Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Family Force 5: A Force for Christ or Post-Modernism?


I recently had a chance to see the band Family Force 5 (FF5) in concert. They were one of eight bands at The Rock and Worship Roadshow, put on by the amazing Christian humanitarian organization Compassion International. I confess I had very little clue of who the band was going in to the concert. The only song I had ever heard from them was “Walk on Water”, which I liked almost enough to put on my I-pod. Almost. The lyrics lacked a direct reference to Jesus, but it was clearly implied that He was the one they were singing to. The chorus was all about “walking on the water” trusting Christ wouldn’t let us sink and was everything He says He is. What’s more, the music was catchy and upbeat, and really pulled me in. The only thing I had against the song, then, was that it just sounded kind of cliché.

Needless to say, armed with only this bite-sized sampling of their music, I was curious to hear more from FF5. When they were announced on stage, I clapped cordially enough and even stood up, feeling the anticipation that buzzed through the crowd. Then, in one ear-grating explosion of music, I got my chance to get to know FF5 up close and personally.

Things started going downhill fast.

First, the music was loud—as in blow-you-back-a-few-feet, bass-reverberating-in-your-chest kind of loud. Secondly, it was quite foreign and funky music, somewhere close to chaotic. You could barely hear a word they were singing, and neither could you find the lyrics floating around on one of the giant screens above, behind, or to the sides of the band to clue you in. You were left with a vague sense that the band was, indeed, trying to communicate something to you by the way they sang passionately into their mics.

Given you couldn’t hear a word they were saying, you were left with watching their dance moves. They could dance, that was for sure! I almost imagined that Michael Jackson had been reincarnated. There was no moon walking going on, but plenty of similar, jaw-dropping foot work. Even while watching them dance around the stage, though, my fascination turned to unease. Their dancing at times could have been easily interpreted as sensual. Their skin-tight jeans and constant flipping of their long hair didn’t help with that interpretation.

Then, to top things off, FF5 couldn’t seem to get enough of themselves. The main singer and another band member each took a turn at grabbing a camera from the production crew filming the event and turning it to focus exclusively on them, close up. The lens must have been literally inches from their faces as they yelled into the mic they held in their other hand.  The main singer also laid down on the stage at one point, holding out his feet towards the audience to touch—as if his feet had earned the right to be idolized because of their incredible dancing.

Finding myself disgusted by the band, no matter how cool their dancing was, I turned my attention to the crowd. Some looked equally disgusted, sitting in their seats with arms crossed.  Others looked confused, caught somewhere between trying to dance along with the music and searching around for lyrics to learn what in the world the song was about. Finally, there were a lot of fans going out of their minds dancing along to the music—quite comically, some of them. I envied them and wished I didn’t have these rising qualms inside me so I could join in their dancing. But my qualms remained even after Family Force Five disappeared off the stage, and they eventually organized themselves into a burning question.

What in the world was Christian about FF5’s performance?

I took that question home with me, and decided to do a little investigating on it. My first place to start was Googling Family Force 5 with the only (literally, only) line  that I was able to pick out from their perfomance: “Crank it like a chainsaw”. The search results gave me the words to FF5’s song, “Chainsaw”*:

Yeah, they like the way I do this
When I crank it like a chainsaw
Yeah, they like the way I do this
When I crank it like a chainsaw

Full throttle heavy metal
Set the bar next level
Wasteland gettin' all janky
Soul Glow, chainsaw

Lay in the cut with them elbows back
Engine smokin' just like this track
Shirt be soakin' from all this sweat
Catch my breath, chainsaw

Now hear me roar
I'm an apex predator
From the sycamores, let's get Skeletor
Chainsaw, chainsaw

Watch and learn, watch and learn
Get that thang crankin', yeah, slash slash burn

Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it, crank it, crank it back
Crank it, crank it, back back

Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it, crank it, crank it back back
Crank it, crank it, crank it back back

Crank it like a chain, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it like a chain, crank it like a
Crank it like a chain, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it like a chainsaw, chainsaw

Fresh flannel shirt, country bumpkin
Lumberjack your moves, a.k.a. Paul Bunyan
Run yun yun-yun-yun yun-yun-yun yun-yun
I make it run I make it run I make it run run
Chainsaw

Drop it, drop it, drop it, down low
Chop it, chop chop it, chop, here we, here we go
Beats so sharp that they're callin' me Jaws
I'm your boss, baby, crank it like a chainsaw

Chainsaw

Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it, crank it, crank it back
Crank it, crank it, back back

Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it, crank it, crank it back back
Crank it, crank it, crank it back back

Chained out (Chained out), head hunter (Head hunter)
Cyberpunk, yeah, I'm a blade runner (Blade runner)
Turned up (Turned up), automatic (Automatic)
Full tank, you ain't gotta think about it
Chainsaw

Chainsaw
Yank it, crank it, swank it,
And you put it inside whatever you ride
Turn it all the way up and hear you crank it
Chopped the block no ginsu
Wilderness but I'm chivalrous

From Texas but no massacre
Unless it's a beat we killing it
Chopping down trees, can't you see
Watch some things fall
Bows to my knees I mean
I crank it like a chainsaw
Do it to these trees
I'll see these things y'all
Burn it up now burn it down
Now let me see you chainsaw

Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it, crank it, crank it back
Crank it, crank it, back back

Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Bows to the knees, yeah, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it, crank it, crank it back back
Crank it, crank it, crank it back back

Crank it like a chain, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it like a chain, crank it like a
Crank it like a chain, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it like a chainsaw, chainsaw

Crank it like a chain, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it like a chain, crank it like a
Crank it like a chain, crank it like a chainsaw
Crank it like a chainsaw, chainsaw

My first thought about the song when I read these lyrics was, “Nihilistic”. I found their claim at being an “apex predator” and a “head hunter” that "slash slash burns” things to outweigh their promise that they were “from the wilderness but I’m chivalrous, Texas but no massacre”. My second thought was “post-modernistic”. There’s no way this disjointed, schizophrenic song could be anything but a product of that worldview. But how could that be? Wasn’t this, after all, a Christian band? Weren’t they the same Christian band that made that pretty good song I had heard on the Christian radio station Air1 about trusting Christ?

I decided to see what FF5 said about themselves on their website. On their “About” page**, I heard a lot about their “hip-hop hues, guitar bludgeoning, smoov R&B melodies, eye-winking pop-culture references, stentorian grace, personal reflections and infectious optimism”, but not a single word about their faith. Not a single reference to Jesus, let alone God. The closest I got to anything Christian was this quote about two-thirds of the way down their long “About” page:

“On the joyous, celebratory ‘Let It Be Love,’ Jacob [FF5’s lead singer] delivers a couplet that is all-encompassing: ‘It’s not about the stand you take/but the grace we give/It’s not about the name we make/but the life we live.’ It’s a sentiment that transcends attitudes, belief systems and the spiritually empty things humanity puts entirely too much emphasis upon.”

Ah ha, that’s all good, just as long as you don’t put Christianity under that title of “spiritually empty things”. You see, lacking is a strong cry to reject the things of the world and turn to the love and grace of Christ! In fact, here is the worldview of FF5, taken again straight from their page about themselves:

“[FF5] have come to party positive with big beats and rapidimente rapping while offering moments of sincere inspiration. Producers Riley Friesen and Seth Mosley ably captured the band’s forward-in-all-directions worldview for maximum joy and reverence.”

I am not quite sure what is meant by “forward in all directions worldview”, but it would not seem to be consistent with Jesus Christ, who is “The way, the truth, and the light, no one comes to the Father but through me”. (John 14:6) Still, though, perhaps none of the actual band members had written all that about themselves. I wanted to see a direct interview where they were asked about their faith face to face.  I found such an interview on YouTube***. The reporter asked them directly what role their faith played in their music. Their answer, after a moment of awkward silence, was “A big one,” followed by nervous laughter and more awkwardness.

One of the band members (the lead singer, looked like) then elaborated:

“You write songs with experience and what you’re going through. And I think, um, this last record we, we were, uh, really writing out of that. And so some of our songs like “Let it be Love” and “Walk on Water” are our more faith driven songs. And you know, they’re what we were feeling at the time. Then you also have, like, stuff that’s like berserk and’s like ‘ah we’re just going to go crazy and have a good time.’ So . . .”


Pay careful attention to his words about “writing songs with experience” and “that’s what we were feeling at the time”. These are both cut and dried tenants of Post-Modernism, the belief that your own experiences and feelings define truth for you—because ultimate truth is unknowable. Your identity isn’t fixed in Post-modernism. In fact, it jumps around from identity to identity as you continually find your truth from each different revelation you have given to you by your experiences. Think of pop singers who have switched from identity to identity like Miley Cyrus (Can you believe she used to be the innocent Hannah Montana?), Justin Bieber, and Brittany Spears. And now, apparently, FF5 as they switch from their Christian Identity to their pop, secular hip-hop identity, or maybe even to their Nihilistic identity in “Chainsaw”.

Another telling sign of Post-Modernism is its avoidance of any absolute truth. Since truth is relative to your experiences, it would be wrong to try and force any overarching truth on anyone. As a result, you have to be intentionally vague and non-intrusive in whatever truth you personally hold to. So, for instance, if you are a Post-modern artist, your works are highly random and impressionistic. You randomly fling paint on your canvas, because it is not important (and even detrimental) that you paint a clear picture of something real, but that your audience is allowed to interpret their own truth as a result of gazing upon your random art.

If you are a post-modern music band, your work will also be highly disjointed and vague. It won’t speak to absolute truth, but will allow you to form your own conclusions. That sounds remarkably like FF5’s “Chainsaw”, and the majority of their songs. If we really agree with Christ that you will know people by their fruit (Mathew 7:20), then we need to look with careful discernment at the rotten fruit hanging from FF5’s spiritual tree and reject them as being a Christian band. They are a Post-modern band who may personally hold to faith experiences, but don’t think Christ is an absolute truth worth devoting all their music to. It is sad that a sincerely Christian organization like Compassion International allowed this band to tour with Christian greats like Steven Curtis Chapman, Francesca Battistelli,  Passion, and Rend Collective—as if FF5 was just as valid as these artists who actually sang of absolute truth,  who actually worshiped absolute truth.

This is not about criticizing FF5 because I have a different taste for music than they do. This is about the discernment we as Christians need to have. It is our duty to guard each other from false prophets, and that’s what I am doing here. Please, be wary of Family Force 5, and approach listening to them with a healthy dose of salt. Or, even better, steer clear from listening to them at all, until they are willing to truly let Christ be the absolute truth worth writing and living their music for.

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Mathew 7:15-20

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