In less than a month, Justin Bieber’s song Holy has racked up more than 50 million views.
The figure itself isn’t too surprising. After all, the Canadian popstar has been at the top of music charts — and accumulating billions of YouTube views — for the past decade.
But unlike many of his hits, which usually reflect on relationship wins or woes, Holy is unflinchingly Christian, in both its lyrics and visuals.
According to Carl Morris, a lecturer in religion and culture at the University of Central Lancashire, the song Holy — which features fellow Christian Chance The Rapper — references two sacred sacraments.
“The narrative in the video is [you may] encounter difficulties in life, but marriage provides a rock and a source of support,” he says.
“And it’s the sacrament of marriage, which is holy in many respects.”
Dr Morris says the other Christian rite — which is reflected upon lyrically — is baptism.
“There are continual references to going down to the water and finding Christianity. Finding Jesus is the implication with that,” he points out.
Bieber himself wasn’t baptised in a river, but a far narrower body of water.
In 2014, Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz famously performed the sacred ritual for the musician in the bathtub of NBA player Tyson Chandler’s home.
“Evangelical charismatic baptism is critical for born-again Christians, people who find Christianity later in life,” Dr Morris explains.
Real spirituality, or a ploy to sell albums?
Daniel White Hodge, a professor in the arts department of Chicago’s North Park University, is more sceptical of overt religiosity in pop music.
“Are artists really doing this for artistic sake or are they just selling albums?” he asks.
“I would always, as a researcher, ask, ‘What’s going on here?’ if it’s too simplistic.”
Dr Hodge says there are many artists, including Tupac, Lauryn Hill and, more recently, Kendrick Lamar, who have wrestled with deeper spiritual themes — more than tokenistic nods — in their music.
But he explains that those artistic works are not always understood to have Christian references, because they don’t fit the traditional mold.
However, when it comes to Bieber’s collaborator, Chicago-born Chance The Rapper, Dr Hodge says he’s well-known in the community for his Christian acts, not just lyrics.