February 21, 2024

New Fury Media

Music. Gaming. Nostalgia. Culture.

Skillet’s transformation has entered its next evolution – and it’s causing a rift in their fanbase

Believe it or not, there was actually a time where Skillet used to write songs about Jesus Christ (presumably, but also could be applied to a person) being “better than drugs”, or even an anti-suicide // pro-mental health message in “The Last Night”. Both of these songs could be found on their 2006 album Comatose, which was by far their most successful album to that point. With an overarching message of hope and unity and a rock sound that was relevant with the times, the record ended up earning Skillet quite a few Grammy nominations – which also resulted in their crossover success to a mainstream market. Something that was hinted towards on their previous album Collide, but fully realized with a major label release.

With Comatose‘s success, though, there was only one way this was all likely to go for Skillet – and that’s hitting the mainstream rock market harder than almost any previous Christian rock band did. The success is hard to deny, and the numbers don’t lie (ironically, despite Cooper’s appearances on NewsMax and constant flirtations and embraces of far-right culture war reactionaries like Candace Owens). Starting with Awake and ending with 2016’s Unleashed (with Rise smack in the middle), Skillet had a three album run where each album peaked at least at the #4 mark on the Billboard 200 – gaining Skillet more of an audience in the secular world than they ever had in the solely Christian market.

The controversy and backlash absolutely doesn’t end there, though. Recently, John Cooper released his second book called Wimpy, Weak And Woke. With a title that sounds like it was created from a Fox News version of ChatGPT, adding this into the tacit endorsement of far-right wing provocateur Candace Owens doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of goodwill from a healthy chunk of their fanbase. In fact, much like the band’s socials every time there’s some sort of controversy surrounding Skillet, every time John Cooper mentions the book (seriously, we’ve heard the word “woke” from Cooper more than Florida governor Ron DeSantis has uttered it at this point), he and Skillet lose fans at seemingly every turn.

The criticisms vary from light to extremely harsh, with many now-former fans of the band noting that Skillet actually used to cultivate an audience and a fanbase that was full of the rejected, the misfits, and the outcasts at church. Kind of like that Jesus Christ guy, but Jesus would probably be too “woke” for this crown. After all, helping the poor and loving all regardless of gender identity or nationality aren’t radical concepts.

These “tacit endorsements” we mentioned, though, are no longer vague. In fact, Cooper is now promoting the book towards – you guessed it – every right-wing and far-right media outlet you can imagine. Fox News? Of course. Newsmax? Obviously. 2020 election denier Eric Metaxas’ radio show? Shocker. It’s actually pretty ironic that despite the word “truth” being at the forefront of his podcast and new book, he chooses to have right-wing conspiracy theorists like Eric Metaxas on his podcast. Metaxas still doesn’t accept the election results from 2020, and once punched an anti-Trump protester in the head because his yelling made Metaxas feel “threatened”. Perhaps cozying up to media personalities who deny the statistical results directly in front of their eyes isn’t the best idea.

The only thing more wimpy, weak, and woke than Skillet’s discography since 2009 is actually titling your book the same way. It’s sad, because there was a point in time where John Cooper specifically, at their live shows, used to preach an overarching message of unity and not judging others. Those platitudes have now been replaced by doubling down hard on the (profitable) grift and pulling back on the concerns about social injustices, discrimination, and addiction issues that much of their fanbase could relate to. Considering that is basically the definition of “woke” – and that’s also what Jesus Christ himself preached – utilizing these buzzwords and slogans will only cause a greater rift in their fanbase.

The thing is, none of these statements or fancy right-wing book tours are going to get Skillet “canceled”. It didn’t really happen with Staind, either. Currently on tour with Saint Asonia and Theory Of A Deadman, it doesn’t appear Skillet’s crowds are dwindling to any discernible extent. Their streaming statistics (8 million monthly on Spotify alone) and album sales (one RIAA 2x Platinum album, one RIAA Platinum album, and two RIAA Gold albums) consistently put them in as a band that consistently draws thousands of fans to almost any city they play. But there’s a sizable problem here, actually, there are many.

Rewind to two decades ago, where the words “Skillet” and “RIAA Gold Record” (together) were basically a pipe dream. Much of Skillet’s early fanbase, especially in the years before their breakthrough on Comatose, was based on bringing together traditionally overlooked sectors of young people – both in and out of the church. You know, those who may have been bullied, were poor, and/or came from backgrounds where the church often ignored their needs. Making people feel included as part of a larger group is a great way to build a fanbase or even a movement, where they have something in common (in this case, music) despite various socioeconomic and nationality differences. How do I, the writer, know this? I was there when it happened.

When you rail against the fans that you once inspired, the likelihood of drawing in new fans is also less likely. While they’re certainly a band with more staying power than virtual one-hit wonder Trapt, cozying up to far-right conspiracy theorists doesn’t usually have a great end result. And sooner or later, the criticism will escalate to a point where it’s tough to ignore it completely. By driving a wedge between his band’s fanbase in pursuit of whatever “Republican Jesus” is teaching, Cooper may have already caused Skillet to reach a tipping point where the band’s fanbase is almost primarily the right-wing/far-right Religious Right, and not operating as musicians whose primary mission it was to reach those who were, well, “different”.

There’s absolutely nothing “weak” or “wimpy” about being poor, about being hungry and thirsty, and those who call for peace instead of endless bombings and wars. It’s literally in the Beatitudes. And you know what? They’d probably call this “woke”, too. Actually, they definitely would.

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