Tomlin and Hipster Elitism

In case your not as entrenched in modern musical worship forums as the rest of your friend group, allow me to bring you up to speed:

Chris Tomlin, "the New York Yankees of church music," recently released a recording of the song "Good Good Father," which was written by Pat Barnett and Tony Brown and originally performed by Housefires, an Atlanta-based worship collective. Here are the two songs side-by-side: 

Now, most casual listeners would view Tomlin's recording as just another instance of one artist covering another's song, but most casual listeners are not the ones writing these (unapologetically cherry-picked) YouTube comments:

"Love this song and Chris Tomlin but I think he should mention that it's a cover coz it's pretty misleading."
"Housefires sang this song in 2014."
"It's a great song but I don't see why all of these big radio artists are always taking other peoples songs and making money on the radio with it."

When we hear a prominent artist cover a song that was written by another artist with less notoriety, what makes us want to remind people that what they're hearing is a reproduction? Are we really standing up for the little guy, protecting them from the capitalists hoards like some kind of Pitchfork-reading Robin Hood?

We may certainly feel that way, but I don't think this behavior really has as much to do with protecting artists from corporate giants as we think, since in reality, its rare for a song to be covered without significant compensation to the original artist, and even less likely that it will happen without their notice. In the case of "Good Good Father," its pretty likely that the Housefires crew was aware of the recording, as the original songwriters can be heard singing backing vocals on Tomlin's cover, and I'm fairly certain they weren't tied up and forced to sing at gunpoint. I wasn't there, but I'm pretty confident. 

If we're honest with ourselves, I think the backlash against Tomlin's "Good Good Father" has the same motivation as the backlash against Crowder's "Like A Lion," or against the Newsboys and all their covers. And its not the motivation to protect artistic authenticity, or to avoid further commercialization in musical worship, or to thwart corporate bullying. 

Its hipster elitism.

We want people to know we're cooler than they are, and we're using knowledge of what is and is not a cover as cultural capital that we can leverage to make ourselves seem savvy. The disparity between the deluge of cynical comments we make or post about artistic integrity and the absence of any real action to ensure its survival should be enough to convince anyone that our preference for original songwriting should be viewed in the same lens as our preference for fair trade coffee, craft beer, or clothing designers with philanthropic business models. More often than not, these practices are just hipster snobbery masquerading as social or economic consciousness, which is why there are so many people who adhere to them and far fewer who can explain why. 

Here's the reality of the situation: Tomlin has just covered a song that you've probably been excited to be singing in your gatherings for a few months now. Because of his cover, the people in your church who listen to (Insert "positive message/safe for the whole family" radio station here) go from having almost no chance to hear the song outside of church to almost certainly hearing it the next time they're in their car. Next time you play "Good Good Father" in your gathering, more people will sing than the last time you played it. 

Sounds like a win to me. 

With hope, 

Ian