Fans of late Canadian singer Leonard Cohen are pleading for his classic hit ‘Hallelujah’ to no longer be played at memorials and other somber events due to the ballad’s sexual undertones after it was performed at a COVID-19 memorial this week on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The famous song – which contains several biblical references – has been widely regarded as a spiritual hymn and has become a popular choice to sing at funeral and memorial services since its release in 1984.
Most recently, ‘Hallelujah’ was performed as a tribute to the 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 at a national memorial service led by Biden in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris silently stood along their respective spouses as gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang two verses of the song outside the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris stood alongside their spouses as they paid tribute to the 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 at a national memorial service Tuesday
Gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang two verses of Leonard Cohen’s classic hit, Hallelujah at Tuesday’s COVID-19 memorial
The performance however drew criticism on social media with viewers saying the song has been widely misunderstood and it is not a hymn
The performance however, left some viewers cringing over the broad misinterpretation of the lyrics, while others questioned why a song riddled with sexual references was performed at such an event.
While the lyrics make biblical references to King David – a prominent figure in Judaism and Christianity – they are also centered on lust, and his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, which Cohen appears to compare to his own.
The song also appears to question the existence of God, contradicting the popular belief that the tune is intended to be a hymn.
The religious references throughout the lyrics, coupled with a slow and melancholic melody, however, has led many to misinterpret the song over the years and strip it of its true, sexual meaning.
Tuesday’s performance sparked a discussion on Twitter, particularly among the Jewish community – as Cohen was Jewish – who urged people to analyze the song’s rather inappropriate lyrics.
‘Wait why are they singing Hallelujah at the COVID memorial? Y’all. Stop. Just … stop,’ one user said on Twitter.
‘Idk who needs to hear this but Hallelujah is a song about Jews clapping cheeks and questioning the existence of hashem [God]’ said another.
‘Not that it isn’t nice to see those in power show some pathos for all the people who have died from Covid, but I’m starting to suspect that no one knows what “Hallelujah” is actually about,’ film critic Lindsay Ellis added.
Some users however, pointed out that Adams’s rendition only consisted of two verses which she altered slightly to fit the tone.
Rather than sing the original second verse, which begins with ‘Maybe there’s a God above’, she sang: ‘I know there is a God above.’
One Jewish user, identified only as SwordGirlNation, argued that the song’s misinterpretation is a result of appropriation by Christians.
‘Yes, Christians, all Jewish people make fun of you when you sing the song about Jewish sex to celebrate your holidays and commemorate your lost. All of us. Now how does it feel to be on the outside?!’ she said in a now-viral tweet.
‘Christians are mad about this but it’s probably because they’re weird about sex AND Jews and the entire basis of their religion is centered around whether or not two Jews had sex,’ she added.
While musical critics have interpreted the song for its true meaning in the past, ‘Hallelujah’ has also been adapted over the years by various artists, including Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright.
Tuesday’s performance also comes months after the song was played at the Republican National Convention.
The use of song however, resulted in legal threats by Cohen’s estate, which accused the GOP of trying to politicize the song.
A recording of ‘Hallelujah’ by Tori Kelly was played during a fireworks display at the August event that followed President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech for the Republican nomination.
A second, more operatic version, was performed on camera by American tenor Christopher Macchio.
Cohen’s estate said in a statement that it was ‘surprised and dismayed’ the song had been used, saying it had specifically denied the RNC’s request to do so.
It said it was exploring legal options and called the RNC’s decision a ‘rather brazen attempt to politicize and exploit in such an egregious manner ‘Hallelujah’, one of the most important songs in the Cohen song catalogue.’
Cohen, who was brought up in Montreal but lived in California late in his life, died in 2016 at the age of 82.
He began his career a poet before branching out into music – reluctantly at first -writing some of his generation’s most reflective songs, including the spiritual ‘Hallelujah’.
LEONARD COHEN’S HALLELUJAH LYRICS
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor falls, the major lifts
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Well, maybe there’s a God above
As for me all I’ve ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
But it’s not a crime that you’re hear tonight
It’s not some pilgrim who claims to have seen the Light
No, it’s a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah
Well people I’ve been here before
I know this room and I’ve walked this floor
You see I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
But listen love, love is not some kind of victory march, no
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And I remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove she was moving too
And every single breath we drew was Hallelujah
Now I’ve done my best, I know it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come here to London just to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song
With nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah