The song at #32 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Take Me to Church“, the debut single by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. This is one of two songs by him on this list, the other being “Nina Cried Power”, which appeared at #68. The darkly stunning song was released in September 2013 as a free download, as he was a struggling musician at the time, performing at open-mic nights in and around Dublin. He wrote the song while living with his parents, and recorded a rough demo in their attic. The song first caught the attention of independent label Rubyworks, where producer Rob Kirwan overdubbed the original demo with live instruments, played by Hozier and drummer Fiachra Kinder.
Raised as a Protestant Quaker, Hozier now identifies as agnostic, and was inspired to write the song by his frustration with the Catholic Church, which he saw as a negative dominant force on social and political life in Ireland. He told Rolling Stone, “Growing up, I always saw the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. The history speaks for itself and I grew incredibly frustrated and angry.” (As a still-recovering Catholic myself, I completely agree.) In another interview with New York magazine, he stated: “Sexuality, and sexual orientation…is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”
Hozier uses religious terminology in the lyrics to describe his feelings of romantic and sexual obsession with his lover, while also condemning church dogma: “My lover’s got humor. She’s the giggle at a funeral. Knows everybody’s disapproval. I should’ve worshiped her sooner. If the Heavens ever did speak. She is the last true mouthpiece. Every Sunday’s getting more bleak. A fresh poison each week. ‘We were born sick’, you heard them say it. My church offers no absolutes. She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom’. The only Heaven I’ll be sent to is when I’m alone with you. I was born sick, but I love it. Command me to be well. Amen, Amen, Amen.”
The darkly disturbing black and white video produced for the song was conceived by Hozier, Brendan Canty and his writing partner Emmet O’Brien. It was directed by Canty and Conal Thomson, and filmed on location at Inniscarra Dam in Cork, Ireland. The video, which is at times difficult to watch, tells the story of a gay relationship in Russia and the violent homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men’s sexuality. Upon its release in September 2013, the video quickly went viral, leading to Hozier’s subsequent signing with Columbia Records in the U.S. and Island Records in the UK.
“Take Me to Church” became a massive worldwide hit, topping the charts in 12 countries and reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached #1, however, on the Alternative, Adult Alternative, Adult Top 40 and Hot Rock Songs charts, where it spent 23 consecutive weeks at the top. It was also nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy, and has sold over five million copies in the US.
For those too squeamish to watch the video, here’s a Spotify link: