It happens all the time. You hear a given phrase over and over and you get used to it and you never notice anything odd or weird about it. And then one day it hits you. You may have even used the phrase in conversation, until this day when someone says it and you were a bit absent minded and then it really hits you. Suddenly it sounds so different. That’s what happened to me last evening.
I was attending SPA FEST, an annual dancing competition, to cheer a team called DICE. It is the team my friend Winnie dances in. In one of the interludes, a guy came onto the stage to perform a rap song. I didn’t catch his name, and it was obvious not many people knew who he was. You could tell from the murmurs in the crowd as he climbed up onto the platform.
“I am an upcoming artiste,” he added after the name I didn’t catch.
That’s when it hit me. I have heard that phrase used hundreds of times and I bet I have even used it a couple of times when referring to people. But what does that phrase, “upcoming artiste” really mean?
The surface meaning seems obvious. An upcoming artiste is someone who has recently started singing or performing in public. An upcoming artiste often doesn’t have an album – yet – and he has recently started recording some songs – or not yet. An upcoming artiste is not famous. His name has not caught on and people still struggle to remember him whenever he comes onto the stage.
An upcoming artiste is not an established artiste. In other words, he is not that popular – yet. Most of them can barely move the crowd (although the guy I saw yesterday really worked us up). All that sounds obvious, until it hits you afresh like it did me last evening. Why the “up” in upcoming? In fact, why the “coming”? Does the phrase reveal a worldview that we often overlook, as Christians, but should actually be wary of?
I believe it does, in a way.
An “up-coming” artiste implies that the artiste is “rising” to a certain level and that he or she will one day “arrive”. This bothers me. Because whenever we say an artiste is “rising” whose ranking are we using? The truth is that we have bought into the vocabulary and therefore the worldview of the world. We are categorizing and ranking Christian artistes using worldly standards and we don’t even realize it.
In the world, it is the numbers that speak. In the world, we know an artiste has “arrived” by counting the number of songs and albums and sales he has made. In the world, we know an artiste has arrived by looking at how many followers he has on Twitter and the place he holds in the TV music show charts. In other words, in the world, the stats are counted, not weighed.
Which leads to the inevitable question, whose standards are we living and “performing” by? The irony is that most of the “upcoming” artistes often begin with a message that is faithful and biblical in the early years of their musical “career”. But as they rise up the ranks and arrive, the message gets more shallow and their gospel becomes watered down and less explicit. By the time they are topping the charts, many are great performers with messages that can barely be distinguished from the other chart-topping “secular” artistes.
Just track the musical journey of many current “arrived” artistes. Check their stats and you will see the consistent rise. Now go back and check the content of their songs and you will see the consistent decline. It will make you wonder if what we need is up-coming artistes or “down-going” artistes.
I am not saying that this is the case with all artistes who gain popularity in their musical careers. There will always be the remnants and the faithful such as Eunice Njeri. The fine wines that only get better with age like Christina Shusho are worth their place in the charts. But these are exceptional because they are the exceptions. The rule is more worrying.
“[Christ] must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30
For the fame of His name,