A New Gospel

24 March 2015 Melissa Cranenburgh

A New Gospel

Melissa Cranenburgh, Ed#480, March 2015

At the Grammy awards in February, it was clear male crooners would be hogging centre stage. None more so than British singer Sam Smith, who bagged Song of the Year for ‘Stay with Me’. Smith’s meditation on the wash up of a one-night stand struck a chord with the broadest of audiences – a personal coup for the singer (who used his acceptance speech to thank the man who jilted him, and inspired the song) – and marked a shift in the acceptance of openly LGBTI singers and themes.

But it was fellow Song of the Year nominee, 25-year-old Irish balladeer Hozier, who has attracted the surprised praise of commentators for his ‘unlikely’ pop ascension. Hozier’s hit, ‘Take Me to Church’, has an undeniably catchy refrain and impressive musical arrangement, but the lyrics are a far cry from the simplistic lovelorn fare of most pop songs: Take me to Church/ I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies/ I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife… And just in case you don’t catch the references, the official video clip is unequivocal: it depicts a brutal hate crime against a young gay couple, strongly referencing similar incidents in Russia following the introduction of that country’s anti-gay laws.

A song like ‘Take Me to Church’ might have languished in the indie charts were it not for social media: Stephen Fry tweeted the clip to his millions of followers, and the song recently garnered even more fans when David LaChappelle filmed Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin dancing out his demons to the track. But Hozier, with his Celtic good looks, quiet manner and gentle equivocating on the topic, isn’t rocking the boat too much. After performing his hit at the Grammys, he appeared on the US Today Show. When asked to explain the song, he replied: “It’s a love song. It’s very much about sexuality and…sex I suppose. But…erm…and what it is to kind of love somebody and devote yourself to somebody. And it…reflects on organisations and institutions that would…that would teach people to be ashamed about that.” Even those inclined to do so would find his sentiment hard to fault.

>> Melissa Cranenburgh is The Big Issue's Associate Editor.

This article appeared in Ed#480 of The Big Issue magazine.