Theological Dialogue : Katy Perry: Part of Me

Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows I was excited to see this one… As a very frequent listener to pop radio, I’m very familiar with Katy Perry’s catchy tunes and would probably consider myself a fan of her.

And aren’t famous people fascinating? There’s this interesting phenomenon occurring lately, that these celebrities who seem larger than life are letting the public in a little more, and being rewarded for it. From reality tv to documentaries, our generation more than ever is seeing an “unmasked” version of our celebrities, and Hollywood should take notice, we like people who are real. Granted, we still only see what they’re willing to show us, but is that really so different from how we interact with the people around us? An interesting thought…

This movie brings up some very interesting questions for us. For those of you that aren’t aware, Katy Perry was raised in a highly conservative, Pentecostal Christian home. Her dad was a fiery traveling preacher. Katy herself was originally a gospel singer, before she went “mainstream”.

So what makes a person do that? How does a person go from Christian gospel singer to… well… Katy Perry? Because it’s becoming rather common amongst our generation to leave the church behind and never come back.

First, I want to suggest that the Christianity that Katy Perry was raised with is worth rejecting. Aside from “denominational” issues like being “slain in the spirit” that you see in the movie, Katy’s sister remarks that as children they weren’t allowed to eat Lucky Charms, because luck was from Lucifer.

I’ll be honest with you… If this was the Christianity I was raised on, I would probably not be a Christian still either. In fact, there are many aspects of the much-less-uptight Christianity I was raised on that I’ve rejected. I was fortunate, however, to be pursuing ministry and have great friend, family and teachers who helped me find a more satisfying (and True) version of Christianity to replace it with.

I find it sad that Katy Perry had this as her model for Christianity, and I really can’t blame her for leaving it behind. I would’ve too. It’s unfortunate that she has yet to find the God and Christ underneath it all that rejects out bad religion as outrightly as she did.

Katy makes a brief mention that she still believes in God, but not in the same ways as her parents. She says that she has a one-on-one relationship with God that isn’t anyone else’s business.

Sadly, I find this to be just another version of Christianity worth rejecting. The idea that one’s relationship to God is nobody’s business is remarkably unChristian, actually. This is not to say that we don’t each have a unique, personal relationship to God. I certainly believe this is true. But true Christian faith is intended to be experienced and lived out in community, in this thing called Church. In creation, the only thing God calls “not good” is for people to be alone. And I think it’s sad that Katy Perry has traded a bad church for a bad spirituality.

So that addresses her “spiritual” shift as the movie chronicles it, but what about her music? Katy at some point makes the shift from writing and singing gospel songs to writing and singing songs about relationships, parties, sex, and heartbreak.

The movie highlights a lot of tension in her song writing around “authenticity”. Katy wants to write songs that reflect how she truly feels, and there doesn’t seem to be a place for that in gospel music or in her first few labels.

(Side note: let’s not pretend that Katy Perry has “arrived” in this sense. While many of her songs are a lot deeper and honest than other pop songs, tracks like “California Gurls” and “Let Me See Your Peacock” are clearly nothing more than money grabs exploiting her sexuality, so it’s hard to accept her “high-ground” on this subject.)

However, she may have a point about Christian music. Personally, I stopped listening to Christian music about 4 years ago because I found it to be uninspired, unimpressive, and unoriginal. If you enjoy listening to Christian music and are encouraged, I don’t mean to insult your experience or your favorite bands. That’s just what I think.

But what I will say, and defend, is that “popular” Christian music does not allow for the whole of the Christian experience like the Bible does. Most Christian music sounds like (and is based on) the Psalms, many of which are exclamations of praise toward God from a position of optimism. But it doesn’t take long in the Bible to find other prose. Read Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, or the other half of the Psalms (!) and you will see what I mean. The Bible (and God) allows for honest expressions of doubt, anger, desperation, and frustration at God. But does our music?

From what I’ve heard, it doesn’t. Maybe we shouldn’t sing negative songs during Praise and Worship at church, but shouldn’t the Christian music genre include such things if the Bible does? I’m afraid that if some lament psalms or passages from Ecclesiastes were put to music, KLOVE would not play them. And it’s unfair, and presents a one-dimensional Christianity, if music (which is one of the most profound ways we express ourselves) does not reflect our reality.

And the funny thing is, some Christians find music in touch with our experience on the other stations more often than on KLOVE. And I think that’s okay.

I personally don’t want to be the one to tell God that God can’t use secular music to teach us things or glorify God. Would the person willing to do so please stand up?

I think Christian music can learn a lesson from Katy Perry’s story. As a songwriter, she was unable to express the reality of her experience within the Christian music genre, and I think many listeners experience the same thing. The idea that there is “Christian” music at all seems a little limiting doesn’t it?

Just a few thoughts. Sound off in the comments and let’s talk about it!

Also, check out the new “Theology and Film” tab above to engage with me with other films.


6 thoughts on “Theological Dialogue : Katy Perry: Part of Me

  1. So, because work can, at times be extremely boring, I enjoy reading articles to fill up time. I ran across yours today (which is odd, because I at least sort of know you). I think I shot you once in Wet Bandits. I really enjoyed the Katy Perry movie- I wasn’t actually a fan of hers before the movie, but became a huge fan afterwards. I loved her honesty and watching her actual heartbreak on screen made me cry- Especially the scene where she’s having a major breakdown seconds before she goes on stage and cues her forced smile. It was a very interesting moment. The conversation about Christian music is actually one I was just having today with a co-worker. I often wonder why Christians feel it so necessary to distinguish ourselves in so many unnecessary ways, including having our own radio stations and strictly labeled music (I also HATE pledge drives which most Christian stations participate in). South Park has an episode about Christian music where Cartman starts a Christian boy band. The particular episode I’m referring to pokes fun at the Christian music industry, including its naïve audience and poor writing, while also showing how lucrative labeling a band Christian (especially one that isn’t actually that good) can be. Like Collin mentioned above, I do believe there are bands out there that probably do have more thoughtful writing, but those bands are most often not featured on Christian radio. Something I’ve really come to enjoy is finding the value in stories that come from all kinds of music- once I opened myself up to finding beauty in other places that weren’t strictly “Christian”, I became aware of God being more involved in the lives of the masses and not just the few.

    1. Hey Kelsi! I definitely remember you… that takedown in Wet Bandits being one of the more disappointing moments in my college experience. I took that game WAY too seriously. I think we had a class or two together as well?

      It’s funny that you came across this article. It’s obviously been a while since I wrote it and I think if I were to write it again today I would change a lot of things. But this is a conversation that hasn’t really gone away. I remember about six months ago Jon Foreman of Switchfoot wrote a piece about how they’re NOT a Christian band and what that meant to him that I found to be a really profound, definitive statement of what I was only scratching the surface of here.

      Also, I know exactly the South Park episode you’re referring to. I think that two years ago when I was writing this I was probably too nervous to bring that in, but it was definitely on my mind. Your last sentence, though, really epitomizes what I try to do on this blog, with regards to film and coffee. Sadly, I’m not enough of a musician or even music-listener to do that kind of work in that area, but it sounds like that might be something you would be good at. Perhaps when work becomes extremely boring, you could start writing in addition to reading? I would read it.

  2. I read a lot of interesting content here.
    Probably you spend a lot of time writing, i know how to save
    you a lot of work, there is an online tool that creates readable, google friendly posts in minutes, just type in google – laranitas
    free content source

  3. Rather than thinking of “Christian music” and “secular music,” I like to think more simply of music that glorifies God. That’s a broad category that can take in many styles and all kinds of lyrics. Good thoughts here, Kevin.

  4. I was curious to hear what you’d have to say about a movie chronicling the life and times of Katy Perry, haha. I loved the direction you took this… it is very well written. I wish my writing was as engaging as yours.

    One (really) minor nit, though: Not to be a “Christian stickler” (Lord knows I’m not one), but there is “Christian” music that isn’t cheery KLOVE material, though most if not all of this music isn’t identified “Christian.” Have you heard of mewithoutYou? I think they’re one of the more conspicuous examples of a not-labeled-as-Christian band that is nonetheless “Christian” in the sense that they touch on so many expressions that come from the Christian tradition, including darker themes such as doubt and suffering. Do you think a band has to identify as “Christian” to be Christian? I can’t help but think that mewithoutYou is an example of a band that doesn’t identify as such but at the end of the day nonetheless is.

    I think Christianity needs to move towards the example set by not-labled-as-Christian Christian bands such as mewithoutYou. I guess I’d call that move a shift towards uncertainty. I wish the church was LESS certain, or, at the very least, not so emphatic, simplistic, and/or arrogant about what it does believe. Do you think it would be okay if the church would occasionally say, “Screw it… I don’t know!” once in a while? By saying that I’m not trying to imply that the church should settle for being ignorant on things. But when asking big questions, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking things are simple when they’re not not. I’m a fan of educated uncertainty over uninformed clarity any day of the week.

    Call me a heretic, but faith for me is less about specific beliefs and more about a certain posture towards the world. A posture doesn’t have to be certain about much of anything… it operates on convictions that act like guidelines. It seems to me that when faith is all about holding certain beliefs, then doubt becomes a real reason for concern because there is a vested interest in maintaining those beliefs. I have no vested interests in my beliefs (well, I’d like to think so anyways)… I guess it’s the scientist in me. What’s the significance of one’s faith if there’s no capacity or willingness to acknowledge unfaith? That’s the question of the hour for me. I think Christianity is only real when it’s possible to explore unfaith in an unbiased fashion. Or I guess I could put it this way: I think faith is only as real as the possibility of rejecting that faith is. But I know I don’t have a broad enough understanding of these topics to explore all faces of the questions and ideas I raise, so even though I sound kind of confident about the ideas I’m putting forth, I’m questioning them in my head right now…

    My apologies that all of my thoughts are relatively disconnected and strung together… I’ve revised and edited my words several times, and this is the best I can get at right now. I’m excited to hear your response; be as critical as you feel compelled to be.

    1. Colin, thanks for your thoughts.

      Regarding bands like MeWithoutYou, I can’t say I’ve given them a fair shake. I may have heard a song of theirs before, but I haven’t “listened to” them. It’s funny, because back when I was super into Christian music, I always silently judged bands like Switchfoot or Relient K for being so mainstream and saying “Jesus” less often. But I definitely don’t think that way anymore, and agree with you that we need less “Christian musicians” and more “musicians who are Christian”. The fact that this distinction has to exist is a sign that we’re probably doing something wrong.

      Regarding the rest of your post, I feel compelled to tell you to read as much as you can by Peter Rollins. He is a phenomenal philosopher/theologian/writer, who puts your thoughts about doubt, disbelieve, faith and unfaith, etc. into better words than I could ever hope to. I particularly recommend “How [Not] to Speak of God”, but any of his stuff is going to be terrific. I’ve read “The Orthodox Heretic” and am halfway through “The Fidelity of Betrayal” right now. He draws an important distinction between the “God we believe in” and “God”, and follows in the tradition of the mystics that we ought to be always confessing and laying down our conception of God as an idol before the True God. It’s really interesting stuff and I’m totally butchering it, but check it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s