**update**I changed the original title from “Christian music” to “Christian radio”, as that’s more accurately where my complaint lies. Thanks Jnana!
As I sat down to write this, I just couldn’t think of an appropriate word to express myself regarding Christian music. Segregated? Balkanized? Overlooked? Mediocre? None of these are accurate, and that leads to the main point of my frustration. Christian music is in a hole.
Growing up I listened to a lot of Christian rock. My first real concert was a Rez Band show in Pittsburgh at Soldiers and Sailors Hall. I also dug a lot of Christian punk (MXPX, Altar Boys, One Bad Pig). I even used some money I got to start a music library for our youth group. I did that because it was so hard to find good (or at least what I thought was good) Christian music on the radio.
Unfortunately I think that’s still the case. Not Christian music, but Christian music radio. At least here in Pittsburgh, we have only one station devoted to Christian music, the grand mammoth that is K-Love. Our other Christian stations are devoted to teaching and preaching, though one has music on the weekends. But on the weekends it sounds just like K-Love.
K-Love’s library and playlist is very limited and safe. You hear popular p&w music from the same popular pop bands all the time. They do play new artists, but only if they fall between the praise and worship aisles. Which is sad. There are so many good artists out there who are making good, thought provoking, even worshipful music that just plain gets overlooked. I got on K-Love’s website and tried to look up a few artists to see if they were in the rotation. 2011 Grammy nominee Michael Gungor? One song, maybe. Josh Garrels, who won Christianity Today’s “Album of the year” in 2011? Nowhere to be found. Jars of Clay? In there, but only songs off their 20 year old debut. Billboard and iTunes chart-topping rapper Propaganda? Nope.
Let’s take Jars for just a small example. I think their first album is one of my favorites of all. In my opinion they tried a bit too hard after that to appeal to MTV and lost some of their musical identity. Each one seemed more overproduced than the other. However their latest, Inland, just gets better with each listen. But nobody, at least here, will play it.
Ditto Josh Garrels. He has some of the deepest lyrics and most interesting musical styles out there, able to combine folk and old-time gospel with a “Rage-Against-the-Machine” style of social commentary. He gave away his award-winning “Love, War and the Sea In Between” for free. He would fit in on any Christian station as well as any local indie station. He’s on neither.
The key link among these artists I mentioned is that they don’t fall within a particular genre of music, even though their content often does. For most, Christian music is equivalent with praise and worship music. If it isn’t p&w, it’s not Christian (enough). It seems that the only way to find and be aware of any non-mainstream, and that means anything besides p&w music, is to keep up with it on your own. Magazines like Relevant play a key role in bringing artists to consumers who would otherwise think that nothing else is happening in Christian music that doesn’t involve David Crowder or his band.
So this is an appeal. Christian radio, please expand your horizons. Praise and worship is good, but it’s not everything, We needs songs about life, justice, joy, and lostness as well. These are things we care about. We care about praising God as well, but we need to hear other things that capture our culture as well. To not do so is to hide our light under a bushel. If Christians can’t take Christian art seriously, nobody else probably will either.