Irish artist Hozier has topped charts and made headlines around the world recently with his song ‘Take Me to Church’. The song, Gospel-inspired and strangely reminiscent in sound of the Led Zeppelin my father played when I was a child, has a very religious overtone to it, praying and discussing worship repeatedly in the bridge and chorus. Dig a little deeper, however, and a new meaning begins to emerge.
“Lyrically, “Take Me to Church” is a metaphor, with the protagonist comparing his lover to religion” (Wikipedia). Beyond this, are layers upon layers of subtext and insinuation. Publicly, Hozier has discussed the song’s representation of his disapproval of the practices of the Catholic Church, something he was heavily exposed to as a child. More controversially, he has also discussed the undertones of acceptance for diverse sexualities and the importance and naturalness of the human sex drive, something made clear in the homosexual relationship represented in the official music video.
Talking to NY Magazine in 2014, Hozier summarises the key messages of the song:
“”Take Me to Church” is essentially about sex, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that would … well, it’s about sex and it’s about humanity, and obviously sex and humanity are incredibly tied. Sexuality, and sexual orientation — regardless of orientation — is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love. Turning your back on the theoretical thing, something that’s not tangible, and choosing to worship or love something that is tangible and real — something that can be experienced.”
Hozier has not been candid about his sexuality. When asked if there is a personal reason he has been so outspoken against homophobia he asserts that not only if there not a personal reason but he sees no need for there to be. In this one statement Hozier parallels and echoes views of other outspoken artists and public figures who have expressed, either publicly or through music, their distaste for homophobia.
Lady Gaga started a charity, the Born This Way Foundation, in 2011 to help combat homophobia and promote acceptance of gender- and sexual diversity in young Americans. Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis may have collaborated with Mary Lambert for their song Same Love but it certainly didn’t start with her; the two straight artists began writing and producing the song originally under their own impetus, proving that the push for equality in sexual orientation doesn’t have to come from those most directly affected. Elsewhere, German celebrities lined up to kiss for a GQ piece denouncing the anti-gay protests and laws promulgated by Russia in the lead up to the 2014 Olympic Games. And Hilary Clinton joined festivities on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to make a statement, supported by the President of the United States, on the importance of promoting acceptance as a basic human right worldwide.
Everywhere you look the cries for equality are getting louder and louder. More and more countries are legalising same-sex marriage. Places like Uganda, Nigeria and Russia, countries with openly homophobic laws, are facing harsher and harsher criticisms and sanctions. The world is changing, more and more publicly, and being who you are is no longer something you’re encouraged to hide.
Celebrities and public figures far and wide, gay and straight, are joining the movement to end homophobia. The push for acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities has well and truly moved beyond the confines of LGBT sub-culture and into the public space. And it is beautiful. But we need more artists like Hozier and more songs like ‘Take Me to Church”. We need more diversity, strength and acceptance in our public figures. We need to keep pushing and fighting. And we need to win. Because being who you are, not fitting into someone else’s narrow and prescribed box, should never be shameful and should never be persecuted.