What’s the most intense and scary song that I could find on the local top 40 station? Definitely “Take Me to Church” by Hozier. There’s no question. This song is heavy and full of meaning. And it happens to be very culturally relevant.
The songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne is singing against church-fueled “shaming.” Specifically, this song is against homophobia; the music video shows a gay couple being hunted and tortured by mask-wearing men.
The songwriter (who goes by Hozier) supplements a blunt statement with a clear metaphor in his lyrics and a earthy, blues, and gospel sound in his music, which increases the intensity of his message. As Forbes Magazine writer Nick Messitte points out, this style is unlike most music on the Billboard charts. Hozier is certainly unique, and so is his message among the myriads of thematically shallow pop songs.
The song comes in two parts: an adoration of Hozier’s female lover and an indictment of the church.
Hozier begins by singing about an imaginary girlfriend who “giggles at a funeral,” and who “knows everybody’s disapproval.” He regrets not having “worshipped her sooner.” Hozier is strongly attracted to this woman, whomever she is.
In the next stanza, he claims that “[i]f the heavens ever did speak / she’s the last true mouthpiece.” He believes that if God exists, He would speak through this woman. And compared to her, he believes church to be a “bleak” place, that spits out “poison” at those who attend, telling them that they were “born sick” in sin. This girl is more desirable than church and, he thinks, a better way to understand the meaning of life.
In the next stanza, Hozier sings that his girlfriend invites him to “worship in the bedroom” and that he’s sent to Heaven when he’s with her. The main point of this song is that Hozier feels closer to God (or the “good life” or “right living”) in the act of love in sex, not when he adheres to established religion.
The chorus is an explicit and sarcastic attack on legalistic churches (or any church that follows guides which cause congregants to feel shame). Hozier sings, “Take me to church / I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies / I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife.” He claims that the church demeans its attendees and attacks them for the things they do when those things go against the church’s doctrine.
Then, Hozier reinforces his opinion that sex (whether heterosexual or homosexual, his interviews show) is an act of love far better than being beholden to a religion. He claims to be “a pagan of the good times” who worships his lover who is “the sunlight.” But, in keeping with the pagan imagery, this “goddess . . . demands a sacrifice,” and that is the act of sex, which Hozier refers to with innuendoes referencing “something shiny,” “drain[ing] the whole sea,” and “[s]omething meaty for the main course.”
Near the end of the song, he re-summarizes his thesis: “In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene / Only then I am human / Only then I am clean.” What the church considers an “earthly scene”–intercourse not within a heterosexual marriage–Hozier finds to be one way to ultimate satisfaction in life, something to be pursued and claims it to be “innocence.” To end the song, he compares the love he has just described to his view of the church, repeating the chorus twice, emphasizing the stark contrast he sees there.
His ultimate question seems to be: How could anyone choose a rule-making (or shame-adding) church over the experience of love in sex no matter what the form?
In an interview with the Star Tribune, Hozier explains that his song is an attack on anti-homosexuality in the church, especially the Catholic church: “I’m not condemning the church or religion on the whole, just that one policy [the anti-same sex marriage policy], which seems so wrong to me. And obviously I’m not alone in thinking that.” According to an interview with The Cut, the song is also about homophobia in general and state oppression of homosexuals in Russia. Hozier meant the song and the music video to attack policies that value rules and prejudice over love and acceptance.
To make this point, “Take Me to Church’s” music video shows a gay couple being hunted and tortured by a mob of masked and hooded men. Viewers, first, see the couple making out and, then, the mob torturing one of the men. In explaining the video in an interview with Fuse TV, Hozier says, “If you feel offended or disgusted by the image of two people kissing, if that’s what it is, but you’re more disgusted by that than the actual violence…I think you should take a look at your values, maybe.” Through these images, Hozier wants to prove that being anti-gay is far worse than enjoying homosexual love.
As an appropriate summary of his viewpoint, Hozier says in his interview with The Cut that “[t]he song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love. Turning your back on the theoretical thing, something that’s not tangible, and choosing to worship or love something that is tangible and real — something that can be experienced.”
How do you answer Hozier’s argument? Do you agree or disagree? I think the argument’s much different and more subtle and detailed than he believes. While I agree that love is important, I don’t think he completely understands church, the nature of sex, or the nature of rules. What are your thoughts? Let’s talk.
Thanks for reading! I’m a college English instructor, university writing center director, and online entrepreneur (college for under $15k, anyone?) who cares deeply about TRUTH and MEANING. I’m married to the gloriously beautiful Wife April and love to swing dance and juggle. Follow me on Facebook to keep up with and discuss song meanings!