Rohadi’s “let’s review Christian Music Charts to see how white it is” fun time. I mean, I think it’s fun….
In this edition I take a look at the latest Billboard Top 50, followed by the top 50 on CCLI. The results may surprise you.
Just kidding, they won’t.
For a couple of years I’ve checked the world of Christian media to determine what degree it’s racially segregated. Turns out, A LOT.
But, have things changed at all given a world more in-tune with the call towards racialized justice?
First, the methodology. I visit the website and I count. Pretty simple. You can double-check my work since maybe I may have missed someone. Pretty scientific, hey?
First up, the BillBoard Top 50 weekly:
Of the top 50, 90% of the artists are WHITE. Actually, it’s higher because the latina artist is white passing. Not sure how we count that but it’s out there.
Turns out this is a vast improvement! Just last year you’d be hard pressed to find 1 or 2 Black. This year, in the Top 50, I see 14, 20, 26, 33, and ½ of 37. As usual, the expected token minorities white people are familiar with, CeCe Winans and Lecare, so no surprises. Exceptionalism means a token can make it to the big stage, but it’s certainly not the norm.
As an aside, I’ve never seen an Asian artist on the chart. Maybe someone snuck in at 49, but I can’t remember.
These numbers are expected. The music charts are a measure of who’s allowed in to begin with, and not what is organically consumed. Consumed. That’s the word. Christian music, as is Christian media, are all designed around market demand. That’s curated to match dominant gaze and dollars, which in the West means white evangelicals or white Christians in general. The industry is intentionally designed around whiteness/race. This is why music is segregated by genre. So all the Black artists, as an example, are under GOSPEL. This form of racism lite is why radio stations who are ‘Christian’ can get away with never playing anything other than white artists. Their listenership don’t like the ‘genre’. Surely, it’s not about only giving white artists opportunity. Sneaky.
Let’s try CCLI. Maybe it’s different. HAHA, joke number two.
CCLI relies on self-reporting data of songs sung weekly in churches around the globe. It’s squarely centered to report on the ‘contemporary’ music scene. Someone can double-check again, but as I can tell there is ONLY ONE song in the Top 50 that’s NOT a WHITE artist. But that’s not the whole story.
Although “Way Maker” is written by a Nigerian woman, white people don’t know that. They only know/sing the cover version by a white guy.
ONE artist on the entire chart, but when we look closely, there are NONE. Surprising? Heck no.
Does any of this matter?
I’d argue, hell no.
The thing is, Billboard was/is designed around racialized genres. That’s on purpose. CCLI only counts self-reporting for their participating churches. That’s white contemporary churches and ethnic churches who want to be white. Their results will be overwhelmingly skewed to white and evangelical traditions (so few mainline and few ethnic churches).
So what’s the problem? Nothing really. But maybe stop generalizing ‘Christian’ and be honest that these aren’t trends that represent the whole, but rather the very segregated white church. It’s the BillBoard Top 50 of White Bands and the CCLI top 50 of White Churches.
Doesn’t have the same ring….
What’s the takeaway? My suggestion, for the love of all music, STOP SINGING the same songs from the same 5 white bands that haven’t changed in 20 years. Dream bigger and better. If the most skilled artists in the church community are in your worship bands, give them space to create liturgies and songs that match the congregation and neighborhood. Enough of the repetitious copy and paste from rich white bands with skinny-ass jeans.
Also, I’m not advocating for more diversity on these charts. As noted, these are tools for white churches describing white churches, they need to be labeled as such. And before a white woman chimes in with, “why do you have to be so divisive,” let me stop you there. I’m only describing existing racialized segregation. I didn’t create it.
Personally, I DON’T care to see more representation. These charts are meaningless in my word. What white institutions deem popular is a fat nothing burger in my world, and it should be a nothing burger in yours too. Who cares what the coolest 5 bands in white Christendom are singing.
For churches/people on the margins, we need to be uninterested in chasing a racist gaze. To the artists out there, keep making beautiful things. You don’t need white culture affirmation or permission to do it.