One of my main objectives in writing reviews is to help us think a little more deeply about the music we are putting in our ears. Every song conveys a message and that message is going to impact the way we think. Our God is a God who has chosen to create and sustain faith in our hearts by means of words (Romans 10:17). What we hear and what we listen to matters.
Which brings me to Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience. Lyrically, this is not a tremendously deep album (save “Mirrors” and “Blue Ocean Floor” which are decent attempts, at least). What is more, there are some lyrics that are just…well..bad! When Timberlake says he’s not trying to “alienate” a girl, but “find an alien” in her on “Spaceship Coupe,” it sounds like a bad Saturday Night Live idea (a show he is typically hilarious on, by the way). Timberlake is not winning any awards for poetry.
But he isn’t trying to. This is an album that is meant to make you dance. And it is really, really good at that. I can’t get enough of this album! I am not a big R & B fan, but with The 20/20 Experience I find myself sitting in my office, working on sermons, bobbing my head like Keith Urban on American Idol. And I don’t even mean to! You cannot help but dance to this album! The former N’Sync star has been able to rise above the stereotypical washed-up, boy-band status and produce a smart and engaging album. But, let’s face it, he really was the major talent in N’Sync…ok, Joey and JC weren’t half bad. I digress….
This album is about making us dance. And it does. But it is not just about that. It is full of sexual innuendos and overtones. He constantly implies his desire to have sex with the girls he is singing about. The hope, it would seem, is that the dancing would lead to more. We laugh and sort of blush when it comes from a talented, pop-icon like Justin Timberlake, but girls: if some dude ever talks to you like this, you should rightly slap him. Thus, we can say that some of the lyrics are quite inappropriate and contains explicit language.
As I have been working on this review, I realized a tension inside of me. I really like this album. But I cannot stand the way Timberlake objectifies women. Women made in the image of God deserve to be treated as such, not as objects to try and dance into bed. So, is it okay for me to listen to this album? I like the music, but not the message. Can I separate the two?
When I was in college, a couple of my friends decided that Christians couldn’t own “secular” albums (using the “secular” the same way they used the word demonic”). So, one day, they went down to the river and threw their albums in the water. A sort of secular music baptism, I suppose. I remember feeling very guilty for not doing the same. As I look back, I am glad I didn’t do it. I have come to believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with “secular” music. Whether “Christian” (which I hate using as an adjective) or “secular,” music is a gift from God. It is part of His good creation. When we hear good music, we are listening to the proper use of God’s good creation, whether the artist intends it that way or not. There is nothing wrong with listening to secular music.
Sort of. Dangers arise, I think, when “secular” and even some so-called “Christian” music begins to convey a message that counters what we have in God’s Word. So, how should a Christian respond to music that uses God’s created gifts to make something that sounds good, but then lyrically undermines God’s creation, like The 20/20 Experience? I mean, we don’t want to be legalists and say that Christians can only buy contemporary Christian music (which, incidentally, can struggle to put out faithful lyrics as well). Nor do we want to support the production of music that undermines God and His gifts. So, how should we proceed? What informs our iPod playlists? Where do you come out on this? Are we free to listen to whatever we want as Christians? Or are we bound to listen only to “Christian” music? I’d love your feedback to help me sort through the issue.