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that has become increasingly recognized for their live albums/DVDs, studio albums, and sold out U.S. tours. Their recent albums have regularly peaked at number one on Christian album sales in North America and Australia, and their [a_CROSS// the_EARTH] :: Tear Down the Walls album (released May 2009) ranked number two on the US iTunes store top 10 Albums charts in the month of its release, surpassing both Green Day and Lady Gaga in digital music sales. 1 Howard and Streck classify Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) into three categories, based upon Neibuhr’s resolutions to the “Christ and culture paradox”: separational, integrational, and transformational.2 This paper will dwell on the first of the three. Schill articulates that separational Christian bands are the original and largest group; they, often paradoxically, view the secular and the Christian as unequivocally oppositional - “Christ against culture” - and have three purposes: to proselytize, to praise Jesus, and to encourage existing believers. 3 Lynch suggests the approach of studying religion in relation to the environment, resources, and practices of everyday life. This approach explores the interactions, effects, and relationship between contemporary religious belief and popular culture.4 One form of study within this approach concerns ‘popular culture in religion’. It discusses how contemporary religion is shaped by popular culture, how religious groups can benefit from popular culture, and the
1 They were second to Eminem’s Relapse. Christian Retailing, "Hillsong United No. 2 on iTunes," Christian Retailing Update , May 28, 2009. [online periodical] Hillsong Music, "Who is Hillsong Music Australia?," Hillsong Music, http:// distribution.hillsong.com/help/about (accessed March 29, 2012).
Jay R. Howard and John M. Streck, Apostles of Rock: the splintered world of Contemporary Christian music (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999), 16.
2 3 Brian Schill, “The Impossibility of Negation: A Theoretical Defence of "Cross-Over" Christian Rock,” Journal of Religion and Pop Culture, Summer 2007, Paragraphs 18. The other catagories of CCM that Howard & Streck classified: integrational CCM artists, cooperate with the mainstream music industry better (than separational artists) and are not explicitly evangelical in rhetoric, and transformational CCM artists, who carry no utilitarian value nor evangelical purpose in their music and create “art for art’s sake”.
Gordon Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 21.
complex issues raised by the general interaction of religious motivation and cultural incorporation. 5 I argue that though Hillsong United is a separational CCM band in ideology, as expressed through their mission statement, lyrics, and mini-sermons at their concerts, they have absorbed much of mainstream culture and have taken on the aesthetic, commercial qualities, and behaviour of popular music, as expressed through their image, promotion, and performance. The positive response of worshippers and fans to the band reflects a shift in the practices of contemporary Christian worship, which coincides with Ostwalt’s view that sacred musicians, fans, and promoters no longer reject secular culture, 6 and contrasts recently articulated opinions like Till, who describe Christianity as having lost its connection with the culture of contemporary society, not being able to offer opportunities for collective effervescence and communitas, and that its experiments in using elements of popular culture have failed.7 Furthermore, it represents what Ostwalt describes as the secularization of the sacred in CCM.8 To briefly outline the history of “praise music” in CCM and Hillsong United may be of some use to the reader who is distant from the contemporary Christian music subculture. The Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s brought forth “Jesus Music.” It was music that reflected the form and instrumentation of popular culture, and it focused on a personal salvation experience from former lifestyles. 9 An openness to pop/rock music in ministry, specifically in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, led to “praise and worship” choruses set to pop-style music in the mid 1970s. 10 Christian youth in non-charismatic churches soon followed by the 1980s, by using “praise and worship” music increasingly in Sunday church services. 31% of Protestant churches were singing “contemporary worship music” either exclusively or with hymns
5 Gordon Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 22,23
Conrad Ostwalt, Secular Steeples: popular culture and rhe religious imagination (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), 195.
6 7 Rupert Till, Pop Cult: Religion and Popular Music (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010), 178-9.
Conrad Ostwalt, Secular Steeples: popular culture and rhe religious imagination (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003),
8 9 Brian Walrath and Robert Woods, The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporaryr Praise and Worship (Nashville, TN: Abdington Press, 2007), 14.
John M. Frame, Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defence (PHillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1997), 7.
during their Sunday Services by the end of 1990. 11 By 2003, four of the top 10 best-selling Christian albums were “praise and worship”. 12 Popular “praise and worship” music is considered CCM and would fit under the separational category. Today, most Protestant churches feature “Worship”: a time of singing that is usually led by a guitarist/ vocalist, includes additional vocalists, a keyboard player, a drummer, and bass guitarist. The words of the songs are projected onto a screen or a bare wall to aid the congregation in singing along. 13 Hillsong United (originally named United Live) started as the worship band for the youth ministry of Australia’s Pentecostal megachurch, Hillsong Church. The band began annually releasing live albums in 1999, recording them at Hillsong Church’s Encounterfest youth conferences. The band’s leader Reuben Morgan left in 2002 to mount a solo career and Joel Houston (son of Brian and Bobbie Houston – the pastors of Hillsong Church) took over, and changed the name of the band to Hillsong United. Worldwide acclaim in Christian circles was growing by 2006 – their United We Stand album was the best selling Christian LP in Canada. 14 Released in 2011, the Aftermath album received international acclaim, and on the 2011 Aftermath North American Tour, they became the first Christian artists to sell out Los Angeles’s Staples Center. The Miami stop on the tour at the sold-out American Airlines Arena was the setting for the recording of their 2012 DVD+2CD album Live in Miami. The two-hour twenty minute 22-track Live in Miami DVD is the subject for most of the following analysis, as it reflects their most recent developments as a band. Ideology of Hillsong The ideology behind Separational CCM is that the music is ministry. Howard and Streck agree that ministry can be an ambiguous term, but as mentioned earlier, one of the purposes of this separational or “Christ against culture” perspective is that music facilitates worship. Facilitating worship or praising Jesus is the first and foremost concern of Hillsong United. The first sentence on the “About Hillsong United” section of the band’s official website states: “… their one purpose and passion [is]: Worship.”15 Their lyrics are
Brian Walrath and Robert Woods, The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporaryr Praise and Worship (Nashville, TN: Abdington Press, 2007), 14.
11 12 13
Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestanism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Berkeley: Univeristy of California Press, 1997), 13.
14 Jason Ankeny and Steve Leggett, Hillsong United Biography, http:// itunes.apple.com/us/artist/hillsong-united/id79437763 (accessed March 26, 2012).
Hillsong United, About Hillsong United, http://hillsongunited.com/about (accessed April 1, 2012).
devoted mostly to praising Jesus. Songs like “All I need is You” (All I need is You/All I need is You Lord), “Hosanna” (Hosanna/ Hosanna/Hosanna in the Highest), “Go” (In the Father there is freedom/There is hope in the name that is Jesus/Lay Your life down, give it all now/We are found in the love of the Savior), and “Search My Heart” (So with all my heart and all my soul/With all I am, Lord, I will follow You) reflect this.16 The band also reflects other aspects of separational CCM, like evangelism. Evangelism is not an explicit goal of the lyrics of their music, but this purpose becomes apparent in the ‘mini-sermons’ that occur during the bands performances. During their concerts there are short times of speaking (less than 5 minutes at a time), where Joel Houston comments on how happy the band is to be there, what the purpose of the evening is, he presents the message of the gospel, and a message of encouragement. For example, in the second of three ‘mini-sermons’ during the Live in Miami DVD, Houston addresses that he believes that “God wants to do something in this place” [the arena] and in their lives, he says that many of the audience members may not feel like they are good enough, but tells them know that nobody is good enough and that is why they need Jesus. 17 Houston also addresses that the concept behind “Aftermath” is that we don’t have to live in the aftermath of our mistakes or brokenness, but that “we get to live in the light of a different kind of aftermath; the aftermath of what He [Jesus] achieved on the cross.”18 The band’s message is clear, their purpose is to praise Jesus and to evangelize. As their website describes: “The heart of Hillsong UNITED is to create music that reveals the truth of who Jesus is” and that “connects people everywhere with God”.19 Yet, after seeing a concert or even scrolling through the band’s blog, it is clear that the band does not share many of the aesthetic, promotional, or performance qualities of other popular worship artists. Aesthetic, Promotion, Performance Contrary to the ideals of “Christ against culture”, the band takes on the appearance and image of a typical mainstream rock or popular indie band. Along with the Aftermath album in 2011, the band began releasing photographic artwork on their blog. The artwork can be described as including black and white filters, colour distortion (blue or red filters), contrasting grainy with very natural tones, the superimposition of somewhat transparent coloured shapes,
16 17 18 19
Hillsong United, Live in Miami, Hillsong United, 2012, tracks 1, 4, 6, 7. Ibid. 51:54-55:45. Ibid.
Hillsong United, About Hillsong United, http://hillsongunited.com/about (accessed April 1, 2012).
photos, and analog T.V. images (T.V. fuzz and colour bars), in geometric shapes on top of diagonally split images featuring juxtaposition: e.g. mountains and a Ferris wheel and many upside down or reflected images. The same style of artwork appears on the opening menu of the Live in Miami DVD, but in film format. The menu shows teenagers and young adults: skateboarding, bike riding, jumping into water, lighting fire-crackers, flying kites, taking pictures with camera phones, etc., through handheld shots on one half of the diagonally split screen, with the band in black and white, and upside down, playing on the other half, and a superimposed image of the Vietnamese T.V. colour bars is placed in the middle. Questioning the purpose or integrity of this artwork is not the concern of this paper, but understanding the responses of Christian fans and critics is. Both fans and critics of CCM have questioned bands’ commitment to the Christian cause because there is little to distinguish a Christian group from secular groups. 20 Very little of the artwork and filming distinguishes the band from secular groups. Along with the artwork, the band published a series of promotional videos on their blog. One of the videos entitled “UNITEDRandomMinute” is described as: “Another sneak peak at what we got up to on the 2011 Feb/March Aftermath USA tour.”21 More of these one-minute videos feature “what the band’s been up to” while in specific cities, like Columbus and Toronto.22 In the same vein of these videos, the Live in Miami DVD features four 30seconds or one minute sections similar to them. All of the videos feature quick cuts (“UNITEDRandomMinute” contains 90 cuts in 60 seconds), black and white filtering, and hand-held camera work. 23 The content of these films display setting up the stage, unloading gear, touching a random man’s pointy hat, rehearsals and random guitar playing, laughing, ping-pong playing, prayer, fans shouting in line-ups, performing, in airports, eating food, high fiving, sleeping, swimming, cliff jumping, and the audience jumping up and down with hands raised in praise and/or excitement. The result of these extremely quickly cut videos is a lot of clipped audio and a feeling of disorientation. Hendershot articulates that “The principal force driving Christian music video is one thing: marketing.”24 Except for
Conrad Ostwalt, Secular Steeples: popular culture and rhe religious imagination (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), 194.
20 21 UNITEDRandomMinute, 2011, http://vimeo.com/23037645 (accessed April 1, 2012).
Hillsong United, Blog, http://www.hillsongunited.com/blog (accessed March 28, 2012).
22 23 Hillsong United, Live in Miami, Hillsong United, 2012: 20:32-21:00; 1:03:20-1:03-49; 1:29:30-1:29:58; 2:05:05-2:06:16
Heather Hendershot, Shaking the world for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).
the occasional one or two second clips of the band praying, the videos generate little concern for Jesus and much more hype about the tour, the upcoming CD/DVD release, and the band itself; more reason for Christians to question the band’s distinction from secular groups. Next, we look to elements of the band’s performance and the influence of popular music. The performance of each of the songs on Live in Miami varies greatly. Many of the songs are very melodic, with simple harmonic structures, and are well suited for performance in worship services at most evangelical churches, indeed three songs (“From the Inside Out”, “Hosanna”, and “The Stand”) on are on CCLI’s top 25 songs. 25 While other songs, such as “Go”, “Break Free”, “Your Name on High”, “Take it All”, and “Yours Forever” include elements from secular music that have never appeared in Christian worship music, or used for the purpose of Christian worship in general. The first track on Live in Miami, “Go,” features the singing of the “Ole, Ole, Ole” cheer heard most often at Montreal Canadians hockey games as well as football games across Europe.26 “Break Free” has band members Jonathon (J.D.) Douglass and Matt Crocker jumping over top of one another, running around on stage, and the song features a dance-party-like section.27 “Your Name on High” opens with calls by J.D. screaming “Woah, oah” into a megaphone into a microphone and responses by the audience enthusiastically screaming back.28 “Take it All” features another call and response, this time with J.D. singing into a guitar pick-up, 29 followed by “Jump, jump, jump, jump,” with the audience jumping along ,30 reminiscent of House of Pain’s 1992 release, “Jump Around.”31 In opposition to Till, as stated in the introduction, the experience could certainly be described as an “opportunity for collective effervescence and communitas.”32 Beyond these things, the second last track of Live in Miami, “Yours Forever”, boasts squealing lead guitar lines, and J.D. unleashes a lengthy scream à la Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) after
25 Christian Copyright Licensing International’s (CCLI) provides churches with simple, affordable solutions to complex copyright issues. CCLI helps churches maintain their integrity and avoid costly lawsuits. The Top 25 list displays the most reported songs by churches in their Copy Activity Reports. 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
Hillsong United, Live in Miami, Hillsong United, 2012, 03:20. Ibid, 08:18. Ibid, 1:55:30 Ibid, 2:00:20 Ibid, 2:01:21 House of Pain, Jump Around, House of Pain, 1992.
Rupert Till, Pop Cult: Religion and Popular Music (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010), 179.
singing, “We are Yours forever/Our lives won’t be the same.”33 These aspects of Hillsong United’s worship music may be unfamiliar to the typical churchgoer (and much more familiar to the hard-core or classic rock fan) and as said before, they give the Christian worshipper, fan, or critic many reasons to question what distinguishes them from secular groups. But the crucial difference that is very apparent in the music (more so than the artwork and promotional videos) is that the band and the thousands of audience members treat the entire experience as praise and worship. Conclusion This treatment of the ritual of worship demonstrates a shift in the practices of contemporary Christianity. As Pentecostal churches in the 1970s were on the forefront of including pop-styled worship music in their church services, Hillsong United is on the forefront of including heavy-rock and other secular music influences that may otherwise be thought of by fundamentalist Christians as “inherently evil and irredeemable for evangelical ministry and label[ing] evangelical versions of rock music ‘spiritual fornication’ and ‘of Satanic origin,’” in their worship concerts. 34 The sacralizing of the secular is a frightening process for such fundamentalists. As it has been shown, Hillsong United is ideologically aligned with separational CCM values and are, in principle and purpose, a Christian worship band. Their incorporation of a “secular” aesthetic in their artwork, “secular” commercial qualities, and, most importantly, their “secular” behavioural qualities through their performance indicates a shift in the practices of Contemporary Christian worship. The “secular” is sacralized when it is used for the purposes of worship and the sacred is secularized when worship uses secular music and its trends. It is, as Ostwalt reasons, “– a blurring of boundaries between secular and sacred, not retrenchment into clearly defined worlds.”35
Hillsong United, Live in Miami, Hillsong United, 2012, 2:08:32
34 William D. Romanowski, "Evangelicals and Popular Music: The Contemporary Christian Music Industry," in Religion and Popular Culture in America, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 111.
Conrad Ostwalt, Secular Steeples: popular culture and rhe religious imagination (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), 191.
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