LifeHouse, Kerry Livgren, Scott Stapp and the "Christian" Stigma

It would seem that Lifehouse doesn't get as much mainstream air time as they used to. This might be for a couple of reasons: Either their style has deteriorated (which i doubt) or mainstream radio doesn't like playing bands that have been labeled (or branded) "Christian."

Every so often mainstream artists become Christian and then drop off the radar of mainstream entertainment. I might be imagining this. Then again, if this really does happen (to bands such as Lifehouse) I can think of two plausible reasons why: (1) people distrust religion and therefore avoid it or (2) people hate God and therefore avoid Him.

Of course there is no set equation for the "Christian" stigma. Scott Stapp went solo before he made his leap into the Christian music scene.
Consequently his debut solo album, "The Great Divide," wasn't nearly as popular as his work within Creed.

Another similar case is Kerry Livgren, whose popularity plummeted as soon as he left his post as lead singer and songwriter for Kansas to go solo and "Christian."

We might say that everyone who leaves their band behind to go solo crashes and burns on the pop charts... but this has not been the case for artists such as Beyonce Knowles (former lead singer of Destiny's Child) or Justin Timberlake (former lead singer of Nsync). It is more likely that anyone who goes solo and "Christian" at the same time will crash and burn on the pop charts.

Another possibility is that Christian bands tend to produce lower quality music than worldly bands because they are not as true to themselves as worldly bands. It is harder for a Christian band to be wholeheartedly godly than it is for a godless band to be wholeheartedly godless. Maybe Christian bands tend to be less artistically savvy than non-Christian bands because they struggle with a conflict of interests within themselves... an identity crisis if you will. It would difficult for a Christian band to be 100% God-inspired because there are other forces such as secular culture and man-made religion vying for their attention.


Nate said...

It's also possible that the media stop paying attention to thousands of people/bands at any given moment for at least as many reasons. Perhaps Lifehouse's style hasn't "deteriorated", but they haven't had a driving hit. Perhaps people are tiring of Lifehouse's schtick. (I know I was the first time I heard them.)

Also, as someone who is an actively religious Christian, I can understand a distrust/dislike of any band that is labeled "Christian". It implies to me--whether justly or not--that the band values a kind of obvious evangelism over artistry, that its music is less about the soul and more about the mechanics of religious practice.

Perhaps that's the residual burn of having spent my youth being told I could find a holier equivalent for the evil bands I listened to--like the Smashing Pumpkins--and finding their "equivalents" to be preposterously shallow.

In general, though, I think music often tries for a universality of expression that a narrowly Christian agenda can be a barrier to. In sum: I think there are many possible reasons for the phenomenon you describe other than the ones you suggest.

Pat R said...

thx for the input Nate,

of course there are more reasons than the two i mentioned (note how i said "there is not set equation")

i was mostly trying to give artists who make "the crossover" the benefit of the doubt

Dan E. said...

I wouldn't say that Stapp's decrease in popularity was due to being labeled Christian. After all, one needs only to compare the reactions to Creed's breakthrough album Human Clay with its follow up, Weathered. Weathered actually topped the charts its first week out, based on the good will the band had accumulated from singles like "Higher" and "With Arms Wide Open," but the album quickly fell without a major hit to keep it in the public's eye. And you can't tell me people didn't see a spiritual message in a song like "Higher" . . . "Can you take me higher/to a place where blind men see." Despite (or perhaps because) of this spirituality, Creed became very popular very fast. Honestly, I could do without them, but that's just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

You are right in the fact that Kerry Livgren was the lead guitarist and main songwriter for Kansas, however, Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhart shared the vocal duties for the band. When Walsh left the band in 1983, Christian artist John Elefante replaced him on vocals for two Kansas albums. Walsh rejoined Kansas in 1987 and has remained since. Kerry has been a part of 13 of Kansas' 15 studio albums as well as being the driving force behind the Christian band A.D.(6 albums), 8 solo albums and most recently 3 albums with the progressive rock band Proto-Kaw. Despite his involvment in all of these projects, Kerry handled the lead vocals on only one song. The song "Whiskey Seed" off his first solo album called "Seeds of Change" was and still is Kerry's only venture as a lead vocalist.

PatricktheRogue said...

As a longtime Kansas Fan, I second Anonymous' correction: Kerry Livgren was no singer. He was/is a great guitarist, keyboardist, and composer, but only once (in the aforementioned song "Whiskey Seed") a singer, and even then Mylon Levefre helped him out on the chorus.
To address your larger point however, Kerry Livgren actually had a small resurgence of popularity after he became a Christian. After his conversion, he continued to play and write on three albums with Kansas, which were all fairly successful. They weren't quite to the level of their huge sellers in the 70's (Leftoverture and Point of Know Return), but the two (Vinyl Confessions and Drastic Measures) they made with singer John Elefante (a Christian) actually did slightly better in the marketplace than the two they made previously (Audio Visions and Monolith) with their original singer, Steve Walsh. However, it is unlikely any of that had to do with the musician's Christianity. Steve Walsh's decidedly secular post-Kansas effort, the band Streets, was a flop. (They were good musically IMO, but they didnt sell.)
The reason Kerry Livgren's phenomenal band AD didn't do well was their consignment to the "Religious Music" market, which at the time was pitiful. Livgren was prevented from participating in the mainstream rock market by contractual obligations with Kansas' recording company. I am sure legions of Kansas fans would have flocked to AD had the ever heard of the band.