About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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"To the extent that the new sacred music is to serve the liturgical celebrations of the various churches, it can and must draw from earlier forms — especially from Gregorian chant — a higher inspiration, a uniquely sacred quality, a genuine sense of what is religious."
— Pope John Paul II (June 1980)

Worst Song Ever?
published 3 October 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

241 Rebecca Y ARTICLE TODAY won’t make sense unless you google “Rebecca Black Friday.” This music video was viewed by 200 million people in 2011, and most said it was the worst song ever produced. Contemplating this, I noticed parallels to contemporary liturgical music:

HORRIBLE RHYMES : The singer rhymes “bowl” with “cereal.” Later, she rhymes “kicking” with “sitting.” On this blog, we’ve often decried similar rhyming in hymnals with USCCB approval…

OBSCENELY OBVIOUS : The song is painfully repetitious and “obvious.” It doesn’t help that Rebecca spells out everything she’s talking about, even providing visual aids for the days of the week. The content describes self-evident realities: “Tomorrow is Saturday; And Sunday comes afterwards.” This resembles certain liturgical songs which basically say, “Here we are, gathered in our church; this is where we come each Sunday…” Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth calls them “we songs,” wherein the congregation is encouraged to celebrate itself.

CATCHY : The song is rather catchy, and I suspect many people who claim to “hate” it secretly enjoy it. Sadly, this is the case with much contemporary church music. I have no problem with liturgical music being simple & catchy—like the Gregorian antiphons for the Holy Thursday foot washing—as long as it’s elegant.

MIXTURE OF STYLES : The song mixes dialects:

“Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday. TO-day i-is Friday, Friday.
We-we-we so excited. We so excited. We gonna have a ball today.”
The result is contrived and incongruous, and this is often the case with contemporary liturgical music, which cannot seem to “find its voice.”

PRODUCED WITH SKILL : Whoever shot & mastered this music video did an amazing job. I talk about this below.

WE ARE TOLD that hymnals have improved immensely since the 1970s, but I’m not so sure. I was recently given a 2013 Spanish hymnal by GIA and couldn’t wait to peruse the contents. It was a huge disappointment, and here’s an example (translated into Spanish by GIA):

Over my head, I hear music in the air;
Over my head, I hear music in the air;
Over my head, I hear music in the air;
There must be a God somewhere.

And when I’m feeling lonely, I hear music in the air;
And when I’m feeling lonely, I hear music in the air;
And when I’m feeling lonely, I hear music in the air;
There must be a God somewhere.

GIA should have searched for lyrics written by Catholics comfortable with the Spanish language; instead, they did the unthinkable. They asked someone for whom Spanish is a second language to force tons and tons of English songs into Spanish. 1 (I deleted his name, because he’s not the one at fault.) The production of this hymnal, however—like Rebecca Black’s song—was extremely professional. It’s the content which is troubling.

I HAVE COME TO BELIEVE there’s a cultural element at work here, too. We’ve lost the ability to appreciate genuine music. Have you noticed that movies these days contain lackluster songs? For example, the old Disney movies—such as Beauty and the Beast, Robin Hood, Little Mermaid, Sword in the Stone, Peter Pan, etc.—had great music. These days, it seems the music is all “beat music.” Have you seen the new version of The Lorax? Have you seen the new version of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? The music cannot hold a candle to the classics.

We need to get our culture to a point where they can appreciate pure music, but it won’t be easy. What is pure music? Here’s an example: 2

That’s what I call pure music—so different from uninspired beat music! (Although beat music does have its place.)


1   I showed the Spanish versions by GIA to friends of mine who grew up in Mexico. They were confused by many verses, which didn’t make sense to them.

2   The Gradual assigned to Easter Sunday in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms.