Myth of Positive Hits

Christian radio stations across the country regularly use a variation of “Positive Hits” as a tagline. It is a nearly ubiquitous brand among the religiously motivated broadcasters. It seems the branding is meant to indicate the music is accessible and has an upbeat/affirming message. This assertion, at least the “positive” bit, seems to go unchallenged (record sales may not reflect the “Hit” claim).

Some parents often chose to play Christian radio in the car when their kids intending to save them from crassness and possible vulgarity of secular radio. The faithful are sure the lyrics and messages proffered by these songs are uplifting and encouraging, but is that the case? When the content of the various christian music genres are examined, are they any more positive, uplifting, or meaningful than your average secular song about love, partying, breakups, etc.? Is it better to focus on the content of religious songs psychologically?

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To test this I am going to look at 10 of 2017’s most popular christian/gospel songs according to iTunes. I will be examining the lyrics and running them through a Sentiment Analysis tool. This is a tool used by webmasters and the like to quickly assess the positivity or negativity of reviews, comments, etc. online. While I understand my viewpoint is subjective, advertisers use these tools regularly to make branding and product calls.

At the time of writing this, these were the iTunes Top 10 Christian Songs for 2017.

  1. All My Hope (feat. Tauren Wells) By Crowder

 

I’ve been held by the Savior
I’ve felt fire from above
I’ve been down to the river
I ain’t the same
A prodigal returned

All my hope is in Jesus
Thank God my yesterday’s gone
All my sins are forgiven
I’ve been washed by the blood

I’m no stranger to the prison
worn shackles and chains
But I’ve been freed and forgiven
And I’m not going back
I’ll never be the same
That’s why I sing

There’s a kind of thing
That just breaks a man
Break him down to his knees

God, I’ve been broken more than a time or two, yes, Lord
Then He picked me up
And showed me what it means to be a man
Come on and sing

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.3
  • polar: 0.7
Polarity
  • pos: 0.3

  • neg: 0.7

At a glance this may seem positive, evoking thanks and song, so why did the analysis come back negative? While it is true the song is about redemption, the majority of the lyrics recount how awful the person is invoking images and metaphors of criminal identity, bondage, and being broken absolutely as a person. Once more, the person didn’t do anything to change their identity/status or build themselves back up. It is only because God killed Jesus in his stead that he is forgiven, made whole, free. There is nothing the vocalist values about himself or his actions.

2. Even If By MercyMe

 

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now
Right now I’m losing bad

I’ve stood on this stage
Night after night
Reminding the broken
It’ll be alright
But right now
Oh right now I just can’t

It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Good thing
A little faith is all I have right now

But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word

But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

It is well with my soul

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.4

  • neg: 0.6

The person is losing, broken, and unable to fix it. There is redemption, but not in anything the person can do. Their self worth is found entirely in clinging to Jesus and milking God for hope and strength. Again, this person’s identity is that they are inherently bad. Outside of a superbeing’s assistance there is nothing they can do to fix this. Essentially a mantra of self deprecation.

3. O Come To The Altar By Elevation Worship

 

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin, Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well, Jesus is calling

(chorus)
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ

 

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today, there’s no reason to wait, Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born, Jesus is calling

 

(chorus)
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ

Oh what a Savior, isn’t He wonderful
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him, for He is Lord of all
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen

Oh what a Savior, isn’t He wonderful
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him, for He is Lord of all
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen

(chorus)
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neutral.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.8

  • polar: 0.2

A clear trend emerging. Christians’ favorite songs of 2017 start with them being broken, bad, failed, etc. and then redeemed by the murder of a willing but innocent man. I am a little surprised the analysis came up neutral, but given it doesn’t take into account the myriad problems with vicarious redemption. Singing negative lyrics about your state of being and positive ones about superbeings is not a net positive or even neutral and the concept of murdering the innocent in lieu of the guilty is a repugnant idea.

 

4. Control (Somehow You Want Me) By Tenth Avenue North
Here I am, all my intentions
All my obsessions, I wanna lay them all down
In Your hands, only Your love is vital
Though I’m not entitled
Still You call me Your child

God, You don’t need me, but somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me, somehow that frees me
To take my hands off of my life and the way it should go
Oh, God, You don’t need me, but somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me, somehow that frees me
To open my hands up and give You control
I give You control

I’ve had plans shattered and broken
I have hoped in, fall through my hands
You have plans to redeem and restore me
You’re behind and before me
Oh, help me believe

 

You want me
Somehow You want me
The King of Heaven wants me
So this world has lost its grip on me

Oh, give You control
Oh, I want to give You control
I give You control

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.2

  • neg: 0.8

Even putting aside this song was clearly written in a guilty but gushing fit for reading 50 Shades of Grey, this is one the more disturbing so far. “I’m not entitled”, “You don’t need me, but somehow You want me”, “You want me. Somehow You want me”, “Oh, give You control

Oh, I want to give You control, I give You control”. What terrible sentiments to repeat over and over. What terrible ideas to play to children. This song reads like someone needs to be placed in protective custody or a shelter because sooner or later god is going to take it too far and kill them. To anyone in BDSM, good on ya. Go for it, but I don’t get the sense that’s what is going on here. Repeating how great your abusive relationship is not positive.

5. Old Church Choir

There’s revival and it’s spreading
Like a wildfire in my heart
A Sunday morning hallelujah
And it’s lasting all week long

Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
It’s the rhythm of a gospel song
Once you choose it, you can’t lose it

There ain’t nothing
There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

(chorus)
I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
I’ve got a heart overflowing cause I’ve been restored
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

When the valleys that I wander
Turn to mountains that I can’t climb
You are with me, You never leave me

There ain’t nothing
There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

(chorus)
I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
I’ve got a heart overflowing cause I’ve been restored
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

Clap your hands and stomp your feet
Till you find that Gospel beat
Cause He’s all you’ll ever need
He’s all you’ll ever need

(chorus)
I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
I’ve got a heart overflowing cause I’ve been restored
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is pos.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.7

  • neg: 0.3

Finally. I would agree. This is kind of positive. There is still the element of restoration, redemption, salvation via someone else’s doing insinuating the author was bad or guilty and the relationship still very co-dependent, but overall the song’s mood is positive and focuses on upbeat and light hearted themes. It definitely comes off as a celebration of a feeling and reasonably healthy relationship.

6. O’ Lord By Lauren Daigle

Though times it seems
Like I’m coming undone
This walk can often feel lonely
No matter what until this race is won
I will stand my ground where hope can be found
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

Oh, O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry
Your love is lifting me above all the lies
No matter what I face this I know in time
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right

Your strength is found
At the end of my road
Your grace it reaches to the hurting
Still through the tears and the questioning why
I will stand my ground where hope can be found
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

Oh, O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry
Your love is lifting me above all the lies
No matter what I face This I know in time
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right, right

I will stand my ground
I will stand my ground

I will stand my ground where hope can be found
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

Oh! O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry
Your love is lifting me above all the lies
No matter what I face this I know in time
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right (take all what is wrong)
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right, right

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.1
  • polar: 0.9
Polarity
  • pos: 0.5

  • neg: 0.5

And after a brief reprieve, we are right back to self loathing, co-dependency, and putting all hope in outside forces. I would agree at the analysis’ split. The song is slightly repetitive and vapid. It doesn’t conjure any extreme or gratuitous metaphors of how terrible she or the need for redemption is, but she still clearly has a terrible view of her own self worth.

