The relationship between gospel music and popularity is a difficult one to describe. Since there is such an array of types of gospel music, depending on the religion in which one is referring, claiming it to be popular as a whole is almost impossible.
Christian gospel music has become quite popular with all of its different subgenres. Christian country music, also called country gospel music, uses the melodies and techniques of mainstream country but the lyrics are often positive or religious messages. The Charlie Daniels Band released their album Million Mile Reflections in 1979 with a song titled “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” This song became the bands biggest hit and soon hit number three on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also featured in the 1980 American romantic drama film Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta, as seen in this video trailer:
This film captured the popularity of Christian music in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s (Worbois, Jim).Many of today’s popular country music artists have religious backgrounds and have recorded Christian country songs, artists such as Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, and Martina McBride.
Christian pop and hip-hop popularity rose in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. While mainstream pop music introduced artists such as The Backstreet Boys and Nsync who stole the hearts of teenage girls all over the world, Christian pop music shed light on an all boy band, Plus One. The band had the same sound and visual appeal as the mainstream artists that were climbing the charts, only their lyrics were about their beliefs and religion. They hit their greatest success in May of 2000 with their album The Promise, which went gold with a sale of 500,000 (“Christian Band”). Their singles “Written on my Heart” and “God is in This Place” stayed on the charts for two months. Other popular Christian Pop artists include Stacie Orrico, whose self-titled album sold 3.5 million sales worldwide.
Other genres such as Rock and Roll weren’t always viewed favorably in the Christian community because of the life style that accompanied it, which often included crudeness, sexual innuendos, and drug abuse. But in 1972 Elvis Presley released a gospel music album He Touched Me, which sold one million copies in the U.S. alone and earned Presley his second Grammy (“He Touched me”). In the 1990’s Christian Alternative Rock introduced bands such as Jars of Clay and Audio Adrenaline who helped contribute to the boom in popularity of Christian gospel music during this decade. Today, heavy medal Christian bands such as Underoath have seen success in mainstream music.
The key for many of gospel music artists and bands to achieve popularity comes primarily from what religion and country their target audience is in. To achieve popularity the band or artist can do so easily by taking what is currently mainstream in their genre and putting their own religious spin on it. Most use the lyrics to send their message, while keeping the music styling very similar to mainstream. Many gospel songs have become very popular outside religious communities because of their similarity to popular songs in the society that are not religious.
By Brooke Delagrange