Alright so I drew heavily on my own experience with my hair
for this one, so it’s a little more personal. Hope you like it!
When she was very young Pidge had very long, beautiful thick
It would get tangled a lot but that was ok because her papa
had a magic technique with a hairbrush; he could get rid of even the worst rat’s
nests without pulling her hair and hurting her
And her mom would put it up in pigtails or braids, whichever
style Pidge wanted her mama could do it
Then in grade 3 Pidge decided she wanted to chop all her
hair off and get a haircut “like papa and Matt”
Her parents were a bit surprised but they supported her
decision and she got the haircut
The hairdresser said she looked adorable
Matt ruffled her hair and grinned
Her mom said it suited her
Her dad said she was very cute
Unfortunately not everyone was as accepting of her new hair
A group of boys at school the next day teased her about it,
saying she looked like a boy, and the
way they said that word made it sound like something disgusting
She shouted back at them and stuck out her chin, radiating
as much contempt as her small 3rd grader body could
She carried on like it didn’t affect her, didn’t mean
anything, but the damage was done; Pidge was no longer proud of her short hair,
no matter how many times her family said it looked good
She let it grow out and never thought about cutting it short
She didn’t really care about her hair anymore
She kept it in ponytails or used headbands to keep it out of her face
She put in the minimum amount of effort to keep it clean and that was it
Then came time to infiltrate the Garrison
She was nervous about cutting her hair at first, convinced
that she would hate it but determined to do whatever it took to find her father
But after it was done and she was staring at her new face in
the mirror she found she didn’t hate it at all in fact
She had finally found her
hairstyle, not the one she felt she had to have because of some dumb boys’
comments, and it felt good
From there Pidge starts to get more experimental with her
hair; now that she’s free to try different things she’ll try an undercut, she’ll
grow it out and shave one side, she’ll go the whole nine yards and get a buzz cut,
she’ll ornament it with little bows and clips and headbands
And no matter the style
du jour Pidge is always happy and confident in her hair
Once again, an Irishman has cracked the upper echelons of the Billboard hot 100, only this time, you may be pleased to hear it’s not Bono:
In relatively short order, Hozier has been unleashed upon the world—first on YouTube, now on the singles charts.
Many attribute his meteoric rise to viral hype: the video for “Take Me To Church” features an incendiary topic (bad choice of words?) handled in a touching manner; playing into the context of our times, the video evokes Russia’s totalitarian approach to homosexuality as our country (largely) continues to embrace the LGBT community in ever growing numbers and ever loosening laws.
The story of Hozier’s viral explosion exists elsewhere on the net, so we need not clog our review with the details, though one part of the tale deserves repetition:
The song caught the attention of the utterly hilarious Stephen Fry, who “fueled the hype by tweeting a link to Hozier’s video” to his followers, all eight million of them. Indeed, Hozier thanked Fry directly for the help.
Still, attributing Hozier’s enduring popularity to viral buzz alone would be foolish: YouTube certainly propelled him forward, but a viral push does not equal staying power, as Soko—now absent from mainstream conversation after spending one week on the Billboard Charts—could tell you.
Instead, this is a rare case of substance winning out over style. Put more accurately, this is substance winning out over the mainstream’s style, for indeed, “Take Me to Church” stands in stark contrast to the rest.
By way of example, here’s a couplet from Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” currently the number one song in the country:
“New Money, Suit and Tie—I can read you like a magazine. Ain’t it funny? Rumor’s fly, and I know you heard about me.”
And here’s a line from Meghan Trainor’s “body positive” anthem, “All About That Bass”:
“I got that boom boom that all the boys chase, and all the right junk in all the right places.”
Now, right behind them, here’s Hozier:
“I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies, I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife. Offer me that deathless death? Good God, let me give you my life.”
This isn’t the solipsism of Swift, and this isn’t the self-objectification of Trainor. Instead, what we have on our hands is a deliciously acidic criticism of religious institutions, particularly their interference in our bedrooms.
The blistering takedown continues into the verses:
“Something meaty for the main course—that’s a fine looking high horse. What you got in the stable? We’ve a lot of starving faithful.”
In terms of lyrical subject—and deftness of imagery—“Take Me To Church” has much more in common with James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (or Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes) than with the preposterously sexualized transformation of Nic Jonas or Ariana Grande (“Love Me Harder?” Really? I’m deferring to Bette Midler on this one, no matter how much she backpedals).
Lyrics aren’t the only aspect separating this song from the pack. In terms of rhythm, “Take Me To Church” also stands alone in the current pop-scape.
Despite the abundance of such talk in my articles, I am actually loathe to throw music terminology around, because I know how pretentious it makes me look to do so.
However, the sheer amount of deviations from the musical norm in this song boggles the mind; indeed, it cannot be ignored:
A song that doesn’t waltz along in 6/4 time, but instead, lopes for four beats and catches up with the other two—that’s undeniably weird for the mainstream charts. So too are the metric shifts to quick passages of 4/4 at the end of the verses; this is likewise unmatched anywhere else on the pop charts.
That this all feels organic in “Take Me to Church” is a musical achievement. That this song has been so widely accepted by a public weaned on the empty calories of Swedish trifles over the last fifteen years is, in my estimation, a cultural milestone.
Then there’s the music itself, devoid of the clichéd chord progressions which trickle down from the mountains of Max Martin to the streets of Hip Hop.
None of that endless diatonic fluff here—no I-V-vi-IV progressions, or vi-IV-I-V’s (look here to see just how much that particular chord progression has proliferated over the decades)—instead, we’re given the kind of minor modalities usually reserved for jazzier landscapes.
All right, I’ll lose the music terminology now and bring us back to the round and solid beauty of Hozier’s voice: this is a deep, crooning and above all resonant sound; even as he climbs to higher notes, his voice feels rooted in the low pit of his gut.
Contrast his tone sound with the silly, frilly vocals of nearly everyone else singing on the Top Ten—the Grande’s, the Smith’s, the Sheeran’s—and we begin to see this reigning style du-jour for what it really is: not an authentic self, but an accent piece, slipped on like a jacket, sloughed off for the inevitable reinvention five years from now.
Yet there’s even more to analyze in this one song: how about the production? Could anything sound more different in today’s context? These aren’t the platonically perfect, gospel piano-poundings of “Stay With Me.” Instead, we’re given a piano drenched in reverb and pushed into the corner, as if heard in a church’s sanctuary (Imagine that—style flowing from substance!). The vocals also get the cathedral treatment, another palpable difference from the drier sounds our Swedish overlords prefer.
The drums are less ostentatious as well, sitting far back in the mix, never pounding against your temples (as if trying to escape from within your own eardrums).
And yes, we have to mention it—the guitars. Good old fashioned guitars. Not the aggressively new timbres of St. Vincent, not the “Guitars are the point!” bombast of Jack White, but axes put into their proper place, entering with grit, dragging us from the ecclesiastical to the sordid in one fell, chromatic swoop.
Simply put, this stuff is just too weird to thrive for so long off the back of viral success alone.
In my estimation, a more complete answer for this song’s popularity lies in a quote tossed off by Chris Cornell at a concert I attended last summer.
At Jones Beach, Cornell commented on the state of songwriting in the music industry: “These day, everyone’s in a good f**king mood, and I think that’s great!”
His italicized “great” did not carry the eternal enthusiasm of Tony the Tiger. No. His exclamation dripped with sardonicism, and he continued to punctuate his scorn to much applause: “But the world hasn’t gotten any better.”
In this article, we’ve been talking a lot about contexts—mostly the context of pop music. But let’s forget all that for a moment to examine the context of our own lives:
We live in a complicated, often dismal world, one in which governmental powers are increasingly terrifying (from ISIS to Putin and everything in between—including aspects of our own system).
In the United States, we find ourselves in a landscape now roiling with discomfort, in which even the most ardent democrats have lost faith with our executive branch, in which iniquities of gender and race have yet to be been addressed, in which child homelessness is on the rise, in which nearly half of us blame poor people for their own poverty while simultaneously overlooking the entrenched nature of our corporate welfare systems.
Has any of this been reflected in the pop charts?
Not recently; the last political protest song I can remember discussed in the mainstream was John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change”—an utterly toothless and passive song if ever I heard one:
Marvin Gaye asked us a direct and powerful question (“What’s Going On?”). John Mayer simply took a walk by the East River and waited for the world to change around his beautifully sculptured face.
But now, at the tail-end 2014, we have something palpably political on the pop charts—something decrying our deeply dysfunctional institutions with passion and fervor.
All of this points to a theory I’ve been espousing for nearly a year now: audiences are craving the kind of change a song like this provides—indeed, people would be actively pushing for such change if mechanisms outside of their control didn’t exist to maintain the status quo.
In the year since I’ve begun tooting this horn, pop music has definitely undergone a shift (check nearly any one of my previous reviews to see how).
I started making this claim in the wake of Lorde’s Pure Heroine, an album I still stand behind a year later. The difference, with Hozier, is a matter of scope:
Lorde focused her talents excellently inward, giving us a fully realized portrayal of a millennial in bloom. Hozier, on the other hand, hones in on the interference of the personal at the nexus of the institutional. In doing so, he’s awakened a sleeping beast: he has made the political polemic popular again, at least for now.
I, for one, hope the trend holds. Given the single’s success, I think it just might.