Young stars paved way for ‘Yes’ vote

Hozier's "Take Me to Church" is not a typical pop song.

By Colleen Taylor

The continued, international elation inspired by Ireland’s passing of the Referendum last week calls for some musical reflection. It’s both exciting and moving to recall the various musical responses to the issues of gay rights in Ireland—music that has become increasingly public within the past couple years. In particular, I want to revisit the incredibly lyric, powerful music made by young Irish artists Hozier and SOAK, who not only helped to make marriage equality a more present concern in the popular Irish mindset, but also gave the politics a gorgeous, profound soundtrack.

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It’s astounding to think “Take Me to Church,” which was self-produced by Wicklow-native Hozier in Ireland just last year, is now one of Ryan Seacrest’s most played tracks and one of America’s most recognizable Top 40 hits. “Take Me to Church” is not the typical run-of-the-mill pop song you hear on most radio stations. Rather, it’s a poetic, soulful, haunting song displaying emotional depth and artistic creativity. The music video that accompanies this single is equally provocative, explicitly tackling the issues of sexual repression and gay rights. The music video has been cited as one of the year’s most popular internationally, and it boasts over 40 million views. The low notes and powerful vocals that blend in “Take Me to Church” give sardonic sound to heartache of frustrated love, all the while maintaining a hypnotic and inspired rhythm.

Hozier has been very vocal about his song’s subject matter, explaining in an interview for New York Magazine that “Take Me to Church” is about reclaiming humanity and sexuality, especially in an Irish context, where he himself felt the effects of a “cultural hangover” of “shame about sexual orientation.” His music video references homophobia in Russia particularly and recent attacks on LGBTQ youth. Hozier explains on behalf of his song that it’s not just about gay rights, but that his music is about “human rights” issues. No doubt the song and video will experience an epilogue-like resurgence in popularity now that marriage equality has been officially legislated in Ireland. On the 23rd, when the news hit the presses, Hozier tweeted: “The pure joy of it. I’m so proud of Ireland today.”

Bridie Monds-Watson, the young singer from Derry, catapulted onto the music scene at age 16. She has accomplished her growing success in an admirable “do-it-yourself” way, with her mother doubling as her manager. Monds-Watson, or “SOAK” as she entitles her artistic persona, is the real deal. While her music is impressive in its own right, it’s her young age that makes the sophistication and maturity of her work all the more outstanding.

SOAK is the real deal.

This quick musical success is likely tied to the fact that, with regard to her personal life, Monds-Watson had to grow up fast. She came out to her parents at age 14. It seems adolescent hardship accelerated her maturation into her current edgy, androgynous style, and most importantly, her maturation into an emotionally intelligent and expressive artist.

While SOAK’s 2012 EP, “Sea Creatures” is folksy and quiet, her more recent “Blud” (2015) is more alternative, daring, brooding, and arguably more personal for the young gay singer. It is this understanding of musical refinement and youthful challenges that makes SOAK a phenomenal musician as well as a perceptive young spokesperson for Irish teens, particularly LGBTQ youth. Still, Monds-Watson doesn’t like being quizzed by the press about her sexuality; she’d rather have her music do the talking. Nevertheless, when SOAK heard the Referendum news, she proudly re-tweeted her “Yes Equality” photo and wrote, “There are tears in my eyes.”

Ireland and SOAK will be celebrating together these next few weeks. The artist’s timing seems fortuitous: with the passing of the Referendum comes the Irish release of SOAK’s new album, “Before We Forgot How to Dream” (out on June 1). There will be more in “Music Notes” about SOAK’s latest record in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for my review of the young artist’s latest work.

In the meantime, enjoy currently available releases and music videos from Hozier and SOAK. Finally, if you happen to be in Dublin and in the mood for celebration, pop by one of the city’s most exciting new music halls and gay clubs, “Mother” off of Dame Street. Each weekend at Mother means a vibrant night of dance and the country’s latest in electro music and DJ’ing.

In Ireland, political history and music have always had a strong bond, and in 2015, this momentous event in global history is no exception. Ireland’s contemporary music can be heard as the Referendum’s pre-cursor and no doubt the legislation will inspire even more poignant musical replies.

Colleen Taylor is the “Music Notes” columnist for the Irish Echo.