If you haven’t heard Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” you need to—immediately. Go listen now. No, seriously. Right now. I’ll wait, because it may be the most soulful thing that has come out of my car radio/laptop speakers/Apple device in the last few months.
And clearly, I’m not the only one to think so. The first single off Hozier’s self-titled debut album, “Take Me to Church” shot to No. 2 on the Irish charts and made swift work of the U.S. music scene soon after. Since then, the 23-year-old—who has a charming accent, hair anyone would be jealous of, and a slight, but wholly endearing, overbite—has been in the public eye non-stop. He’s played numerous shows, given interviews, and even performed at the 2014 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in December.
As NY Daily News writes, Hozier’s music is bluesy (a stylistic choice influenced by his father), physical, and sexual—characteristics easily noticed in “Take Me to Church.” On the surface, the hit is about sacrilege and sex. The lyrics reflect Hozier’s Catholic upbringing in Ireland, the corruption of the Church, and his strong dismissal of their preachings as truth. Lines like “the only heaven I’ll be sent to/ is when I’m alone with you” and “there is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin” present sensuality as the path to righteousness, rather than religion, though the song isn’t explicitly against religion, either.
The words are provocative, the metaphors are deep, and the result is anything but a shallow pop tune. As this Forbes article discusses, the tempo of the song is unique, too. It’s strange even, especially when compared to mainstream radio hits, which adds yet another noteworthy element to the hit.
And if the song’s distinctive rhythm or powerful message doesn’t grab your attention, the music video certainly will. Shot in black and white, it more closely resembles a short film than standard music video fare. A succinct plot, rounded characters, evident emotion, heartbreaking conclusion—it’s all there. In just four minutes, we get a complete story, and more than that, one that needs to be told. In short, the video depicts an intimate, loving relationship between two men, followed by brutal attacks at the hands of a masked group.
While there is a lot of debate over the true intentions of the song (and video), Hozier (born Andrew Hozier-Byrne) isn’t shy about his inspiration for either. He’s made it clear the video directly references the recent events and brutal treatment of LGBT people in Russia and elsewhere, where openly loving who you want can draw a life sentence. When asked in an interview by NY Mag if there is a personal reason he’s outspoken about homophobia, Hozier replied he doesn’t think there needs to be one. It’s an issue that should offend us all, he said. When it comes to LGBT rights, or any human right, Hozier went on to say “…there’s no excuse for ignorance. You have to recognize in yourself, and challenge yourself, that if you see racism or homophobia or misogyny in a secular society, as a member of that society, you should challenge it. You owe it to the betterment of society.”
As Adam & Eve explains here, the past decade has been a significant time for LGBT civil rights. Since 2004, when Massachusetts set the precedent by legalizing gay marriage, there has been a long line of moments, both big and small, that have contributed to the movement for LGBT equality. In the past ten years, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed; the It Gets Better project was created, reaching millions of LGBT youth; churches across the United States began officiating same-sex marriages; Facebook added more gender options, expanding the choices to include androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or neutral, and transsexual; Obama became the first president to mention gay rights in an inaugural speech, and then, two years later, the first to use the words “transgender”, “bisexual”, and “lesbian” in a State of the Union address.
Perhaps the most notable victory for LGBT civil rights in the last few years, the United States Supreme Court officially declared it unconstitutional for any state to refuse a same-sex marriage just two years ago in 2013, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 within days of each other. The decision gave legally married same-sex couples the same rights as all other married couples, including federal benefits. As of this past October, same-sex marriage was recognized in 33 states including DC.
LGBT equality is a movement that is ever ongoing and evident in bits of our culture, not only in news articles and media reports, but in characters on primetime television shows and songs like Hozier’s. “Take Me to Church” is more than just a fleeting hit that went viral because it makes sex seem, well, seductive. It serves as an important message about human rights and makes a strong statement about the institutional homophobia that is still, appallingly, prevalent in the world.
So, to sum it up, Hozier has a soulful voice, impeccable hair, and is using the success of his first hit song to champion LGBT rights? To that, we say, “amen.”
Written by: Charles Steele