GCN Exclusive Special Feature
Rebecca St. James
Rebecca St. James is arguably Contemporary Christian Music’s brightest star. Beginning with her American debut album in 1994, she has risen from poverty- literally cleaning houses to help support her family- to become a pop music icon. Propelling her career has been a powerful message of faith, love, and hope.
Rebecca would add to that list devotion. Indeed, Christianity is inseparable from any discussion about Rebecca St. James. More than just living the life, Christianity is what motivates her through long days of hard work, prayer, bible study and charitable activities. Her performing career is in reality a music ministry that keeps her constantly on the road performing more than 200 concert dates per year, many of them in places major acts would never go. In an exclusive interview with GCN, Rebecca explained it to me this way:
RSJ- “I grew up getting to see more Christian shows than most people because my dad was a Christian concert promoter, and he would bring one or two performers a year to Australia from America. But, I remember reading CCM (magazine) and in the back seeing all these artists that I really liked and admired and their itineraries and wondering where all these places were in Australia that I had never heard of; then the sinking feeling realizing that all these places were in America. I was so disappointed. So, early on in my ministry I decided that we were going to travel overseas- break even or whatever. We have been to places like Germany, Romania, Latvia, Scotland, Northern Ireland, West Berlin and Australia. They don’t get shows very often and they just lap it up when you come so we keep on going.”
Christianity is both the foundation of her success and the reason her career flies just below mainstream media’s radar. Pushed aside by a viscerally resentful secular society, Christian artists are forced to exist in a kind of “parallel universe” where they have their own record companies, radio stations, TV networks, and professional recognition.
For example, Rebecca’s career achievements list Dove Awards- Christian music’s highest honor; Favorite Female Artist as chosen by readers of “Campus Life Magazine,” “CCM Magazine” (Contemporary Christian Music), and “Christian Music Planet”; 17 top ten singles on the Christian charts- 9 of which made it to number 1. Yet, she has won only a single Grammy, dating back to 1999, for her album, Pray.
However, controversy can sometimes allow her message to break through to a wider audience. A major proponent of abstinence before marriage, Rebecca’s remarks last spring about Britney Spears made major news from New York to New Delhi.
Like St. James, Spears had vowed to remain a virgin until her wedding day only to later admit to have broken that vow with pop superstar Justine Timberlake. When asked about it by Reuters, Rebecca remarked that she was “sad for Britney.” Judging by the resultant media uproar, perhaps Rebecca isn’t off the radar after all. It could be that she is simply being ignored; a situation that does not seem to disturb her in the slightest:
RSJ- “You know, I think that at some level I understand why Christian music is blocked; I think one reason in the past is quality. Christian music hasn’t been up to par with the rest of mainstream music but I don’t think that is an excuse that people can use anymore. There is a lot of music coming out of this genre’ that is just great music. I think that sometimes the message of Christian music is a little isolating to people if they don’t understand it or if they don’t want to be challenged in their lives about they way they are living. Christian music at its essence should be biblical and the bible is challenging. For me with mainstream media, I have actually felt a lot of support. One of the reasons I think is that I am pretty bold and direct about my message. Mainstream media, whether they agree with your message or not, generally want you to be bold and they definitely want you to have something to say, or otherwise they don’t want to listen to you. So, I think for the most part, I have been seen as someone who has something to say.”
If Christian artists are rejected because of their Christianity, there is some irony that the media had no problem touting how Madonna prayed before each stage performance. It did not matter to them that those prayers came when she was costumed in leather cones or other lascivious attire. It did not matter that she went out on stage to sing about being a Material Girl” or feeling just Like a Virgin.
Rebecca went on to tell Reuters, ''I also feel sad for the 9- or 10-year-olds watching her (Spears) who see her dressing in a very promiscuous fashion, almost asking for people to treat her as a sex object. They are going to start dressing that way, too.''
The preoccupation with sex, or in Rebecca’s case the abstinence there from, misses the whole point: Beyond the negative impact on Spears herself, the threats for children engaging in sex are STDs, pregnancies, and a likelihood of developing serious emotional problems. Thus, Rebecca’s statement to Reuters not only reflected a concern for Spears, but also one for the well being of society as a whole.
