Few ideas epitomize pop culture like music and nothing identifies musical trends of the times like the Grammys. If you watched last week as I did you saw everything from the beautiful—the incredibly talented Adele, Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney Houston, The Civil Wars—to the surreal (Niki Minaj). I’m convinced the acts by Katy Perry and Minaj were nothing more than a channeled Lady Gaga from her fishnet-covered face in the audience, but I could be wrong.
The night began with a prayer for Whitney Houston and continued with her recent and sudden death remaining on the minds of all in attendance. And, in the age of social media my twitterfeed blew up with both hilarious and serious commentary on the night. We who love students and student ministry cannot easily dismiss the Grammy Awards because they represent a fundamental influence in the youth culture, which includes our children. While I would not personally affirm the lifestyles represented by most, I think we can be reminded of some pertinent truths from the Grammy Awards 2012.
First, pop culture has an undeniably dominant role in youth culture. Pop culture can be distinguished from real or traditional culture in that pop culture changes quickly over time but varies little over space. For instance, one commentator noted that when Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” hit number 1 in the U.S. years ago it was also the number one song in virtually every country on earth. The Grammys are global because pop culture is global.
Real or traditional culture changes slowly over time but varies greatly over space. Get past the urban mall in Bangkok or Birmingham and get to know the people living in those places over generations and you will find remarkable diversity in food, tradition, faith, and other issues. Student ministry leaders cannot ignore the role of pop culture and can learn to communicate with this generation by having an awareness of pop culture. But, we make a serious mistake (and many do) when we hitch our methodology to the ever-changing and always fickle pop culture we see at the moment. Do not miss the fact that the winners this year were not the bizarre acts but those in which pure talent was showcased, as in Adele and her six awards. The amazing affection given to Whitney Houston (CNN and others televising the funeral, for instance) grew no doubt from some of the more tragic elements of her life, but the reason we know and love Houston is because of the amazing talent God has given her that is universally recognized. If you saw her sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl just after the war on terror began in 1991, which was re-released after 9-11 and immediately went platinum, you know her transcendent talent. We may captivate student for the moment in bowing our knee to the altar of pop culture, but we may lose a generation by being hip without giving truth. The gospel is the transcendent, beautiful, wonderful reality we must ever keep at the center of our ministries.
Second, the Grammys remind us of the Imago Dei. Every person who ever lived was made in His image. We represent a unique category of creation with unparalleled abilitiy to innovate (note the staging at the Grammys and ask yourself what chimpanzee or ostrich could do that), and a certain appreciation for beauty. Although the Fall introduced sin and its effects to all of creation and separated us from our Creator, we still see the reality of the image of God all around us. Whitney Houston, Adele, and The Civil Wars all caused me to pause and reflect on the wonder that God has given such remarkable talent to those in His image. We who know Christ must avoid the “holier than thou” attitude that sees ourselves as superior. My relationship with Christ does not make me better than others; it makes me grateful for the gift of God in salvation I did not deserve. The gospel should help us see God’s work in the world, and hope to see people redeemed for the glory of God.
Finally, the life of Whitney Houston, so much a part of the Grammys this year, reminds me of the students all around us in our churches. Houston grew up singing in the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. Katy Perry also grew up in church and released a Christian CD before becoming a pop icon. What if we spent less time whining about everything wrong in a culture obviously wrecked by the Fall and more time looking to help talented young people to use their abilities for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel? What if we recognized the arts as a remarkable place for students to demonstrate the gospel’s change in their lives? I fear too many students hear only what is wrong with culture (and there is much that is wrong) and not enough about how the gospel can help them to change it through Christ.
Young people love pop culture. We can avoid embracing all of it while appreciating the best of it, and we can help develop a gospel-driven trajectory in students by taking their talents and showing how to use them for God’s glory.
Note: the above was adapted from a recent article at my blog at Christian Post