In our special 8TH ANNUAL WE LOVE CHRISTIAN MUSIC AWARDS editorial series, members of the NRT staff have a back-and-forth discussion about this year's nominees. In part 7 of our series, NRT's Mark Ryan and Josh Galla look at the nominees for Mainstream Impact Award.
Josh: Today, Mark Ryan and I (Josh Galla) from New Release Today (NRT) are here to discuss the We Love Christian Music Award nominees for the Mainstream Impact Award. Quite a few artists lately are bringing the Gospel to the forefront in the mainstream arena. For 2019, the following artists are nominated:
for King & Country
Mark: As I looked at the list and thought about these nominees, my thoughts toward who had the biggest mainstream impact were a) are they a mainstream artist who happens to be Christian or a "Christian" artist; and b) how did their work this year provide an example of Matthew 5:13-15, "You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. "You are the light of the world--like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."
Josh: Most have had a stellar year of success, some on multiple platforms. One stands out as the underdog from the list, Scott Stapp (former lead vocalist for the band Creed). Creed used to break all kinds of barriers both in the Christian and mainstream markets. However, due to the current state of the industry and the influx of music available, people forget quality artists unless new material is available often. With over five years since his last project, it will be interesting to see how fans vote in this category.
Stapp's solo project titled, The Space Between the Shadows released on July 19th last year. "Purpose For Pain" was his highlight track from the album with close to two million streams to date. All around, it's one of the best rock releases of '19 hence the award nomination. The project is stacked with heartfelt messages mixed with emotions of redemption Stapp personally relates to. I didn't sit with this release as much as the others, but I definitely commend his efforts. It's a project you can listen to all the way through without skips while taken in a variety of musical styles.
Mark: For me, Scott Stapp didn't impact the mainstream like our other nominees. He has strong credentials but the time in-between his last release in 2013 and this one is just a bit too long to truly have a mainstream impact. And in looking at the Billboard Top 200, The Space Between The Shadows peaked at 137, where his previous solo efforts peaked at 37 (Proof of Life, 2013) and 19 (The Great Divide, 2005).
Josh: Next up is the brother duo, Joel and Luke Smallbone, known as for KING & COUNTRY. They released their third studio project titled, Burn the Ships on October 5, 2019. Even though "God Only Knows" has been their most celebrated track from the project, "Joy" has over five million additional streams on Spotify topping over 30 million. Several of the tracks have received the remix treatment several times over. An extended tour domestically and internationally is currently on the road highlighting just how amazing an album Burn the Ships represents.
MARK: fK&C had a tremendous impact on the musical world and garnered a lot of attention from the mainstream. In terms of the Billboard Top 200, Burn the Ships topped out at #7 a couple of weeks after its release. Further to the album charting, their various collaborations on "God Only Knows," especially the version with the renowned Dolly Parton, got them an incredible amount of mainstream exposure and they ended 2019 with performing on the CMT Christmas special. Another incredible performance of "Drummer Boy." With all of the success, the two brothers from Down Under have never swayed from presenting the Gospel.
Josh: One of the longest-tenured bands of the nominees would be Skillet. Since 1996, Skillet's main objective has always been to bring the message of the Gospels to the least likely of places. In 2019, Skillet garnered over 1 billion streams on Spotify for another consecutive year. Last year's release of Victorious was one of my favorite releases from Skillet from their entire discography. It speaks of the band member's faith the most vocally. It has an array of musical concepts and stylings. It's beautiful on several layers. In the mainstream, the band remains a constant on mainstream tours both internationally and domestically. Skillet has always desired to share the message of Jesus with those who either do not believe or are foreign to a God who can love the listener like a child of His.
Mark: Skillet has been influencing the mainstream from the beginning. Their latest project Victorious was released on August 2 and was met with critical acclaim. The album charted at #17 on the Billboard top 200 and peaked at #1 on the Hard Rock Album sales. Being a hard rock band, the genre lends them to definitely be a light in the darkness and influencing the mainstream. Additionally, many of their shows are played with mainstream acts in 18+ only venues.
Josh: Nate Feuerstein (NF) has hit the mainstream market like a thunderous storm over the last five years especially. He's no stranger to success as each of his releases find their way into the top five on Billboard charts. Even his videos on YouTube all exceed 10+ million views. His tour dates steadily sell out, as success is no stranger to NF. The comparisons to Eminem get exhaustive. His dark demeanor through lyrical content relates to younger generations like wildfire. Also, The Search contains much more spiritual references than former releases. It could be that NF is using his mainstream success to point to Jesus as the ultimate answer.
Mark: It comes as no surprise that NF is on our list. He has over 13 million monthly listeners on Spotify, his 2019 (July) release The Search peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, #1 on the R&B/Hip Hop Album Sales, and #1 on the Top Album Sales and NF peaked at #1 on the Billboard Artist 100. In addition to the streams and sales, NF has a nearly sold-out tour in the third and fourth quarters of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 has a nearly sold-out World Tour on the books. Since 2017, NF may be the hottest artist to come out of the Christian camp with such broad market appeal.
A late entry to our nominees is someone who, one year ago, we would have never imagined being nominated for any faith-based award, Kanye West. Some say that Jesus Is King is the most "Christian" hip-hop album of the year with a high "Jesus per minute" count. West is the definition of mainstream, however, I don't think anyone would have imagined West and his marketing genius could get #JesusIsKing trending on Twitter. Most of us thought that Justin Bieber would be the first major artist to transition and do a Christian album, but before the end of the year, Kanye and his Sunday Service Choir released two albums that glorify God and pronounce His Lordship overall. Sure, the doubters exist, but I don't know any other Christian artist or artist in general who has gotten James Corden (late-night television host) singing gospel music on an airplane and so boldly pronounced their professed faith and spiritual awakening in such a public manner.
Josh: At first, I was one of those naysayers who didn't think Kayne West would put out an authentic Gospel project. After all, he's put out one explicit album after another for nearly two decades. All of his craziness portrayed in the media on top of that truly didn't have me convinced. Therefore, I switched perspectives. Solely the fact that his album name was trending on social media and found on billboards in media hubs like Times Square sold me as a win for the culture. Then, I took a listen to the project and was immediately sold. Next, I listened to a few of his interviews and the change was confirmed. West was sold out for Christ not only portrayed in his art with music but his life in every possible aspect. The releases of Jesus is King and Jesus is Born were incredible and stamped with authentic faith.
Mark: As I mentioned earlier, my criteria may have been a bit skewed to focus on a Christian artist who was being a light in dark places. Given that criteria, my pick for the Mainstream Impact Award is a man who is mainstream, confessed Christ, and gave us incredible Christ-centered albums. It has to be Kanye.
Josh: My shortlist began between NF, Kanye West, and Skillet. Each of these three put mainstream impact as a priority not only with their music but with their actions in the industry. Then, I tried to narrow it down to who took the mainstream world "by storm" of sorts throughout the course of the year. As Mark stated, the clear cut answer and the winner has to be Kanye West. He's made the most direct impact in mainstream and he's changing hearts for Christ daily through the music, his public actions, and words and by his connections in the mainstream environment.
The collective winner is... Kanye West. I'm lowkey excited to see how close the votes are between my shortlist compilation of nominees.
Assembled from the four corners of North America and beyond, the NRTeam is comprised of staffers whose energy is equally dispersed towards loving music and writing about the music they love.
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