Some may call this year's cluster of spiritual and godly references at the Grammys "Immaculate Coincidence," but there's little question that rock-and-roll, historically the raucous voice of rebellion, amorality and disestablishmentarianism, has become increasingly freighted with spiritual overtones. Peruse the list of nominees and ask yourself, Do these sound like raunchy rock anthems, or sermons?
Topping the winners' list is Carlos Santana, whose album "Supernatural" took 8 awards. Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey got a kind of divine response for "When you Believe," their track from the "Prince Of Egypt" soundtrack, was up for best song for a movie. And Cher's "Believe" netted her three nominations-as many as her previous career total--and a Grammy
Still think it's coincidence? Does "I Am" (Nas, best rap album) ring a bell, Jehovah fans? "The Prayer," by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion got a nod for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals; "Angels Would Fall" got Melissa Etheridge a nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song. Country music got into the act with "God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You," by Alabama, a collaboration with 'N Sync.
R&B, firmly rooted in gospel no matter how much groove you add, has some cheap spiritual gets--"Praise You," by Fatboy Slim is almost too easy. "Love Like This," (Faith Evans, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance) could come straight out of a hymnal. But the clincher is over in hard rock, where Alice In Chains is up for Best Hard Rock Performance for their "Get Born Again."
Osborne has led a troop of female rockers, many of them connected with the traveling music festival Lillith Faire, who bring a breathy spirituality to pop music. From Sarah McLachlan to Tori Amos, the new women are earthy, but definitely not earth-bound.
This spiritual insurgency has had an astonishing effect on the Grammys' franchise musicians. Madonna, the self-defined "Material Girl," has replaced her workouts with yoga. Hinduism has inspired her music, costuming, make-up and choreography in her recent awards-show performances. Sometimes the religious tone is purely for effect: a techno noisemaker like Britain's Tricky has even titled an album "Heaven."
But Lauryn Hill, an unabashed believer in God, swept awards shows a year ago with "Miseducation," an album full of songs to and about the Almighty. "All That I Can Say," a song Hill wrote for Mary J. Blige seems to be about Jesus Christ; it was nominated this year for Best R&B Song. Prominent Christian (and vegan) Moby was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and Best Alternative Music Performance.
Rock and roll has always reinvented itself-transforming southern gospel and country-western into a infinitely variable genre that annexed pop music and eventually popular culture. Today, the rebellion that so often led to rock's reinvention has become the dominant chord of the mainstream, where ad execs show up in street fashions and suburban parents drive to soccer games in liberating off-roaders. When everyone is wearing black T-shirts and Doc Martens and singing about being an outsider, it's time to find a new ways to rebel.
Spirituality, then, may just be rock's latest mode of rebellion, a late-blooming strain of antimaterialism implanted at Woodstock by the folkie crowd. The tide may soon turn back again toward rage, and transcending via pure volume.
Certainly, rock isn't in danger of turning into praise music. The industry is still stocked with "heathens"-humanists and atheists, even Satanists. But in their songs, popular artists are more inclined lately to give God a casual and interested glance-instead of the middle finger. And that's something.