When the local radio station started playing Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” last year, I would hear it in the car, and I liked it. It seemed like a pretty simple song about the conflict between the spiritual experience of sex with someone you love and the rules against premarital sex by the singer’s religion. At some point around then I looked him up and saw an interview in which he described the meaning of the song as it pertained to conflict between religion and sexuality, and specifically related it to being gay and in the Catholic church. He seemed really genuine, and I liked both the song and the artist even more, even if I did think it was a little weird for a man to be singing about a “she” lover if he meant it be about being gay in the church. Then I watched the video — basically a short film about gay male lovers and what happens to them when they’re discovered in their religious town — and I saw how despite the lyrics sounding hetero, they could be applied to the gay couple depicted in the video.
The video is hard to watch because this kind of hateful violence isn’t a relic of a past — gay-bashing is still a real thing, despite the recent Supreme Court decision in the U.S. to uphold marriage as a right rather than a sexuality-based privilege — and for anyone who’s studied American history, the visual similarities to lynch mobs in the south will be stomach-turning, especially with all the racial violence going on in our country today. Still, it’s a powerful four minutes, and worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
Then came the Grammy Awards this year, where he performed the song live and was joined at the end by Annie Lennox (who many said gave a better bluesy rendition, but I like them both). Unfortunately the official Grammy video seems to have been removed but I found a copy. Annie Lennox comes in just after the 2 minute mark, cued up here (and then goes into “I Put a Spell on You”):
When they were singing it, even though though it was past the part of the song where “she” and “her” are in the lyrics, it made me think about how it would sound for a woman to sing this song about another woman (or a man, using he/him instead of she/her).
And then I saw a live cover of the song by Demi Lovato. I couldn’t name you a single one of her songs, but wow. Not only does she sing it beautifully (though I think I like Hozier’s version better overall), it makes so much more sense to interpret as being about gay relationships vs religion when the song about a woman lover is sung by a woman!
You might be wondering why I’ve just posted three “Take Me to Church” videos. Yes, I like the song, but also, church is on my mind, and I’ll tell you why in the Part II post. Stay tuned.