I was not really surprised when my school going daughter one day returned home humming Why this Kolaveri Di. I didn’t bother to ask her where she got the song. That question would have been irrelevant. A few months ago Kolaveri Di was the talk of the nation and a rage on the internet. Just type the word ‘why’ on Google search bar and you will be overwhelmed with Kolaveri Di info. The song has more than 66 million hits on YouTube. The most interesting thing about this song is that it has spawned several versions. There is even a Christian version of Kolaveri Di! How did such a flop/soup song become a phenomenon? Several theories are doing the rounds. Some say it is because of the simple and catchy south Indian folk tune. Others say it is because of the Tanglish lyrics. Some opine it is because of the foot-tapping and head banging rhythm. And some in the marketing world attribute the success of the song to a well planned and well executed digital marketing campaign. The talk is IIM Ahmedabad will soon offer a course on Why this Kolaveri Di to analyze the success of the song from a business perspective. As of now, no one really knows why the song has become so popular not just in India but all over the world. Perhaps, the pundits will soon find out and tell us the reasons!
Let me now talk about what is so obvious about the song. The lyrics of the song has no meaning and is complete nonsense. The singer himself has admitted this. Javed Akhtar made this point loud and clear, “…words (of the song) an insult to sensibility.” It is incredible that such a song has become a sensation! In one sense, to me, the success of the song is a reflection of the times in which we live. In the post-modern era songs are no more about meaningful lyrics. Perhaps, they do not have to make any sense to anyone. They just have to be catchy, funky and empty! Should we Christians also change with the times? Do we have to sing as the world sings today? Do we have to really bother about what we sing? These are some vital questions which must be addressed by the Church today.
There is nothing wrong with contemporary music per se. The 21st century Church needs to have its own set of songs in addition to the vast collection from the past. I believe God has raised gifted song writers and musicians even in our generation. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with catchy tunes. William Booth of the Salvation Army was right when he remarked, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” Nevertheless, Christian songs cannot do away with sense. Lyrics are as important as tunes. I’m afraid some of the recent day Christian compositions are like Kolaveri Di. They have catchy tunes, foot-tapping rhythms and mass appeal but are awfully meaningless. Like today’s marketing giants, popular worship leaders also target a youth audience. Therefore, in trying to make their songs a hit among youngsters, they focus so much on the music and in the process compromise on lyrics. Similarly, with dance culture invading Indian churches today, worship leaders are more and more interested in composing songs which can help people dance rather than glorify God and edify each other! For instance, a recent trend witnessed in worship concerts today is to make people sing a couple of lines again and again until an emotional high is reached. Do not get me wrong. I’m not opposed to contemporary music, or action songs, or God-honouring bodily expressions. Surely, emotional expressions do have a place in our Christian life and worship. However, we do not sing simply to generate an emotional experience. Christian singing is not purely for one’s pleasure and Worship is not for our entertainment.
Why do lyrics matter in Christian music? First and foremost, lyrics matter because we sing unto the Lord (Psa.95:1, Eph.5:19-20, Rev.5:9). God is the focus of our songs. When we sing to the Lord we cannot utter meaningless (nonsensical) words. Can there be anything more dishonouring to God than that? Second, lyrics matter because we sing to edify each other (Col.3:16). Our singing should be one form of our ministry of God’s word to each other. We all need to be built up in our faith. Our songs should be one of the ways by which we are taught the Scripture. Third, lyrics matter because what we sing is a declaration of our beliefs and teachings. One man of God said, “Show me your songs, and I will tell you your theology.” As the focus is not on lyrics today, when we sing to the Lord we cannot utter meaningless (nonsensical) words. Can there be anything more dishonoring to God than that? it is no wonder even some of the most popular contemporary Christian songs are so shallow in theology. Contemporary Christian music needs to be more counter-cultural. We just cannot blindly follow the trends of the world. Tunes, beats and rhythms are important but good lyrics are indispensable to Christian music!
By Sam K. John