Canadian singer Avril Lavigne has returned to the music business, planning the release of her first studio album since 2013. In her new single, titled “Head Above Water,” she takes a tone distinctly different than her more recent albums – one that is eerily similar to contemporary Christian music.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at these lyrics. They practically speak for themselves:
God keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown, it gets harder
I’ll meet you there, at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Also contributing to that feel of the song is the music itself which, while not quite Steven Curtis Chapman, would not sound terribly out of place on K-LOVE. Lavigne has been trending toward more of a singer/songwriter aesthetic in the past few years, (she sits on a piano for Goodbye Lullaby’s promo art for crying out loud). “Head Above Water” melds that softer tone with the pop/rock sound that can be found in many contemporary Christian artists, from MercyMe to Casting Crowns.
So why the shift? Lavigne has been many things over the years since the height of her popularity in the early 2000’s, but gospel singer has never been one of them. A hint is found in the music video that goes along with the single. The video itself is about what you’d expect – Lavigne lipsyncing on a rocky beach along with some underwater shots – but the end of the video has a call-to-action to help fight Lyme Disease. This, it turns out, is the source of her inspiration.
“One night, I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die. My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed, ‘God, please help to keep my head above the water.’ In that moment, the songwriting of this album began.”
What I find most intriguing about this quote is that she’s not just talking about this one single – she says “this album.” Will there be more to this newfound faith that just the one single? That could be the case, although “rediscovered” is probably a better term than “newfound.” While she is most well-known for her bad-girl image that spawned around the time of her third album in 2005, Lavigne was raised in a Christian household, and began her singing in church choirs and county fairs. In fact, she says her mother first discovered her talent for music when she was singing “Jesus Loves Me” on the way home from church one Sunday.
While many pop singers have shown some interest in occasional religious themes, it seems that interest in gospel music is especially on the rise. Several hip hop artists in recent years have either release or talked of recording gospel music, including Snoop Dogg from earlier this year, which he said “is not a money-making project; it’s a spiritual project.”
For the time being, I welcome the exploration of Christian artists into gospel-centric messages and themes. In a time when the cultural gap between Christians the secular world is widening, perhaps musicians will be the ones to start closing it.