Lyrical Dissonance In Worship Music

I’m a big fan of lyrical dissonance. Some of my favorite songs employ it very successfully, and I’ve even used it myself in some of my own songs.

What’s lyrical dissonance? It’s when the content of the lyrics don’t match the feel of the song. An upbeat song about suicide or a slow waltz about racing would qualify.

So as a songwriter and a fan of irony, I do enjoy lyrical dissonance. But not in worship songs.

As Michael Mahoney writes in his post “Fitting” Worship Arrangements:

…it works in many cases, bringing an irony to a song that helps drive home the point. But irony has no place in a worship song.

Michael hits on a critical piece of information there: irony and worship don’t mix. Worship should always be sincere, never winking.

Michael goes on:

The point is, listen to the music and read the lyrics. If there is a disconnect, and you like it, fine. Put it on your iPod. But if you are leading worship, you have a much more important role, and you need to take great care. You are a guide, and you must guide your flock (worship leading is a pastoral role) down the proper path.

Like I said above, I love lyrical dissonance, but I know it doesn’t belong in worship music. Go check out Michael’s full post. Good stuff.

3 thoughts on “Lyrical Dissonance In Worship Music”

  1. What about when a scriptural truth is somewhat unexpected? For example, I wrote a song for our congregation to sing that is upbeat and celebratory, but the first proclamation in the rather upbeat chorus is “We are dead!” Soon the lines fill in “we are dead to sin he changed us and now sin no longer reigns ’cause we are dead.” To me this is lyrical dissonance that grabs attention because it is upside-down of the normal way of thinking, and is truly something worth celebrating. Other truths that might fit into this category: celebrating servanthood, finding joy in trials, etc.

    1. Really good point, Ben! I guess for me, there would be a significant difference between the ironic and the unexpected. Irony implies a detachment. What do you think?

  2. I don’t think Ben’s example is as much lyrical dissonance as a classic bait-and-switch. I’d have to hear the song, of course, but the lyrics he put seem pretty celebratory to me. I guess it depends how deep into the song the reveal is..

    And thanks for the link!

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