"You Don't Get Away That Easy:" Rethinking the 'Secular' in Secular Music

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Timothy D. Epp

Abstract

The dichotomy of the ‘sacred’ versus the ‘profane’ continues to inform discussions of religion and public life. In terms of pop culture, this takes the form of a distinction between the mainstream and Christian music industries, relegating ‘spiritual’ music to the latter category and dismissing any reference to spirituality in mainstream music as demonstrating a ‘weak religiosity.’ I argue that an examination of references to spirituality in song lyrics, complemented with an analysis of artist interviews, reveals that music which we deem ‘secular' is not characterized by absence of attention to spirituality, but rather contains a wide range of approaches to the transcendent, echoing Charles Taylor’s discussion of the ‘nova effect.’ In this study, I draw on Taylor’s A Secular Age in a review of songs from the best albums lists of 2017, as provided by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, New Musical Express, and Billboard, focusing on references to spirituality in song lyrics. I argue that a re-examination of lyrics may lead us from skepticism toward spirituality in pop music to anticipation of spiritual encounters and reflections by musical artists of all genres.

Kew Words: music, sacred, secular, spirituality

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