Wait For Me
Because she wrote it alone, the 2000 hit, Wait for Me, is perhaps the best window into the heart and mind of Rebecca St. James. In the song, Rebecca sings a soliloquy to her as unknown future husband professing her love till death do us part and promising to be now and always faithful to you.
The song is far from being quaint or, as one television interviewer remarked, simply “sweet.” If romantic, just as love songs should be, Wait for Me is a powerful statement that love transcends both space and time. Rebecca’s belief is that her life partner is out there somewhere, right now, and God’s plan is for his path to intercept hers somewhere ahead on the path of life.
Her comments inside the Transform album say the inspiration for the song came from letters she has been writing to this future husband. I asked her if she still writes them and has she met him for the first time?
RSJ- “I haven’t written one in a little while but I need to write one real soon. I want to give him these letters on our wedding day so he will have snippets of my life and my thoughts and my heart during the years that we didn’t know each other. It also helps me in the waiting process because if I am writing letters to a guy that I one day will give them to, it makes him be more real. I don’t know that I have met him yet. I have met some really, really, great guys and I obviously do date, or if you want to call it that, court. But, I don’t know that have met him yet. If I have, God hasn’t told me he is the one.”
Unfairly or not, Aussies have been branded with the tag line, “No Worries.” Though born in Sydney, Rebecca’s would more appropriately be, “No Apologies.” She is bold in her faith, as she refers to it, and seeks to apply biblical principles in everything she does. Her new self-help book, slated to be released in October, is a good example:
RSJ- “I don’t know if I would see it as a self-help book. I think I would see it more as a God-help book because the book really looks at nine different areas that we as women struggle with today. Lynda (co-writer Lynda Bjorklund) and I both admit that we haven’t arrived in these areas but we have learned a lot in our lives.”
Those problems areas, as Rebecca and Lynda see it, are issues surrounding protection, intimacy, femininity, beauty, purity, freedom, mentoring, maintaining boundaries, and purposeful living. In their view, women today struggle within these areas because they have bought into the “lies” feminist dominated society has told them.
Of course, lying implies that the proponents of feminism knew these teachings were wrong but taught them anyway. I asked Rebecca directly if this was her point of view; that feminists actually lied?
“I think I am using lie in a different way. I don’t think they thought they were lying at the time. I think it is all in your perspective. I think the majority will be Christian women that will buy this (book.) I think those two (women) who started the feminist movement and really brought the hard-core into it… wouldn’t have felt like they were spouting off lies. They would have thought they were spouting off truths. Some of it, and this is what we picked up on in the book and what we focused on: This I can do everything at any cost, that I can do it all and have it all, is lies because we can’t. Part of the feminist mentality that I can be independent, I can be alone, especially don’t need men, to me… are very damaging lies. As Christian women, we don’t see it that way. I don’t know if some (feminists) would still see it as a lie but we do because it is so damaging; to marriages; to relationships; to women themselves. And so it is more coming from my perspective and our perspective as to whether you would view it as a lie.”
Whether or not feminists will accept this clarification remains to be seen. However, “lie” is not the only word that has the potential to place her in hot water. Another notion SHE puts forward is one of wifely submission to their husbands. I asked Rebecca how comfortable she was personally with the idea of submission?
RSJ- “I am very comfortable with it in the context that the bible puts it in; what happens is people focus on the ones of wives submit to your husband but then they don’t focus on the verses around it- immediately before or immediately after it- that are saying husband love your wives as Christ loves the Church and lay down your lives for her. The men pretty much have the hardest job because they’re meant to lay their lives down for us and love us. We just have to submit to that love and receive that love so we have the easier job. I think if people don’t understand that and the context the bible was putting it in then I think they would be basically offended. But, if they understand what men are actually meant to do then they wouldn’t be offended.”
On this last point I am personally not so sure. These are tough times to be a Christian. So tough that some would seek to disbar from political life anyone who professes Judeo-Christian religiosity. Where in the past being labeled Christian was almost obligatory to electioneering, for some, it is now a term of derision.
If living a faithful life can be difficult for Christians in America, how does Rebecca see their lot in Europe and her native Australia?
