In September, Irish songwriter Hozier released the video for his gospel-inspired epic, “Take Me to Church,” a cavernous song that uses love and ecstasy as a religious metaphor. The video depicts two men’s gentle intimacy, followed by brutal gay-bashing at the hands of masked vigilantes against lyrics like, “I was born sick, but I love it / command me to be well / Amen. Amen. Amen.”
The song serves simultaneously as a message about human rights, a commentary about Hozier’s upbringing in what he calls a “cultural landscape that is blatantly homophobic,” and a strong statement about the institutional homophobia in Putin’s Russia. In the months since its release, the video has gone viral (and we’ve been playing it over and over) — bringing the 23-year-old artist into sharp focus.
Lyrically the song is one large metaphor comparing a lover to religion. The idea for “Take Me to Church” had been building in Hozier-Byrne’s mind for a while before he sat down at his piano in early 2013. “I had a chorus, then all the verse ideas I had been working on or had lying around for a year, they all just fell into place,” says the Irish singer-songwriter, who uses the stage name Hozier.
The song grew out of his frustration with the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality. “It would preach gender inequality or discrimination based on sexual orientation,” he says. “There’s a lot more you could take issue with, but the song is about asserting yourself away from that and finding a new thing to devote yourself to.”
The song’s “loose collection of visual ideas” set the worship of sensuality against what Hozier perceives as the church’s shrine of lies. The line “I was born sick, but I love it/Command me to be well” paraphrases 17th-century British poet Baron Brooke Fulke Greville’s Chorus Sacerdotum, a poem Hozier discovered after hearing philosopher Christopher Hitchens quote it during a debate. The song uses the Hitchens’ quote “I was born sick; command me to be well”.
Having penned such a potentially controversial song, Hozier says, “I imagined it’d go to a small audience for a large part of my career. So the way it took off was totally unexpected.”
In an interview with The Irish Times, Hozier stated, “I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment–if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes–everything you believed about yourself gone. In a death-and-rebirth sense.”
In an interview with New York magazine, he elaborated: “Sexuality, and sexual orientation – regardless of orientation – is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, 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.”
The Grammy-nominated Irish singer-songwriter says people assume he is gay because of his anti-Roman Catholic church anthem “Take Me To Church” and the anti-homophobia video which accompanies it. The song was written following a break-up with a girlfriend. The “Take Me To Church” video, which has attracted nearly 100 million YouTube views, depicts two men kissing before they are attacked by a homophobic mob.
The music video for “Take Me to Church” was directed by Brendan Canty and was released on September 25, 2013. The video, shot in grayscale on location at Inniscarra Dam in Cork, Ireland, follows the relationship between two men in a same-sex relationship and the violently homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men’s sexuality. Hozier himself does not appear in this video.
Hozier stated, “The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious [organizations] and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish, I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea.”
“Yes, people do make that assumption (that I am gay), which is fine, but for me I don’t think it’s the point, you know what I mean. It doesn’t come into it what my sexual orientation is,” Hozier told Reuters.
“Regardless of the sexual orientation behind a relationship, it is still a relationship and still love… So people are free to make any assumption they want, it’s grand,” he laughed.