LOVE in Song

This new Switchfoot video, inspired by John Perkins, the great civil rights leader, was sent over the ONE email list serve today…

I have heard that Lived Theology’s very own Charles Marsh connected Switchfoot with John Perkins to collaborate on this video. Furthermore, the Switchfoot band members also happen to be very big ONE supporters.  So in honor of the world getting smaller and more aware of justice because of all these fantastic connections, I have decided to do a post about modern depictions of love in song.  Specifically, I’m going to look at how popular music, while catchy and endlessly entertaining, has perverted the biblical meaning of love.  Walker Percy, in his novel The Last Gentleman,questioned countercultural sentiments of love, arguing, “Make love not war? I’ll take war rather than what this age calls love.” How did we go so wrong?

Let me begin with “Love Story” by Taylor Swift.  I may make many people, most of them 15 year old girls and college age fraternity guys, angry with this criticism.  And by the way, I am not saying I don’t like this song–I do. It’s catchy, and is exactly what every girl dreams of when it comes to love. I mean, read the lyrics and tell me this isn’t fairytale perfection. “Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone; I’ll be waiting all there’s left to do is run; You’ll be the prince, I’ll be the princess; It’s a love story, baby just say yes.”  Wow. Yes, yes, I say YES.

Unfortunately, this is a highly inaccurate picture of love.  I’m no expert, but love isn’t supposed to be easy, and there is much more to it than just saying yes (although that helps).

Moving on to “What is love?” by Haddaway.  This 80s classic should make you think of Will Ferrell and Chris Katan wearing ugly fluorescent suits and bobbing their heads simultaneously side to side in a van.  The lyrics to this one aren’t so much complex.  It goes, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.” If the only definition of love is that no one gets hurt, than I would say that this is almost as unrealistic as the fairytale brought to us by T-Swift.  I know it’s just a four-minute song, but this is a really limited portrayal of love.

Next up is “Love in this Club” by Usher.  If possible, the chorus to this song is even less creative and even catchier than the Haddaway classic.  It goes, “I wanna make love in this club, yea; make love in this club, yea, in this club.”  Ok, I have to admit, I like this song. In fact, I have spent many long car rides blasting this song in an effort to stay awake or entertain myself for 6 hours.  Basically, this song equates love to sex.  For Usher, and most of the pop culture world, love is drinking one too many cosmos, finding someone random in a club and taking them home.  This depiction is neither a fairytale, nor is it any way to form a solid relationship.  This is the kind of love that Percy was criticizing when he said that he would rather take war over the contemporary understanding of love as sex, and I happen to agree.

Finally, we have Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar.  This song comes the closest to an accurate depiction of love yet.  The lyrics suggest that love is a fight, and we have to accept heartache, because it’s just as much a part of life as love.  “We are young, heartache to heartache we stand; No promises, no demands; Love is a battlefield.”  Right on.  But there is one thing that bothers me.  No promises? No demands? Love is a promise and a demand, theological context or not.  In fact, a marital relationship is a promise to love your spouse until death, no matter what.  This is accompanied by certain demands, like sharing of the remote control for the TV, communicating issues, and nurturing children.  From a biblical perspective, God promises to love us unconditionally, and commands that we love our neighbors as ourselves.  Almost Pat, almost.

Ultimately, I prefer love as Switchfoot and John Perkins see it.  And my agreement with Walker Percy is even more emphatic if he imagined war as Perkins does.  The theme of the Switchfoot video is “Love is the Final Fight” in the context of globalization.  The introduction to the video features John Perkins saying, “we wanna make a United States, and there will be people from every nation under God would have liberty and freedom for all.”  This message is amazingly similar to the publicly projected message of ONE, which seeks freedom from extreme poverty for all suffering individuals, particularly those in Africa.  ONE wants individuals in Africa to enjoy the same freedoms and liberties that Americans enjoy and take for granted on a daily basis.  The best way I can think of to characterize the fight for freedom from oppression is LOVE. And if love is the final fight, then we are currently engaged in the battle of our lives-and I’m anticipating that love will prevail.