“Europe for sure; we have played a couple of shows in France and I think Christians there feel very, very alone…. There are very few of them really bold about their faith. I think it is very hard to be Christian in Europe and at some level it is a little bit similar in Australia. I think I have heard statistics that say only 5 to 7% of the 20 million people are Christian or at least go to church there. Christians need encouragement and music definitely does that.”
To listen to her current CD, Live Worship, one might get the idea that a Rebecca St. James concert could be likened to some kind of giant Christian rave scene replete with mosh pit. Imagine huge crowds of young people, hands raised and veritably pulsing with the music. Also imagine lines of young people coming down to the stage as they confront their personal moment.
Alas, it isn’t quite like that. A cross-section of the audience is more likely to span all ages and most performances are not in clubs but at some other kind of daylight venue, such as her recent appearance at the Kentucky State Fair.
RSJ- “Blessed Be (Your Name) has been acquiring that kind of response lately.” Rebecca explained. “A lot of people are raising their hands and singing. There is the one point where I break it down and there is only the audience’s voice…. It is really, really powerful. When I do my full concert I do make a call to make a commitment and give their lives to God. We generally do have quite a lot of young people come forward,”
Writers who attempt to describe music usually do so at their own peril. Too often they come out sounding like wine critics who, after a sip, hold the wine on their tongue and make little breathy sucking noises trying to capture its “delicate nuances;” having said that, I am here to tell you that Rebecca’s music is just really butt-kick’n good Rock’n Roll.
Recently, I had the opportunity to take a business trip in a Ford Expedition equipped with one of the best audio systems I have ever heard. Loaded in the changer was two CDs of Rebecca St. James. The trip afforded me the time to really study her work. When I arrived at my destination I was totally enthralled.
Her music is superbly written, arranged, performed, and engineered. Where most people complain that the CDs they buy have only one or two “good songs” with the rest merely “filler,” nearly every one of Rebecca’s tracks are truly spectacular. Even the style varies so you won’t become bored listening to the same performer over and over and over again.
While Rebecca always has her own distinctive sound, on the song, Universe, her vocals can be so technical that it evoked for me Celine Dion. Another song, One, has the dance tune exuberance of- yes- Britney Spears. Yet, her work is all original; when I consider her American debut album, Rebecca St. James, it is quite evident where she wanted to go musically, even though she was only 17 at the time.
Confined as she is to her Christian “parallel universe,” I floated the notion that she could bring her message to more people, and counter more of the societal “lies” young people are told, by performing in secular venues or appearing with secular performers that have positive messages of their own. Rebecca was very guarded on this subject telling me:
RSJ- “I am very open to one of my songs being played on mainstream radio and being embraced like that and we may attempt it if the right song comes about with this next album but I don’t want to back down in my message to achieve that and, in the past, it is almost like that is what you have to do is write (merely) a love song. I have to remain true and He will take care of the rest.”
Keeping It Real
Particularly as a pop icon, Rebecca St. James has brought a new coolness to Christianity. Yet, when listening to or reading her work it is very evident that she keeps this stardom in check. She laughed when I asked her if there was someone riding with her in the chariot whispering in her ear, “You are just a woman.”
“I do travel a lot with members of my family; my dad is my manager; one of my brothers sings background vocals; another brother runs…does our merchandising; and another brother does our light show. So, they are really involved and so family has been a key element that helps me stay grounded and focused and just a girl who is serving God in a different way. I don’t see myself as being that unusual. I have always had that sense that if what I am doing is unique; it is a calling from God and not being God’s best gift to mankind for book writing or singing.”
Speaking with Rebecca is easy, even when circumstances limit time. Because she was about to leave on a trip and then start her upcoming Adoration tour, the window of opportunity to converse with her was but a single day and then for only 30 minutes. Still, she didn’t shrink from my warning that we had a lot of ground to cover and that I was about to “work her over.”
When the interview ended, she complimented me for taking the time to extensively research this project. She also seemed pleased that I so thoroughly enjoyed her work. Her last words to me were, “Thank you for listening to the music.”
No, Rebecca. It is I who should thank you.
For More information and music samples visit Rebecca's Website...Click Here
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