7. Different By Micah Tyler

I don’t wanna hear anymore
Teach me to listen
I don’t wanna see anymore
Give me a vision
That you could move this heart, to be set apart

I don’t need to recognize the man in the mirror
And I don’t wanna trade Your plan for something familiar
I can’t waste a day
I can’t stay the same
I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
In me

And I don’t wanna spend my life stuck in a pattern
And I don’t wanna gain this world but lose what matters
And so I’m giving up everything because

I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
In me

I don’t want to spend my life stuck in a pattern
I don’t want to gain this world but lose what matters
So I’m giving up everything because

I know, that I am far from perfect
But through You, the cross still says I’m worth it
So take this beating in my heart and
Come and finish what You started
When they see me, let them see You
‘Cause I just wanna be different, yea

I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Oh is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different

I just wanna be different
So could You be different
In me

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.3

  • neg: 0.7

Oy vey, anyone feeling positive yet? Feel hit after hit after hit, but not positive. It really is astonishing how these songs are mirror images in sentiment and codependency. This person doesn’t even have basic senses like hearing and sight outside of god.

8. Bleed The Same by Mandisa

We all bleed the same
We’re more beautiful when we come together
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided

Woke up today
Another headline, another innocent life is taken
In the name of hatred
So hard to take
And if we think that it’s all good
Then we’re mistaken
‘Cause my heart is breakin’

Are you left, are you right
Pointing fingers, taking sides
When are we gonna realize

We all bleed the same
We’re more beautiful when we come together
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided
If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other
If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided

Tell me who are we
To judge someone by the kind of clothes they’re wearin’
Or the color of their skin
Are you black, are you white
Aren’t we all the same inside
Father, open our eyes to see

Only love can drive out all the darkness
What are we fightin’ for
We were made to carry one another
We were made for more

We all bleed the same
We’re more beautiful when we come together
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided
If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other
If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry
We all bleed the same
Let’s stand united, let’s stand united

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neutral.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.7

  • polar: 0.3

I actually would rate this song positive in message. While the content is couched in bleeding and innocents being killed daily, the main thrust of the song is unity, love, and togetherness. These are ideals worth aspiring to and for the most part the ability is attributed to the listener, save the one comment on blindness, therefore empowering. The first positive hit. Well done…?

9. Broken Things by Matthew West

If grace is a kingdom
I’ve stopped at the gate
Thinking I don’t deserve to pass through after all of the mistakes I’ve made
But I heard a whisper
As Heaven bent down
Said, “Child, don’t you know that the first will be last and the last get a crown?”

Now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King
I wish I could bring You so much more
But if it’s true You use broken things
Then here I am Lord, I am all Yours

The pages of history they tell me it’s true
That it’s never the perfect; it’s always the ones with the scars that You use
It’s the rebels and the prodigals; it’s the humble and the weak
The misfit heroes You chose
Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me

Grace is a kingdom
With gates open wide
There’s seat at the table just waiting for you
So, come on inside

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.5

  • neg: 0.5

Yep, about down the middle. The person is bad, sucky, and unworthy. There’s also a classist edge to the song. Beggars, bad. Prodigal, bad. Rebels, bad. Even the heroes are “misfit”. There are plenty of contexts those identities are not negative. God is super cool and nice and just swell. We’re shit We get it Positive Hits.

10. Reckless by Jeremy Camp

Everytime I try to play it safe
Holding back just a little part of me
I find myself forgetting what
I say that I believe
The promise of Your Word
Is all I need
I’ll lay my life down
And give it up

I’ll give it up

(Chorus)
I wanna be reckless
Cause You are endless
I wanna be shameless
And shout Your greatness
I will not be afraid
To surrender my way
And follow who You are
I wanna be reckless, reckless

I will lose my life
And just let go
Because I know this world is not my home
With fearless faith
I won’t be moved
Unshakeable inside Your truth
You laid Your life down
And gave it up
So I’ll give it up

(Chorus)
I won’t waste any more time
My life’s Yours it is not mine
Use me Lord no matter what’s at stake

 

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.4

  • neg: 0.6

To cap if off we have someone relinquishing their life. This person is handing their life and mental autonomy to being that claims to have committed worldwide genocide via flooding, thinks justice is killing the innocent to save the guilty, creates earthquakes, hurricanes, and gives kids cancer. His “truth” is made of virgin birth, walking on water, and monotheism as a triune god.

In summary, the top 10 Christian songs of 2017 are clearly not positive. It would be safe to say many of them outline an abusive relationship if the person they were sung to was a significant other. To be fair, I ran the top 10 secular pop songs in 2017 and they had a similar result in the sentiment analysis. About the same neg to pos rate, but secular radio stations don’t claim to be positive, encouraging, uplifting, etc. the way Christian stations do. They just play hits, which is more true in their case than when Christians use that term.

The important difference is the reason they are rated negative. The songs were about relationship break ups, struggling up from the streets, and agressive sexuallity. In every song self respect, personal autonomy, and fighting for worth were hallmarks.

Struggle as a subject in art makes for great emotional fodder. We relate to it, are molded by it, and come together through it. There is no issue with enjoying many negative themes in art forms, but constantly repeating self deprecating codependence mantras shrouded in a myth of “positive” is nothing if not abusive and damaging. It should concern us a culture that 80 million Americans chose to listen and sing music that devalues their humanity and play it to their children to instil “good values”. This is a market based on beguiling the masses into thinking they don’t have enough worth to listen to their own cognitive dissonance.

These songs don’t contain good values. They are not appropriate for children. They are not Positive Hits.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

 

 

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Audience of Musicians

I spend a large amount of time with artists, musicians, speakers, and the like. I myself identified as more than one of these for a majority of life. I state this past tense since writing is my only “performance” outlet currently. Any time you are deeply embedded in a group or activity, objectivity and clarity are often clouded. This can be a boon giving you the one dimensional world to focus and hone your craft. Surrounding yourself with like minded people always solidifies preexisting notions, however it rarely expands and challenges your preconceptions. This seems to invariably lead to hubris and demeaning overconfidence.

As an artist your lens is a comparative one. The standard: Your work. This often causes unfair reviews of other artists, both overly kind and defaming alike. If you think some one is good but needs polishing you may over sell them to bolster show turn out. If someone is talented and hard working it can cause jealously. Things like, “They’re really popular, but I just don’t get what all the buzz is about. Sell-out.” are often proffered. Your own creation rightly consumes your mind but can make you useless for an objective opinion.

It is fascinating how a person will decide their value scale is ubiquitous and absolute in regard to art. Moreover it is normal and expected in many social groups to mock art perceived as bad, negative, or sell-out. People will applaud the folk singer pounding out a four cord song story, saying, “what a great story”, “so much heart”, and “so organic” and in the next breath decry the local hardcore act as “just noise” and “angry”. In point of fact most heavy rock musicians are extremely skilled at their instrument and have practiced hours to play in sync with a band. The fact heavy music is so often called “angry” shows the listener neither understands anger and taken no time to listen to the music and read the lyrics. In the same way heavy musicians couple all singing as “whining” and light music as sissified or weak. To bare your soul over a break up or loss in front of a group of strangers takes balls. Big folksy balls. Melody does not equate to weakness. Beethoven is the father of Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath. He lived in melody, so mock not your forefather.

This artistic myopia can be applied to spoken word poets, public debaters, DJ’s, rappers, and painters. There is no public forum exempt from cliquism. Cliques can be useful. They are the bones on which new comers sharpen their teeth.  It is the leaders of the artistic cliques doing themselves and those who look up to them a disservice. I find the deeper you get into a clique the less you base your opinion on what you like and more on what is “OK” or “cool” to like. Your public image guides your taste more than your taste does. We see this parodied in hipster memes all the time. How often have you heard a song on the radio and immediately dismissed it because of the station or artist playing it? There is some genuine crap out there not deserving of the time of day. Most of the art in the public sphere deserves at least the time of day. It is one thing to dislike something. It is entirely different to state it isn’t good, well executed, or deserving. Artists should understand this the best, and yet they are the quickest to say a person who went to Julliard has no talent or skill. Playing to audience of your peers can be the most encouraging or defeating show of your life.

I encourage artist and consumer a like to examine your standard for quality or enjoyment. I encourage people to have the confidence to publicly appreciate art outside their social wheelhouse. I encourage people to stay away from blanket descriptors and ego measuring while imbibing art. Please step back and see the forest for its many varied and wonderful trees. You never know who may inspire you.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger