Justin Bieber has been a high-profile member of Hillsong, the evangelical megachurch , and reports suggest his reconnection with his Christian faith will be a strong theme on his comeback album. He is, according to an anonymous source in the Sun, “reshaping his sound so it is more in line with the church’s values and beliefs”. It could be a risky move, but perhaps not as risky as it might once have been.
“We’re reaching a point where, especially with North American artists, less so with UK ones, it’s fine to talk about your faith, especially from a Christian perspective,” says Tshepo Mokoena, UK editor of Noisey, Vice’s music site. “A good example is Chance the Rapper who is hugely successful, isn’t afraid to put [his faith] in his music or talk about it on social media.
“I think because musicians now have a much more direct route to communicating with their fans, they don’t have to hide elements of themselves if it fits into their brand. With Chance the Rapper it does – he’s all about positivity, loving people, lots of things that the way Americans view religion really fits.”
Bieber might benefit in the same way. “In December, he shared a really passionate Instagram post [with] a #Jesus. It seems a bit corny but I’m sure for someone like him, with much younger fans, it could end up feeling quite inspiring,” adds Mokoena.
In the past, a Christian faith was something to be hidden away or ridiculed. For those embracing a newfound faith, it seemed safer if you had already built your credibility – Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Alice Cooper all weathered the born-again tag. For artists starting out, it still seems to be something to be buried, especially in the UK. “It definitely has negative connotations,” the rapper Guvna B told the Radio 2 faith show Good Morning Sunday at the weekend, adding there were radio stations that didn’t play his music because of it. He pointed to artists such as Stormzy and Kendrick Lamar as people whose Christian faith hasn’t held them back. “They’re not branded as Christian artists, so I guess it’s more acceptable.”
“The idea of what is considered cool and uncool is framed so much more now by believing in who you are and if being religious is part of that, then it subverts the whole idea,” says Mokoena. Previously the idea of what makes a rock star was very defined, she says, but the music industry has moved away from that.
“Now the definition is so broad – it’s all about how you handle your popularity rather than being a white guy in a leather jacket who takes loads of drugs every night.