Here’s the gospel truth: contemporary Christian music — or “CCM” for short — has had its share of clunkers. I’m talking about vapid, schmaltzy drivel that would make true musicophiles, even among the faithful, flinch or retch or worse.

As a longtime adventurer in Christian and gospel music, and as someone for whom Jesus is more than just alright, it pains me to say so. Because if anyone’s jam should be supersonic, contagious and inclusive, it should be Jesus’s.

But as with every other genre of music on the planet, one person’s life-altering Top 40 smash can make someone else’s skin crawl. And it’s been this way since the dawn of time. That creepy country tune from the ’70s your Aunt Delores plays on repeat in her Cadillac is cringe material for anyone under 40 (it sure is for me).

The point being: when it sucks, it doesn’t suck because it’s religious, no more than it would suck because it’s screamo or doo-wop or some other adjective that gives you pause. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

Truth be told, the line between the secular and sacred is razor-thin. Some would argue there is no line at all. And you don’t have to be a Jesus fan to believe that today’s Christian music is actually quite good. In fact, you don’t have to believe at all to appreciate its brightest flashes of brilliance. Here are nine stereotype-shattering reasons why:

 


Check out Today’s Christian Hits on Pandora for even more uplifting, faith-focused summer tunes.


 

The New Respects“Before The Sun Goes Down”

Sashaying into the room with a thumping bass groove, the (all female-fronted) New Respects will make you wonder which decade you’re in. They’re the love children of Michael Jackson, Brittany Howard and Lenny Kravitz. Run, don’t walk, to every song they’ve recorded, and for God’s sake, go see them live.

 

Lauren Daigle“You Say”

Vocal comparisons to Adele aside, the singer’s first single, a ballad from her forthcoming album Look Up Child, is both simple and stunning. Piano, strings, percussion and a well-placed choir allow the lyrics — about the value of a child of God — and Daigle’s vocals to shine.

 

Needtobreathe — “Forever On Your Side (with JOHNNYSWIM)”

Southern rock with a soul-folk twist. The brothers Rinehart deliver the best “I got your back” singalong anthem since 2014’s “Brother.”

 

Koryn Hawthorne“Unstoppable”

Hawthorn’s personal power anthem will propel you out of bed, through that first espresso and whatever else is coming at you. Season 8 of The Voice was only the beginning.

 

Aaron Cole“Off My Back”

He’s been recording since the age of four, but there’s a reason why, at age 19, Aaron Cole’s day has come: he’s woke and has all the special sauce. “Off My Back” is as real and hopeful as rap can get in 2018.

 

Derek Minor, Propaganda & Tobe Nwigwe — “Fallen”

“If we’re fallen, why you follow?” If Liz Vice’s harmonic perfection doesn’t get you, this song’s cultural truth will nail you to the wall. Produced by Derek Minor, the collaborative gem is simultaneously so cool and so hot, summer is finding itself confused. But you won’t be.

 

for KING & COUNTRY“joy.”

First off, xylophone. Secondly, the gospel choir punctuation on the chorus. The Grammy-winning Smallbone brothers deliver a true pop gem with so many interesting facets, it smashes the CCM template. Whatever your spiritual leanings, everyone can relate to the message here: slow down and choose truth, positivity and joy.

 

Chris Howland“Keep Me” (feat. Austin Sebak & Sarah Juers)

A fusion of hip-hop and R&B wrapped in a fine pop jacket, “Keep Me” is the latest from Chris Howland, a New Jersey artist and producer making some of the most compelling Christian music around. A super-chill vibe perfect for summer and beyond.

 

Austin French“Good Feeling”

Best known as a finalist on Rising Star, this former worship pastor knows a convertible song when he hears it. And you will, too. Soulful, contagious, danceable — take this one to the gym if you need that extra push.