Big-voiced Irish solo artist Andrew Hozier Byrne, better known as Hozier, first created a stir when he posted this track in September 2013. The song reached #1 on the Irish iTunes singles chart and #2 in the official Irish singles chart.
Lyrically the song is one large metaphor comparing a lover to religion.
"Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life."
Speaking with The Irish Times, Hozier said about matters of the heart: "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."
Hozier attracted further attention with the release of the song's Brendan Canty directed music video, which criticizes the repression of gay people in Russia. "Growing up in Ireland, the church is always there – the hypocrisy, the political cowardice," Hozier told Billboard magazine. "The video has the same theme – an organization that undermines humanity."
Written in the wake of a breakup with his first girlfriend, this is both a love song and a contemplation of sin, drawing influence from the late atheist writer Christopher Hitchens. Hozier described it to The Guardian as, "a bit of a losing your religion song."
The line "I was born sick, but I love it. Command me to be well" was inspired by Elizabethan dramatist Fulke Greville's 1554 poem Chorus Sacerdotum, that speaks of mankind being "created sick, commanded to be sound."
Hozier explained the song's meaning to The Cut: "Sexuality, and sexual orientation - regardless of orientation - is just natural," he said. "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."
Hozier added that the song is not an attack on faith. "Coming from Ireland, obviously, there's a bit of a cultural hangover from the influence of the church. You've got a lot of people walking around with a heavy weight in their hearts and a disappointment, and that s--t carries from generation to generation," he explained. "So the song is just about that - it's an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile. Electing, in this case a female, to choose a love who is worth loving."
Hozier generated some heat stateside after performing the song on Saturday Night Live. Though the singer grew up in Ireland, he told Grantland that playing the American television show was "a massive, massive deal" for him. He explained: "My father introduced me to The Blues Brothers when I was very, very young. And Saturday Night Live - that’s where they started. I’m very, very aware of that."
This song was featured in a popular 2014 commercial for Beats wireless headphones
. The spot shows NBA superstar LeBron James returning to his hometown of Akron, Ohio and remembering his childhood years. James had recently returned to the local NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he started his pro career. A voiceover says, "don't ever forget where you came from" while this song plays in the background, emphasizing the intractable bond between James and the city.
Ring those bells: This song is the highest-charting tune in the Hot 100's history with the word 'church' in its title. Culture Club's "Church of the Poison Mind," which peaked at #10 in 1983, was the previous best.
This was 2014's most-streamed track globally on Spotify. The song was streamed over 87 million times during the year on the service.
Hozier performed this at the Grammy Awards in 2015, where it was nominated for Song of the Year (Sam Smith won for "Stay With Me
"). Toward the end of the song, he was joined by Annie Lennox, who sang with him before going into a rousing rendition of "I Put A Spell On You
Hozier recorded his vocals in his attic at 3 a.m. one January morning in 2013. "We re-recorded bits around it, " he said, "but I boshed the vocals in for my laptop."
Hozier told the story of the song to Q magazine: "I'd been working on the lyrics for a long time," he said. "I always have ideas for songs for ages. So I sat down at the piano and hammered out something and then found a chorus and those lyrics just fell into place."
The song topped the charts in several countries, including Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. However it fell just short on many tallies, peaking at #2 in Hozier's home country of Ireland, Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, UK and US.
Hozier sings at the start of the song:
My lover's got humour
She's the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody's disapproval
I should've worshipped her sooner
Asked during a Reddit AMA what it means to be the giggle at a funeral, Hozier replied: "Have you ever burst your s--t laughing at Church? I think it's something that all Irish people have experienced at some point. There's a unique, wonderful aspect to an expression of irreverence in the face of what should be reverential."