Dropping out of Dublin’s Trinity College in 2012 to record demos and mostly playing on Dublin’s open mic nights, Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a recording artist from Bray, County Wicklow, has known humble beginnings. After two years; a “disheartening…slow, quiet time”, in his own sombre and careful words, Hozier recorded a rough demo of the song ‘Take Me to Church’ in his attic which has now become an unforeseen rock sensation. A steady success, the song was largely made popular by music streaming services like Spotify and Hype Machine and consequently entered the Billboard Hot 100 remaining there for 21 weeks and counting. Currently No. 3, the anthem and its Irish crooner has plenty to convey, perhaps which is why it endures the test of time and merit.
Hozier grew up listening to blues music, conceding, “It’s music that feels like home to me.” He later stumbled onto Motown, jazz and gospel and true to his musical influences, ‘Take Me to Church’ infuses these African-American elements with hard-hitting rock & roll. The song is a mid-tempo soul track with a gospel choir humming against the bluesy grit of Hozier’s vocals.His growling baritone, its gradual wane to a low rumble and subsequent rise approaching the chorus is splendid vocalization.
Though initially on the surface the song appears to be a ballad in admiration of a lover, it holds a firm, passionate stance on the long-standing social controversy over LGBT rights and homosexuality in particular. The song is built on a certain astounding resilience in part lyrical and in part contributed by the rough edge of Hozier’s tenor, expressing deep frustration with the Catholic Church and the oppressive power it exercises over fundamental human rights in the name of religion. “We were born sick / You heard them say it”, he croons, a satire on the orthodoxy contending that a certain sexual disposition can be “cured”. The music video, shot in grayscale, depictinga violent and disturbing gay-bashing of a man in a same-sex relationship by masked vigilantes is staggering to watch. The video, Hozier says, is inspired by the LGBT struggle against the institutionalized homophobia in Putin’s Russia and the persecution of gays and lesbians by far-right and neo-Nazi groups. Though the song is not a political statement advocating LGBT rights, when asked whether he worried about getting in trouble with the Catholic Church he had something really cool to say―
“I would love to get in trouble with the Catholic Church. I’m not religious myself, but my issue is with the organization. It’s an organization of men―it’s not about faith. I don’t want the song to be considered an attack against faith, but when you have people feeling ashamed of themselves because of sexual orientation…you wouldn’t tolerate that from a company, or a government.”
Himself a straight man, Hozier’s impassioned and daring debut is reminiscent of the hip hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ 2012 tribute to marriage equality, ‘Same Love’, urging changing attitudes on the subject and Queen Latifah officiating the weddings of 34 gay and straight couples on the Grammys stage, which eh, arguably went a little over the top.
‘Take Me to Church’ was nominated for the Grammy Award for Song of the Year at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards but lost to Sam Smith’s ‘Stay with Me’. The song has been scaling music charts worldwide but if recent pop music trends are to be observed, it should have no business being in the Top 40. It is without the glitz and the glam and the nude of mainstream pop, or a pre-existing fan base promoting terrible music simply because one is a long-adored Disney queen or a bunch of Ken dolls manufactured by The X Factor. That said, what ‘Take Me to Church has, is an abundance of character; a trait almost obsolete in mainstream music seeking revival and liberation.
Watch the official music video of ‘Take Me to Church’:
By Mahima Verma