Who God Is, According to Pop Music: Ariana Grande, John Lennon, Justin Bieber, Pink & More Search For Answers
God is a woman. God is a DJ. God is one of us. Pop and rock have been wrestling with the divine forever, looking to the heavens for inspiration, answers, or just any little sign that our earthly efforts are not falling on deaf ears. The Beach Boys promised us that when it comes to the depth of our love "God Only Knows," Joan Osborne wondered "What If God Was One of Us" and the Sex Pistols were not at all taking about the Lord in "God Save the Queen."
On her new single "God is a Woman," Ariana Grande takes it a step further, promising a lover that her touch will make them see the divine.
So, which one of these songs present the true pop savior? All of them, maybe none of them. All we know is that these songs have a touch of the holy spirit and they make us think real hard about what we believe.
Check out eight tracks that weren't afraid to search for some higher meaning, or just mix a touch of the sacred in with a dose of the profane.
Ariana Grande, "God is a Woman" (2018)
Key lyrics: "You love it how much I touch you/My one, when all is said and done/You'll believe God is a woman/And I, I feel it after midnight/A feeling that you can't fight/My one, it lingers when we're done/You'll believe God is a woman, yeah, yeah."
What does it all mean?: When Ari says "lay me down and let's pray," it feels like she isn't talking about going to church. Knowhatimean? And if you weren't sure about the single-entendre in the lyrics, the Georgia O'Keefe-referencing "flower" visuals in the video will make it crystal clear. It's sex. She's talking about sex.
P!nk, "God is a DJ" (2003)
Key lyrics: "If God is a DJ/Life is a dance floor/Love is the rhythm/You are the music/If God is a DJ/Life is a dance floor/You get what you're given/It's all how you use it."
What does it all mean?: You are the music, and no matter how screwed up you think you are ("I've been the girl with her skirt pulled high/Been the outcast never running with mascara eyes"), God made the music, and the dance floor and he/she wants you to just let it rip!
Joan Osborne, "One of Us" (1995)
Key lyrics: "What if God was one of us/Just a slob like one of us/Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?"
What does it all mean?: This one cuts deep, but not how you think. Songwriter Eric Bazilian (of The Hooters) has said the song was "more about what happens to you when you look at something that has completely changed your world view, which could be meeting God, it could be meeting an alien, it could be a near-death experience." Truth be told, he wrote it to impress his then-girlfriend, now-wife, to show her his songwriting prowess and didn't really mean it as a religious commentary at all. It's engendered lots of commentary over the years for the way it asks hard questions about what it means to look for the divine in our everyday lives.
Justin Bieber, "All In It" (2015)
Key lyrics: "Because, because people aren't perfect and/By not being perfect you, you sometimes can disappoint people/And with God, it's like He's perfect and He never disappoints/So I just get my recognition from Him/And give Him recognition."
What does it all mean?: Always try your best and give it your all, only you can stop you from being great. Because nobody's perfect, except God and if God accepts you then you're as good as you need to be.
Regina Spektor, "Laughing With" (2009)
Key lyrics: No one laughs at God in a hospital/ No one laughs at God in a war/No one's laughing at God/When they've lost all they've got and they don't know what for."
What does it all mean?: Have you ever seen someone you know suddenly get religion when they're facing a serious crisis? God gets it, which is why he laughs when people act like he's a magician who does parlor tricks, "or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus." Spektor is playing with that old saying that there are "no atheists in foxholes," meaning God is there when you're in crisis, but what about all the other times?
John Lennon, "God" (1970)
Key lyrics: "God is a concept/By which we measure our pain/I'll say it again/God is a concept by which we measure our pain/I don't believe in magic/I don't believe in I-Ching/I don't believe in bible/I don't believe in tarot/I don't believe in Hitler/I don't believe in Jesus...I just believe in me/Yoko and me/And that's reality."
What does it all mean?: Lennon, who famously got in hot water during his Beatles days when he quipped that the group was "bigger than Jesus," came back to God on his first post-Fab Four album with this song, in which he states a long list of things he doesn't have faith in (including Kennedy, Buddha, Bob Dylan and the Beatles), concluding with his unshakable faith in himself and his wife, Yoko Ono. The ballad about rejecting false idols was an encouragement to not focus as much on the deity as on the message, as well as a kind of marker for the end of the flower-power era.
XTC, "Dear God" (1986)
Key lyrics: "Dear God don't know if you noticed but/Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book/And us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look/And all the people that you made in your image/Still believe that junk is true/Well I know it ain't, and so do you/ Dear God/I can't believe it/I don't believe it."
What does it all mean?: Singer Andy Partridge reportedly wrote this tune (which was not originally included on the Skylarking album, but was later added and became one of the band's biggest hits) after reading a book series of the same name encouraging children to ask hard questions about God. The song appears to be a screed against a God who has abandoned his creations, who are starving, fighting and confused, having a hard time believing that a benevolent God would allow such chaos and pain.
Metallica, "The God That Failed" (1991)
Key lyrics: "I see faith in your eyes/Never you hear the discouraging lies/I hear faith in your cries/Broken is the promise, betrayal/The healing hand held back by the deepened nail/ Follow the god that failed."
What does it all mean?: This plodding rocker was reportedly written by singer James Hetfield about his mother's refusal to get cancer treatment due to her Christian Science beliefs, which reject modern medicine in favor of God's healing hand. At the time, Hetfield said he was struggling to come to terms with his parent's faith, and the song is full of anguish over a God that has betrayed and failed him.