Christian Rock Thursdays: Legend Seven vs slutty girls
Legend Seven were never one of the biggest Christian bands (although Wikipedia tells me today’s song was reached #2 on the Christian charts in 1992), and they weren’t one of my favourites either. For some reason, though I got this song stuck in my head the other day, and gave me the idea for this blog series. So here we are.
“Angela” is off the band’s first album, when they were just called Legend. They later changed names to Legend Seven, presumably because there was already a more famous secular band called Legend. Here’s the song:
It came out in 1991 (or 1992; there are two conflicting reports on Wikipedia, and my copy of the CD is in my old bedroom at my mum’s house) and it sounds pretty typical of the time. Or, rather, it sounds pretty typical of Christian rock at the time, which means it sounds typical of secular rock three years earlier. Now I’m allowed to listen to secular music, it reminds me a bit of Thunder, a British early-90s band who really wished they were Free or Bad Company.
During cock rock era, it was pretty common for bands to write songs about tearaway teenage girls, and in a lot of ways, this song is just another one of that genre. The difference is that if this had been a Motley Crue song, Angela would have been the object of lust. In fact, there is a Mötley Crüe song called “Angela”, and that is indeed the case. That’s what girls are in hair metal songs; they exist to embody the fantasies of the male singers. They are simultaneously worshipped (because they are the providers of sex) and despised (because they are ‘trashy’).
In Legend Seven’s “Angela”, it’s a bit different. Yes, Angela is a teenage sex kitten, but that’s a bad thing because having sex in your teens will make you miserable and send you to hell. There’s a paternalistic thing going on (aided by the fact that none of those guys looks much under 30, and some of them might be approaching the back end of that decade). In a Van Halen song, a line like “Mama just don’t understand” would be a sign that Mama is out of touch and holding her daughter back. In Legend Seven’s world, parents are to be obeyed, and Angela’s rebellion is a matter for prayer and repentance.
Except Angela is also being kind of idealised and worshipped here, isn’t she? Listen again: it’s Angela’s name we’re being encouraged to chant over and over in that fist-pumping chorus. She’s sinful and bad and she’s the star of the show.
She walks with class and she walks with style
She’s only sixteen years old
Turns the head of every body in school
Their hearts have been bought and sold
There’s something icky about a sixteen-year-old girl being leered at by men twice her age. It’s nasty when Mötley Crüe do it, but the Crüe are supposed to be shocking and immoral; Legend Seven are presenting themselves as moral guardians (never mind the intrinsic conflict between trying to be a hard rock band and telling teenagers that sex is bad). Presumably Angela doesn’t actually exist; she’s a fictional character invented to tell the story of this song. And the story of this song is that the songwriters are thinking about slutty sixteen-year-olds, but it’s OK because she’s being told she needs to “make a change”.
It turns out that Christian rock bands have the same fevered imaginings as secular rock bands, but they need a call to repentance to make their fantasies feel safe.
All the language is euphemistic, of course. We have to read between the lines to know what Angela’s up to when she’s “doing the things it takes to please the crowd”, because good Christians wouldn’t actually talk about that kind of thing. I expect some commenter will tell me that I’m reading too much into this to suggest Angela is a sex kitten. After all, the lyrics only actually say:
Popularity is hers for a price
Sometimes the price is hard to pay
Doing the things it takes to please the crowd
Knowing all the right things to say
So yep, it’s hard to know what Angela is really up to, and that’s typical of a lot of evangelical warnings about ‘worldly behaviour’. I’ve listened to countless sermons where I had to guess what evil behaviours the pastor was darkly and obliquely referring to, because he wasn’t actually going to name such filth. It could well be that Angela just holds hands with boys, or laughs at dirty jokes, or joins in conversations about immoral TV shows. But I think Angela is a Girl Gone Wild because a) ‘good girl gone bad’ is a trope in rock music, and this is a Christian version, and b) the “price” of popularity being “hard to pay” is a staple of abstinence-only sex education.
And, funnily enough, it’s not only Angela’s hellraising that is dealt with in euphemisms: her salvation is too. Jesus, God, church, the Bible: those are the solutions Legend Seven has to offer, but none of them is mentioned in this song. Legend Seven isn’t going to shove the Gospel down your throat, because that might push away the people who most need to hear it. Instead, they’re going to hook you in with their amazing Holy Spirit-infused rock n’ roll, and hit you with the Good News when you’re receptive to it.
So we’re left with a song that’s bizarrely ambiguous. If you heard this song out of context and didn’t have me to fill in the gaps, you wouldn’t know what the hell was going on. Why are these men singing about a teenager who behaves badly in oddly non-specific ways, and why will her heart have to “rearrange”?
Ultimately, in Legend Seven’s song as in secular rock, the girl is valuable because of her appearance. We don’t know much about Angela, except that she has a walk that can turn heads and is a “high fashion girl”. Why is it a shame that Angela, in particular, is lost to the world? Well, she’s “such a pretty girl”.
Posted on October 23, 2014, in Atheism, Christian rock, Christianity and tagged Christian rock, Christian rock Thursdays, Evangelicalism, feminism, Legend Seven, music, slut shaming. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.