Throughout the course of history, music has continuously demonstrated its significant influence on humanity by virtue of its ability to evoke emotions and feelings in humans’ life. Consequently, singers and songwriters have embraced music to reach far beyond the limits of quotidian words in order to extensively convey ideas to the depths of humans’ heart. In the same vein, songs can be utilized to address an ample array of societal issues. Owing to its powerful message as well as its distinctive lyrical features, “Take Me to Church,” a song composed by Irish singer/songwriter Andrew John Hozier-Byrne, known professionally as Hozier, rapidly attained widespread global popularity upon its release in September 2013. The song occupied #1 position on the Irish iTunes singles chart and #2 in the official Irish singles chart, later crossing over to the all-genre Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at #2 in December 2014. Although the discordance between homosexuality and religion has existed since ancient times, it has become more evident in recent decades as the advocacy of Human Rights has been progressively covering more ground within society. Through this lyrical composition, Hozier confronted the Church institution for its discrimination against homosexuality, and to a greater extent, its restrictions upon human behavior. It is not intended to attack faith, rather denounce specific religious norms which have inhibited individuals from relishing inherent elements of human nature such as love and sex. Hozier manifested that “[t]he core of the song is about an organization that teaches people to be ashamed of themselves, based just on their natural being” (Chow, 2014, para. 8). He sought to condemn the church’s intent to “undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation” through its doctrine. Said norms established by the Church institution have been dominating the outlook of society while imposing limitations to humans’ behaviors in regard of their sexuality: who to love and how to love.
Love, sex and sexuality
Ever since the origin of humanity, love and sex have seemed to concertedly constitute a pivotal source of contentment to the life of human beings. In fact, one may argue that love and sex represent a divine gift to humankind. Hendrick and Hendrick (1987) concluded that “[l]ove and sex are inextricably linked, with love as the basis for much of our sexual interaction, and sex as the medium of expression for much of our loving” (p. 159). Simply put, the act of sex constitutes the undeniable expression of the sentiment of love. In his song “Take Me to Church”, Hozier reiteratedly emphasized the narrator’s adoration towards a female lover which constitutes in actuality one of the pillars of the aforementioned lyrical composition. Moreover, he highlighted that said adoration may be deemed untraditional before the eyes of religion. The above becomes evident in his lyrics when he sings “My lover’s got humour / She’s the giggle at a funeral” (Hozier, 2013, lines 1-2). Given the dismal ambience of funereal ceremonies, laughter is perceived as inappropriate. In light of this, the singer intended to portray an unorthodox idea where he does not contemplate untraditional love as a synonym for immorality. Furthermore, in the lyrics “She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’ / The only heaven I'll be sent to / Is when I'm alone with you” (lines 11-13), Hozier (2013) reinforced his eccentric religious tendencies by accentuating the idolization of the narrator’s lover as she becomes his god who is “worship[ped] in the bedroom.” This statement is further corroborated when he sings “If I’m a pagan of the good times / My lover’s the sunlight.” (Hozier, 2013, lines 27-28) where the lover, in the form of an idolized god, is analogized to the Sun whose association with paganism has remained present since time immemorial. Having said this, Hozier conveyed that, in spite of religious constraints, humans must be permitted to experience the delight of love as well as the pleasure of sex in an unrestricted manner rather than being subject to judgment by cause of their sexuality.
