It sounds strange to list the two in the same category. Kanye West is the egotistical rapper that is now just as known for his relationship to the Kardashians as he is for his music. The 1975 is a British indie band that has songs that you’ve probably heard multiple times but can’t actually name any of the their titles. While it would normally make little sense to mention these acts in the same sentence, there exists a perfect, two-song playlist where the strengths of their talents are showcased.
The songs creating this incredible (yet short) playlist are West’s “Ultralight Beam” from his 2016 album The Life of Pablo and The 1975’s “If I Believe You,” which comes from their own 2016 release of I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.
While both songs have distinctly different sounds, they share quality characteristics. The pair of songs utilize the power of a gospel choir. If you ever want a song to seem profoundly deep, tactfully adding in a gospel choir is the way to go. A gospel choir in an unconventional song already about religion makes the listening experience more powerful. Epic production value can be found in each as well, as the songs both clock in at longer than five minutes and showcase multiple voices and instruments. The overarching theme between the two, however, is how they approach the subject of Christianity. Together, they tell opposing sides of the same story: one praising Christ himself while the other questions his existence.
West’s “Ultralight Beam,” begins with Samoria Green and Natalie Green leading a prayer, proclaiming how “we don’t want no devils in the house, God” and echoing chants of “Jesus praise the Lord,” letting the audience know that this song will already have deeply religious tone to it.
The first verse leads with “We’re on an ultralight beam/this is a God dream,” indicating the idyllic lifestyle that is desired by religion.
While West’s song takes a distinctly pro-Christianity stance, there are still hints of a wavering faith. “I’m tryna keep my faith/but I’m looking for more,” the gospel chorus echoes repeatedly throughout the song. There is a quest for a better sense of fulfillment, something that would provide a sense of completeness and an unwavering sense of loyalty.
By comparison, The 1975’s “If I Believe You” starts with the line “I’ve got a God-shaped hole, it’s infected,” instantly signaling the separation between life and a monotheistic religion.
“I’ll be your child if you insist/I mean if it were you that made my body then you shouldn’t have made me Atheist,” The 1975’s front man and lead singer, Matty Healy, croons. Healy teases the notion of having a higher figure responsible for creating life.
But Healy also lyrically provides room for skepticism of his own. “If I believe you/will that make it stop?” He seems to be searching for a way to alleviate his own pain, and religion could be a startling alternative, despite his previous opinions on the concept.
A paradox is created. Does doubt and religious devotion run hand in hand?
“Ultralight Beam” and “If I Believe You” don’t provide a definitive answer to this question, but they both show how a sliver of uncertainty exists in both sides of the argument. Uncertainty is a common theme in religion: there are often moments of uncertainty before one can wholly committ to an idea. While these emotions are sometimes taboo to mention out loud, the conflicting emotions can more easily be displayed through song.
Neither West nor The 1975 are widely known for having music that challenges theological notions, which is what makes the sheer existence of these two songs so impressive. The songs show how multifaceted the artists are, along with providing a sense of transparency that lets others know that they too question the unknown. Neither songs were singles, causing them to fly under the radar of mainstream musical outlets and escape heavy media scrutiny.
This isn’t the first time that either artist has mentioned theology in their music. West commonly calls out his relationship with Christianity (see also: “Jesus Walks” or “Blessings”), and The 1975 often questions religion- or the lack of it- in songs as well (see also: “Antichrist” or “Nana”). The artists have utilized an untraditional method to further explore their viewpoints.
Music is incredible because it can allow you to consider opinions that you otherwise would have ignored. Religion is complicated and can be divisive, but even disagreements regarding the topic can still bring people together.
West and The 1975 create different sides on the same coin, providing a nearly complete narrative on religious turbulence through the use of music.