Christian Music Tales I: The Failure of Fun
My youth group (for the unchurched among you: a group at church consisting of either Jr. Highers or High School kids) loved the song “Sadie Hawkins Dance” by Relient K. Relient K was a band that made its living creating tongue-in-cheek (they literally had an album called The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek) pop-punk tinged songs. They were signed to TobyMac‘s label and had songs about mood rings, waking up too late, and Jesus. They were a part of the Christian music scene and their clean, fun, and silly songs made them a youth group fixture.
As a part of our culture we had charts that would literally lay out which non-christian (or secular) bands equated with the Christian ones. This would help to display a positive alternative to the music that was being made outside the church, filling it typically with bands that sounded like other ones but sang about Jesus.
Relient K’s comparison would have surely been Blink-182, both bands played music that was on the poppier end of punk and that focused on silliness. Blink’s songs were made to push the limit and they found themselves as a fixture of teen rebellion, songs that pushed the boundaries to what parents would let their kids listen to. Relient K’s songs were pretty much G-rated fun (though they did have a song about Marilyn Manson eating their girlfriend).
I remember we had a youth group event, it was a photo scavenger hunt where you and a team of people ran around trying to find certain things and take a picture in it. It was one of those ministry days, come have fun at church and invite all your friends–a bunch of silly fun. When we came back, they blasted music and in the playlist of course was “Sadie Hawkins Dance”. Everyone cheered and I distinctly remember this guy standing at the front of the room rocking out while making his hands into a large “o” to match the part of the song that goes “oh oh oh”. I think that was the moment I was entirely over that song, which is a semi-clever ode to the famed dance where “the girls ask the guys”. My friends and I rolled our eyes.
Now I do truly like Relient K. Sure most of the time I ever think of them is in nostalgic moments, they seem to have a large part of their song catalog actually holds up. The band itself largely continues to exist, though right before their latest album all but two members dropped out. They seem to have lost all enthusiasm for fun, silliness, and Christian music as none of their latest album really hits that tone. In fact on their latest effort they seem to have given up all together–only writing half the songs themselves.
Their evolution as a band seems to mirror the very places they helped to soundtrack. Youth group focused on craziness in an effort to give the kids what they wanted, while throwing in religious tidbits underneath it all–like trying to mask a dog’s medicine by placing it on top of a doggy treat. This wasn’t enough though–kids can sniff these things out and eventually get bored of what you are feeding them.
Most people who grew out mohawks, got tattoos, and sang along with Blink-182 in the 90s don’t really care that the band just broke up once again; they rebelled and then they moved on. Even the boys from Blink-182 tried to get more serious as their career progressed past the age of 23.
The same thing happened in youth group–we grew tired of fun and couldn’t hold onto the youthful innocence that youth group Christianity and Christian culture both promised and required of us. They wanted to share something important, but the only way they could think to do it was by mirroring the outside. They failed to consider that it was never going to sustain us. The end result was all the more tragic; Blink-182 never claimed to have all the answers, they were just in it for a good time. The church was trying to lead us into the most important aspect of all of life and they chose to give us good clean fun.