Hypocrisy within the Church institution
Albeit religion may have evolved as a product of humans’ need for finding significance of life as well as mitigating existential anguish whilst contributing towards the development of society, the Church institution has practiced hypocrisy yet has continued to exert its influence on human beings’ behavior in a vigorous manner. Having been dismissed from the diocese’s roster of ministers due to his sexual orientation, Anglican minister James Ferry (1989) declared that “[h]ow can one say that one accepts people regardless of sexual orientation and then not allow any possible expression of that orientation?” He added that “I know bishops who have gay clergy couples over for dinner. I know bishops who have been to their homes. Everything is fine as long as no one explicitly states anything.” The Church institution has pertinaciously claimed to favor the promotion of unity and love among humankind. In Christianity, this act of promotion constitutes in fact one of the two greatest commandments established by God. Said institution, nevertheless, has seemed to be contradicting itself whenever it comes to accepting homosexuality as one considers its repudiation towards same sex relationships. Furthermore, the Church institution has instituted norms aimed at dominating human behavior in an attempt to seemingly govern who to love and how to love. In his lyrics, Hozier (2013) referred to the above when he sings “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies” (line 18). “Shrine of your lies” constitutes a direct attack to the hypocrisy of the church for disseminating abhorrence towards different individuals. In the same spirit, in the lyrics “I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife” (Hozier, 2013, line 19), the singer condemned the Church for castigating sinners upon the confession of their sins, rather than forgiving them as God may desire. The singer further reinforced this statement when he sings “Every Sunday’s getting more bleak / A fresh poison each week / ‘We were born sick’, you heard them say it” (Hozier, 2013, lines 7-9) in allusion to the continuous reiteration of the prejudice towards homosexuals, who are said to “be born sick”, in every dominical service by Church leaders. Besides, Hozier (2013) mentioned that “We’ve a lot of starving faithful” (line 36) as a reference to the number of individuals who wish to believe in God yet refuse to do so because of the existing hypocrisy within the Church.
Take Me to Church: Narrative
“Take Me to Church” was written with an eye towards conveying a message in such a subtle manner yet potent enough to make an impact in the hearts of all its listeners. The above constitutes an innate characteristic of open reading and defined narrative songs. In his article “So What Does ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ Really Mean? A Typology for Analyzing Pop Song Lyrics Using Narrative Theory and Semiotics,” Randle and Evans (2013) described the aforementioned concepts as lyrical compositions which “offer a nondescript or ambiguous narrative containing a lot for the listener to interpret ‘between the lines.’” This being so, “Take Me to Church” constitutes a prime example of this type of lyrical compositions whose lyrics possess the tendency to be open to interpretation. Hozier made use of this technique so as to encourage listeners to explore the underlying meanings and messages of such a profound song as “Take Me to Church” is. Hozier was capable of addressing the contentious issue of homosexuality in society in an effective manner which led to the spread of its song to a large number of people. Likewise, he composed the song in such a way that the conveyance of his message would not represent any offense to its listeners. The lack of a storyline also contributes to the liberty granted to its audience members to develop their own interpretations without deviating from the central focus of the song. Expressions such as “Offer me that deathless death” (Hozier, 2013, line 20) as well as “There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin” (Hozier, 2013, line 51) mandate a more thoroughgoing analysis of the song lyrics in order to scrutinize satisfactorily the most concealed yet influential meanings behind it.
“Take Me to Church” has once more demonstrated the far-reaching influence of music on human beings’ life. Through this lyrical composition, Hozier has been able to effectively tackle a very polemical issue in modern society. Religious principles and homosexual practices have remained in dispute for centuries where the former criticizes the latter’s acts of immorality, and in like manner, the latter condemns the former’s acts of discrimination, hypocrisy and manipulation of human behavior as to who to love and how to love. The open reading and closed narrative of the song positively contribute towards the formation of an adequate lyrical environment which enables the listeners to interpret in an open manner, without diverging from the central focus, the profound significance of the conveyed messages. Notwithstanding the current polarization between the Church institution and the LGBTQ+ Community, society seems to be gradually following the trend of a more liberal collective mindset which promises to favor a more harmonious relationship between the aforementioned parties for the benefit of humankind.
- Bergman, B. (1992, Feb 17). Sex, gays and religion. Maclean's, 105, 16-17. Retrieved from http://ez-proxy.methodist.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/218475975?accountid=12408
- Chow, A. R. (2014, November 21). Protesting Injustice, Accepting Fame. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/arts/music/hozier-on-protest-pop.html?_r=0.
- Hendrick, S. S., & Hendrick, C. (1987). Love and sex attitudes: A close relationship. In W. H. Jones & D. Perlman (Eds.), Advances in personal relationships: Vol 1 (pp. 141-169). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
- Randle, Q., & Evans, K. (2013). So what does 'set fire to the rain' really mean? A typology for analyzing pop song lyrics using narrative theory and semiotics. MEIEA Journal, 13(1), 125-147. Retrieved from http://ez-proxy.methodist.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1519295745?accountid=12408
- Take Me to Church Lyrics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/31135728/Hozier.