Will ‘Sing-Off’ Contestants Become the Next Take-6? Or the next R-Kelly?
My background with music and my love for it, especially vocal music — not to mention numerous friends talking about it — has led me to follow the return of NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” the a capella group singing competition.
In particular, I’ve had my eye on a young sextet out of Oakwood University in Huntsville Alabama, six young Black gospel-singing gentlemen who have learned how to please audiences with their tight harmonies and doo-wop style.
If the words “gospel,” “harmony” and “Oakwood” are ringing any memory bells in your head, they should, because they also apply to a much more famous sextet that has roots in the same tradition — the world-famous vocal jazz sextet Take 6.
But these young bucks call themselves “Committed,” which speaks to their desire to stay true to their calling of glorifying God with their music. As an added bonus, their name also bears a resemblance to Commissioned, the legendary gospel group that launched the career of Fred Hammond and inspired plenty of young brothers in singing groups, including Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman, one of judges in the competition.
All of this means they probably feel a certain amount of pressure to live up to that name. Which makes me wonder, in the long run, how their appearance on this show will affect their witness as young Christian men.
I don’t mean to cast any aspersions on their conduct. So far, they’ve done a good job of behaving honorably and, more importantly, singing the stank out of whatever material they’ve been given to sing. In a perfect world, that’s all that should be asked of them.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
We live in a world where, thanks to the stylistic convergence of R&B with hip-hop, any public display of Black male vocal prowess is imbued with sexual overtones. Which is why, when fellow judge Nicole Scherzinger was trying to describe Stockman’s intense appreciation for Committed’s first performance, she described it more than once as a “musical orgasm.”
We also live in a world where it’s become normal for audiences to idolize artists with honorable, clean-cut images — while simultaneously looking for a way to knock them off their moral high horse. (See: Spears, Britney or Cyrus, Miley)
We also live in a world where it’s become normal for artists, especially Black singers, who start out in church only to end up having secular careers that, at best, only pay lip service to God, and at worst, actively contradict many Biblical principles and standards (See: Kelly, Robert).
Most importantly, we live in a world where American audiences have become accustomed to seeing gospel music strictly as a style of music, where the lyrical content has become secondary, if it matters at all. People think that the power of gospel music is in intricate chords and syncopated rhythms and dizzying vocal runs.
But it’s not. The power of gospel music is in the proclamation and celebration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that He came, died for our sins, and miraculously rose again, breaking the power of sin and death in the process.
Unfortunately, when people see a gospel group get onstage and apply their church music training to pop and rock standards, that does nothing to disabuse them of their fallacious thinking. The impression that people are left with is that “gospel music is about a feeling” (an actual quote from the show), and that as long as the feeling is sincere, it doesn’t matter what you say. As this thinking goes, you can even cuss out a rival TV personality, but as long as you set it to a certain style of music… it’s gospel!
This is a hard piece for me to write.
Because I love music. I love good art. And I love the fact that music, like any art form, has the potential to touch and connect people in ways that theological and philosophical treatises cannot.
And I don’t want anyone to think that I’m saying it was wrong for the men of Committed to appear on The Sing Off. I support the men of Committed in what they’re trying to do. I know that any music group, if they hope to be successful, will need exposure, and there’s no bigger stage for this kind of music than this competition.
But I also know that the moment they called themselves Committed and chose to take a public stand for Christ, they became targets. And I wonder how much these appearances on The Sing-Off might compromise their collective ability to discern where, when and how much the world will try to conform them to its image, as Paul warned us in Romans 12:2.
I want them to sing to the best of their ability. I want them to be successful, and I want them to keep having fun out there. They’re doing a great job, and they’re creating memories they’ll have for a lifetime.
But more than any of that… I want them to live up to their name.