Popism #19 : Let The Choir Sing
POPISM (N) : A musical or lyrical element used in so many pop songs that it becomes a cliche. Often known to evoke joy every time it is employed.
It's ridiculous, really, that Madonna, halfway through "Like a Prayer," underlines her commitment to her lover by singing, "Let the choir sing!" Then a group of gospel belters raises up underneath her like a cloud, shouting out the song's chorus with the passion they're supposed to be saving for the Lord.
It's ridiculous because this is a pop song about a woman in love. She's already had the gall to equate her particular experience of love with an apotheosis, saying that her lover "takes her there" like "a mystery." Presumably, this mean he/she elevates Madonna to the plain of transcendant awakening one normally equates with religious devotion. It's almost charming, how the Madonna of this track has that much faith in her own emotions. And when she succeeds in pulling a choir out of their pews and into her romantic abandon, she has proclaimed that her love is a celebration that can bring the masses to some kind of ecstasy.
Because that's what choirs are supposed to do. They're the sound of the human heart hurling itself up to God, rejoicing with enough fervor to carry all listeners skyward. When pop artists use choirs in their secular odes, they're committing a kind of sacrilege. They're are saying, to quote another heretical assertion, that heaven is a place on earth.
But how absolutely perfect! The genius of a song like "Like a Prayer" is that Madonna and co-writer Patrick Leonard know that romantic love can feel like a religious experience. Haven't all of us been so self-aggrandizing as to believe that what we feel for our lover is as pure as a message to God? Isn't that feeling part of what makes love so exciting?
"Like a Prayer" is a song that's brash enough to express that private feeling of fulfillment. It asserts that, yes, intense attraction deserves a choir. It's audacious and delicious when that choir comes in. Those robed singers become the aural equivalent of a human sensation that feels divine.
Personally, I revel in the moxie of a single that decides it's worth a choir. That over-the-top gesture--that insistence that whatever the singer's on about is just that important--brings me joy.
Plus, the sound of a choir moves me. All those voices hammer around inside my chest, making me feel more alive. Something in my brain is hard-wired to respond to their sound, so any song that provides them is going to hook me in some way.
The arrival of the choir certainly pushes Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten" from decent track to must-have single. And when the children's choir arrives in Pat Benatar's "We Belong," I get the rush of the converted.
I think I will always believe it's a little silly to feel so moved by a secular tune that apes religious music. But that conflict between the divine and the earthbound exists in a lot of great pop music. If it didn't, Elvis wouldn't have cut religious tracks right after recording "Can't Help Falling in Love." And Madonna wouldn't wrestle with her religious demons on a track like "Act of Contrition" on the very same album where she commands a choir to sing in celebration of true love.