It’s natural to reevaluate the beliefs you were raised with while on the verge of adulthood. And despite the sometimes frustrating nature of dissecting equivocal yet familiar perspectives, it’s gratifying to take a deeper look at what lies underneath it all.
Deciphering what faith means to you—or determining if it means anything to you—often feels like sprinting toward the horizon and never getting any closer. But instead of stopping, the artists in this playlist continue running anyways. They detail their relationship with religion in touching and creative ways, aware that the process will be continual and ever-changing.
I hope you all identify with something in these songs—or in the compelling, diverse histories of the artists—that will carry you forward on your own journeys.
Adrianne Lenker, the frontwoman of Big Thief, has a resilience and ethereal nature that permeates all of her music. Her childhood was tumultuous, spent in an Indiana religious cult for many of her early years. Lenker describes her fluctuating outlook on this early period of her life, saying, “[My perspective on the cult] is growing all the time. As a kid, I just saw it as a cult and that’s what I called it, and that’s what my parents called it for a while too. Now I’m like, ‘OK, they were in this community of religious people, and perhaps it was a bit brainwashing, but we’re all brainwashed and using Apple products. That’s kind of a cult. What is a cult? What’s the difference between a church and a cult? What defines it? I don’t know.”
And although she doesn’t have a concrete answer to that complex question, “Mary” is a nudge in the right direction. Lenker’s songs often follow a pattern of transfiguring mundane moments into spiritual ones, with lyrics that sound as meditative and rhythmic as prayer: “Oh and, heavens, when you looked at me / Your eyes were like machinery / Your hands were making artifacts in the corner of my mind.” Her music is proof that if you look in the right places, the smallest moments—and the people with whom you share them—can prove to be the most soothing form of spiritual fulfillment.
Mindy Gledhill is an indie-pop artist from Provo, Utah whose voice will “leave you floating like cream in a cup of tea.” But despite Gledhill’s charming voice and tender persona, her recent songs allude to darker subjects, like freeing herself from the mental stronghold of Mormonism. Gledhill’s family and much of the Provo community she resides in are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—an environment in which she was entrenched while growing up.
Gledhill began her singing career as a strictly Mormon artist in 2007, but is no longer a member of the church. Her newest album, Rabbit Hole, addresses the backlash she received as a public figure who denounced the religion, and the lyrics of “Wandering Souls” unlock the painful truths of this experience: “Existential questions like a flame in the night / Keeping me awake with tears that burn like a fire / And I’m getting to the point of feeling overly tired / Of the people who say, ‘You’ve gone astray.’”
While the majority of Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna’s lyrics don’t reference her experience being Muslim, her religion is a topic that arises in nearly every interview she does. Yuna doesn’t mind, though, and prides herself on being transparent about her faith without centering it as a prominent aspect of her public persona or music career. In an interview with NPR, she said, “When I first started playing music, I was already covered…wearing headscarves. And, like, normally, people would expect you to change, toss this part of your life away so that you could be a pop star… I’m a Muslim. I don’t try to hide it. I’m also a girl who loves music. And I don’t try to hide that as well.” Fundamentally, “Lights and Camera” is a musical expression of that exact sentiment—detailing what it feels like to overcome ostracism, strive for authenticity, and maintain ownership of various facets of her identity.
Haley Heynderickx is a quirky, observant folk singer who masterfully transforms ambiguous concepts into tangible, honest art. She grew up in a religious Filipino-American family, and her childhood inspired a flood of thoughts about what it means to procure your own version of God. Challenging the restrictive perception of God as an old, bearded man, Heynderickx parses the different aesthetics and qualities assumed by the deities of her making: “Or maybe my god / Has thick hips and big lips / And the buttons she’s pressing / She speaks every language.”
“Untitled God Song” is unique in its intention, giving individuals the insight they need to craft their faith into something that feels accessible to them. Heynderickx says she hopes that “Untitled God Song” provokes “ideas and conversations about God—some kind of curiosity—whether you believe that It exists or doesn’t. It’s a fun thing to poke around. We’ve got free time.”
Regina Spektor’s talent for inquisitive observation shines in “Laughing With,” where she tackles the paradoxical nature of many people’s relationship with religion—asking for salvation during difficult times, yet making jokes at God’s expense during dinner parties. What appears to be her frustration with this occurrence makes perfect sense, given her upbringing. As a Jewish woman who immigrated to the United States from Russia as a child, religion is a grounding force that Spektor holds in high regard and appreciation. But if you listen to the song from beginning to end, you’ll be struck with a pleasant and surprising lyrical conclusion. With detail, a healthy dose of sarcasm, and above all, class, Spektor brings a considerate, nuanced perspective to the table.