In the beginning God created humans in his image, male and female, with the mandate to rule over all of creation. As sin entered the world, the image-bearing status of women began to be denied and they were viewed as lesser beings. Many songs in popular music continue to reinforce this distorted idea, causing harm to both listeners and non-listeners alike.
At a recent conference, I led a workshop for teachers on how best to engage their students on the topic of popular music. One of the songs I brought up was the recent No. 1 song “rockstar” by Post Malone featuring 21 Savage. After listening to this song, the teachers began to unpack the mood of the song, the parts of the song that stood out, the intent of the artist, and any connections or contradictions to the biblical story. I noticed that only the men in the room were answering my questions.
So I asked the women in the room what they thought of the song. Silence. I could see a deep reluctance to answer in contrast to their vibrant participation in the conversation about earlier songs. They talked about how the song made them feel dirty, belittled, devalued, and objectified. They noted that the women in the song were nameless, and how at one point, the female cry for “no más” (no more) seemed to be ignored by the male protagonist.
At a time of challenging conversations around consent and sexual violence, audiences are still gravitating toward this song and others that objectify women and deny the image of Christ in them, including Christian listeners.
Like spiritually nursed babies, Christians are called to grow. The music we choose to consume impacts our spiritual growth. It either reinforces previous negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, or it can be part of the spiritual nourishment we should crave.
The final song we considered was “Praying” by Kesha, a redemptive song in which she explores her experience of objectification and sexual violence, seeking the inner strength to rebuild her life and career. The women in the room spoke again, noting that the type of power wielded in each song was quite different. One illegitimately claims power over another human, and the other reclaims what is, essentially, the image-bearing power granted by God.
In the end, God will make all things new, restoring appropriate power to those who are oppressed, silenced, and belittled. But in the meantime, God has called us to begin that work in all arenas. One opportunity we have is to seek out popular music that speaks truthfully to human power and affirms all of God’s creation.