she was a great singer-songwriter before she switched gears because no one wanted to hear well crafted pop in the vein of Fiona Apple or Tori Amos. Lady Gaga isn’t the industry’s fault. She’s the fault of everybody that isn’t a champion of holding up a longstanding history of excellence in the arts. When people cared about such things, we respected classical music and jazz and our pop stars were The Beatles, Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Now that nobody seems to care, it’s Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.

  9. Derek February 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Paul said: Lady Gaga isn’t the industry’s fault. She’s the fault of everybody that isn’t a champion of holding up a longstanding history of excellence in the arts.
    Yeah, people – if only you ignorant plebes out there could just appreciate a excellent arts and artists like Madonna or Michael Jackson or Elvis, wouldn’t that be sublime!

  10. Derek February 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Paul said: Lady Gaga isn’t the industry’s fault. She’s the fault of everybody that isn’t a champion of holding up a longstanding history of excellence in the arts.
    Yeah, people – if only you ignorant plebes out there could just appreciate excellent arts and artists like Madonna or Michael Jackson or Elvis, wouldn’t that be sublime!

  11. John February 15, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    “the Grammys are right up there with gladiatorial games and barbarian invasions”

    Perhaps this is a bit over-reaching.

  12. Scott February 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    Derek,

    Paul didn’t call you ignorant. There was some great music Sunday night. Don’t let the least common denominator be a wet blanket over it all.

  13. Alexis Banegas February 16, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    I’m not exactly sure what was intended by this entry. I would simply like to ask…how is this beneficial? How does this help to further advance the work and message of the gospel? I suppose it speaks to the need of our lost society (?)…but to what end and purpose? The world needs Jesus, this we know. But that’s just it, they need JESUS…not morality. I mean, preaching a message of morality to the lost is not unlike telling a blind person to pretend like they can see. We all know the world is broken. Sure, it’s showcased quite vividly in the Grammys. It’s pretty self-evident. There is a lot that can be said here…for instance, I’m sure there were some redemptive elements to the evening. I mean, if nothing else, we could probably take a page out of Paul’s book (well technically Luke’s, specifically Acts 17:16-31) and see it as an opportunity to live missionally. What are people going to be talking about at the water cooler the next day? I’m in no way saying expose yourself to garbage constantly just so you can be culturally relevant. (I also understand it’s a matter of affections. What stirs your affections for Christ? More so than an issue of “right and wrong”) I AM, however, speaking to the posture of the believer’s heart when it comes to stuff like this. People are inherently sinful. This is not new information. When it comes to the Grammy’s, and really anything “secular/sinful” they’re simply living according to their nature. (Ephesians 2:3-10…no seriously, read it. It’s awesome.) I just believe entries like this only add to the white noise of “Western Evangelicalism” and “Right-wing Conservatives.” This is simply my humble opinion, I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to determine its merit or lack thereof. Thanks.

  14. Alexis Banegas February 16, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    I will concede that there is a relatively clear gospel-finish and admit that I read quite hastily, possibly even skipping the last paragraph. My bad. But I still stand by what I said. I agree whole heartedly with Appreciating the Grammys | Christ and Pop Culture and his post. I think the last thing we need is more articles, blog posts and Facebook posts that simply say “Look, look! Sinners sin!”…especially that are primarily (if not purely) written for other believers. (“Look how bad everyone else is.”) Why not preach the gospel amidst the chaos of pride and idolatry…with a more compassionate, sympathetic heart? (Like Paul) Know what I mean jelly bean?

  15. Mark February 16, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    I feel more sorry for CBS reporter Serene Branson for her attempt at covering the Grammys outside the Staples Center than the sorry Grammys itself. I hope everything is well with her and she doesn’t have a very serious illness.

  16. Kelley Kimble February 16, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Alexis, you make a good point, but the Apostle Paul didn’t refrain from calling sin what it is. The trend over the last few decades in popular art and music has been to push the envelope a little farther, and a little farther. When a song with a title that is not utterable in polite company is nominated for a Grammy award, where once this was unthinkable, I think of Romans 1. I don’t know what age group you are in, but there was a time when the utterance of that word in public could easily get you thrown out of whatever establishment you were in. That it is now so universally common as both an adjective, verb, and noun indicates to me that people really are tolerating things these days that were unacceptable a fairly short time ago. There are people who have gone so far that God has given them over to it. We don’t know who they are, God does. For this reason we must continue to be salt and light, but we also have to keep in mind that there are people who will not accept the gospel even if they see someone rise from the dead.

  17. Alexis Banegas February 17, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    I agree Kelley…for the most part. I also must say that I quite sincerely enjoy your name. That’s neither here nor there. My point, however, was simply that it was and is ultimately God’s KINDNESS that leads us…and everyone else for that matter…to repentance. Repentance doesn’t come first. Yes, there must be a realization of the need, and Charles Spurgeon would say then the “felt” need, and then we insert the gospel…not to win them over to a set of rules or religion…but to the eternal enjoyment and glorifying of God. Granted, and I think this is the most important part, all of this from start to finish is a work of God, namely the Holy Spirit, to convict the world of guilt (their need) and guide into truth, not ours. I was only put off by the apparent lack of love in the post. That’s all. I mean, our world is only gonna continue to get worse…we also have to understand that what may have been “socially acceptable” at one time, or really at any time, isn’t the standard anyway. I’m not saying to stop calling sin what it is…I’m just saying we have to define it, specifically in a manner that is loving and gentle (while not compromising the truth either). There are far too many wrong definitions of sin. I mean, I grew up thinking sin was “the bad things we do”…and I think that articles like this simply perpetuate that falsehood. So when a dude I know, that isn’t a born-again believer, is sleeping with his girlfriend, I can’t just go to him and be like, dude that’s wrong you should stop. That will accomplish little to nothing…I would even venture to say, more harm than good. It’s that whole “Good Advice vs. Good News” principle. They don’t need to change their behavior…they need Jesus to save them from their suicidal affections that lead to self-destructive behavior. I’m just pleading for more compassion and sympathy, that’s all…hence my posting of Ephesians 2:3-10. It’s also a matter of being “all things to all people” in a manner that is both honoring to the Lord and a blessing to those around us. Again, I’m sure the intended audience of this post probably knew all of this information to an extent (I’m speaking of the information in the “Grammy Malaise” post). So it’s like we’re calling sin (specifically the sin of others) sin to each other…which I see to be relatively pointless. I don’t think many non-believers will be reading this blog, let alone this blog post, nor do I believe are they intended to…and even if they did read it, it would only give more cause to their hurt, anger and belief that most, if not all Christians, are condescending and self-righteous. This is all understanding I’ve gained as God has graciously guided me deeper into the reality of Christ and Him crucified and what it means to truly follow Him. “The truth belongs to God, and the mistakes were mine.” – mewithoutYou. Oh, which brings me to another point, lol. Although on a very large and true scale, the “morality of music” is going down rapidly, there are also some excellent musicians both inside and outside of that trend worth noting. As far as “outside” goes, I was very pleased to see that Mumford & Sons were asked to preform at the Grammys. They, like mewithoutYou, Showbread and other (of my favorite) believing bands, are bands I respect for being good musically and sound doctrinally. They, as it would appear, know how to live missionally on a larger scale. People like them because they’re good, but they haven’t compromised what it means to be a follower of Jesus either. They’re not simply catering to the cry from the Christian sub-culture to produce good, wholesome “Christian” music that non-believers won’t touch with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. Ok, I’m done. “Let God be true and every man a liar.”

  18. D.R. Randle February 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Alexis,

    While I understand where you are coming from in attempting to promote love when confronted with sin, Scripture seems to point to a multidimensional approach. Even in citing Paul’s approach of being “all things to all people”, you’ve seemed to ignore that sometimes that entails a direct confrontation with sin that doesn’t always come across as loving.

    Numerous times we see this same approach taken in the Bible. Jonah preached a message of destruction in Ninevah and God used it to bring the people to repentance. Other prophets including Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah made harsh and quite critical statements to those to whom they were ministering. And then of course, there is the example of Jesus, whose first sermon in Mark’s Gospel was marked by the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. Later he not only spoke harshly to the religious leaders, but he also told the Jews listening to him in John 8 that they were children of the devil.

    So to say that we must always tip-toe around the condemnation of sin and promote love only in Evangelism is really to only accept half of the story of the Bible. Many have come to Christ when confronted harshly with their sin. And many continue to do so. We cannot ignore sin, but must be like the Biblical writers and be both loving and harsh in our words concerning sin.

  19. Alexis Banegas February 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    That’s almost my point exactly. You can see that Christ dealt most harshly with the religious people of His day, and was more gentle with the admittedly broken and openly “sinful”. I’m thinking specifically of the woman caught in adultery in which He says, “Neither do I condemn you,” and ALSO said, “go and sin no more.” I knew that my last post had the risk of coming off “lovey dovey” and truth-lite. I’m just talking about a balance of grace and truth. I think the balance of grace and truth is met perfectly in love. I didn’t think I had to define what I meant by love (true, biblical love), but maybe I should have. Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” My main point was just that, well, that this blog entry really isn’t eternally beneficial to the things that are ultimately important. I guess that is my opinion, that it may have just been unnecessary and not really redemptive in nature. I guess we could argue forever. It’s just the balance that I’m speaking of. We far too often err on the side of one extreme or another…truth without love (legalism) or love (grace) without truth (licentiousness)…which seems like a contradiction…but also my point, you can’t have one without the other…because when you do, they become less than what they are. Capiche? Randy Alcorn does a good job of articulating this in The Grace and Truth Paradox. I’m not saying to ignore sin by any means…I’m just saying love people…that means both grace and truth. I understand that there is element of love that is harsh when necessary…but that’s also my point, WHEN necessary. People need both…but I think religious people need just a drop more truth and “sinners” need just a drop more grace. Idk…I’ll desist.

  20. Kelley Kimble February 18, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    I believe there is a difference between “religious” people and real Christianity. I have a friend who is very free-spirited and always going on and on about “religious” people, but I have a hard time grasping what she really means sometimes. I have no doubt she is a sincere Christian and she feels that she was hurt by “legalism” when she was young, but I think a person can move too far away from clarity when they forget about the wrath of God. To understand God’s love, we must also understand His wrath. I didn’t come to Christ until I was 33 years old. I had experienced quite a bit of hell already by that point (much the result of my choices) and I was clearly aware of the need to respond to the gospel although it wasn’t coming together in my head as I walked the aisle. All I knew was that, for some reason, I had to get out of my seat and move forward. Most of my old friends lost interest in me in spite of the incredibly positive changes they saw in my life. Happily, a few came to Christ. I will probably never understand why some respond to His love and others don’t; I just know that it’s the case. I actually think this is a worthwhile discussion. If people don’t know they are lost, they are missing an element necessary to come to salvation.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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