Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, and she said that she had listened to a song and it reminded her of me. When she mentioned the song, “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles, my reply was something like, “I love that song!” As is the case with many songs, this particular tune, which I sing along to whenever I hear it, reminds of me a particular place and time. It happens to be a song that takes me back to trips driving up and down a particular road in a particular city on the way to pot lucks and volleyball practice. To be sure, it is a song that has a great deal of personal relevance to me, and it is one that I have pondered writing about now for several months, but for personal reasons I was not sure that the song was appropriate to comment on in the personal aspects of this song to me until it became obvious to me that other people thought of this song as particularly applicable to me.
It is a particular pattern of the career of Sara Bareilles so far that each of her albums has had a top 40 hit on the Billboard 100 and a couple of singles that do not chart on the main chart but that find success in the Adult Contemporary and related charts. “Brave” happened to be the first single from her fourth album, “The Blessed Unrest,” and it peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 late last year . The song has attracted some worthy criticism for two reasons. One of the reasons is what qualifies as manufactured drama, in that the song sounds very close to Katy Perry’s hit “Roar,” which led to accusations of plagiarism. Bareilles, wisely, has refused to get involved in that aspect of drama, wisely recognizing that as Katy Perry is extremely successful, any association between her work and Perry’s, both of which are oriented to contemporary hit radio, is likely to benefit both artists.
The second aspect of criticism for the song is more just. According to Sara Bareilles , the song was written (with the help of a member of .fun) explicitly in honor of someone who struggled with coming out as a homosexual. It is something I greatly lament that the virtue of bravery is attached to those who view living in sin as the cause for a civil rights anthem. As might be imagined, I am someone who considers openness and honesty about our struggles to be a matter of great importance. Yet in songs like this one , there appears to be a deliberate attempt to smuggle in genuine Christian virtues like love and courage to support a lifestyle that does not involve any sort of moral struggle, but rather only the political struggle against those who call sin a sin. A song like this may be appreciated in some meanings readings, but any honest appreciation of its worth must also recognize that the song’s original purposes are themselves immoral and illegitimate. The fact that I can relate to the song in at least some ways also suggests that bravery ought not to be confined only to those who wish to legitimize sexual sins, although there is plenty of room on that bus.
The first verse of “Brave” goes as follows: “You can be amazing, / You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug. / You can be the outcast / Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love, / Or you can start speaking up. / Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do / When they settle ‘neath your skin. / Kept on the inside and no sunlight, / Sometimes a shadow wins / But I wonder what would happen if you…” As originally intended, this song considers moral speech to be a weapon and considers those who are turned into outcasts because of their sins to be victims of hate. Likewise, the song confuses morality with hatred, and connects bravery with immoral political speech. None of this is brave at all, as there is little in this world that is easier to do than to speak up on behalf of certain types of immorality. It is far braver to wrestle against sin than it is to speak on its behalf. Nevertheless, if we take this song away from its original context, then it can mean something very praiseworthy, reminding us that we have the responsibility to speak out in defense of our lives and to live lives of moral courage and love regardless of how others and how others think . We have the responsibility to choose our words wisely and well and in a godly fashion.
The verse of this song goes right into the chorus without a break. The song has two choruses, but both of them are rather straightforward: “Say what you wanna say / And let the words fall out. / Honestly I wanna see you be brave / With what you want to say, / And let the words fall out. / Honestly I wanna see you be brave. / I just want to see you. / I just wanna see you. / I just wanna see you. / I wanna see you be brave [Second chorus x 2].” This song connects bravery with truth, and that is a fair connection. It is far better to be an honest sinner than to hide behind a mask and feign righteousness. Truthfully, none of us have any right to claim moral perfection in our own lives, as we stumble in many things. That said, our stumbles do not eliminate the moral standard by which all of us are held accountable. Our honesty about our struggles is not meant to defame the moral standard that we wish to defend (if we seek to defend our lives by pointing to ourselves as some kind of example as Christians, which this song does in a highly inconsistent but also typical way), but rather is meant to demonstrate the sins that we are prone to with the hope of receiving encouragement in moral behavior from others as well as accountability to avoid those situations and behaviors that lead us into danger. The bravery defended in this song is only superficial, desiring the freedom to sin, rather than the much greater freedom from sin that comes through honest confession, a change of one’s ways, and an acceptance of the standards of God’s righteousness and the gracious forgiveness that comes through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
The second verse of “Brave” continues in the same vein as the first: “Everybody’s been there, / Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy. / Fallen for the fear / And done some disappearing, / Bow down to the mighty. / Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue. / Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. / Maybe one of these days you can let the light in. / Show me how big your brave is.” Again, this verse associates bravery with the act of speech without considering the moral content of that speech (although it is certain that the singer would not consider all honest speech to be brave or moral, including speech that would defend godly standards of personal morality). Somewhat oddly, in light of the massive cultural and institutional power of immorality, this song associates the “mighty” with those who defend righteousness, rather than seeing the immoral present cultural elite as being bullies. It is strange that those who are bullies cast themselves as weak or victims in order to justify their own shrill behavior. Perhaps one day the singer, and those whom she sings on behalf of, can let the light of moral truth in, rather than seeking to justify moral darkness. All that needs to be done is to put the genuine and passionate desire for justice that these lyrics represent in service of the right moral standards.
The bridge of the song speaks very truthfully as follows: “And since your history of silence / Won’t do you any good, / Did you think it would? / Let your words be anything but empty / Why don’t you tell them the truth?” In the end, silence does not do us any good. There may be times when it is polite to be silent because it is not the time or the place for an argument, but ultimately speaking, we have to give an answer in defense of what we believe and the way we live. If that means we must fight with our own weaknesses and do battle against the powers of darkness in high places and a corrupt and decadent culture, sometimes it is necessary to point out where we stand and let the chips fall where they may. In that sense, while the singer/songwriters of this particular song and I are on different sides of the cultural conflict this song relates to, we both agree in the importance of integrity and being willing to stand up for our beliefs and to tell the truth about what is in our hearts and minds. Even with a great deal of disagreement, there is still some respect to be had for those who are honest, even if they are dead wrong.
 See, for example: