Track Spotlight: Paradise Fears, “You to Believe In”


Full disclosure: Paradise Fears hail from my second hometown (Vermillion, SD), and their lead singer, Sam Miller, just happens to be the son of my pastor, mentor, and dear friend, whose influence on my life is probably the single biggest reason I’m at seminary right now. So my love for them might be construed as mere parochialism.

But while it’s true that I became aware of the band because of their “hometown hero” status back in Verm-Town U.S.A., I’ve come to love them on their own terms. Especially since Sam might be the best preacher I know, with the sole possible exception of his dad. He and Paradise Fears write, in their own words, “songs that matter.” They tackle big spiritual questions like “Who am I?” and “How do I/should I relate to others?” and “What is our purpose in life?” and “Why do I/others suffer?” and “What sustains me in times of sadness and doubt?” And (also not unlike his dad) he manages to address those questions without resorting to sloppy, all-too-often alienating God-language. I know Sam (albeit not as well as I know the rest of his family), and I don’t even know that he’d consider himself particularly religious. But he’s posing the very same questions that religion exists to address, and doing it more authentically and less cringe-inducing-ly than any contemporary “religious” musician I’m aware of.

“You to Believe In” could be mistaken for a Christian rock song if you weren’t paying attention. The bridge, where the protagonist refuses to “pray to celebrities” or “find faith in TV screens,” certainly seems like an implicit statement of faith in something else – the “you” of the title, the one who “grabbed my hand and pulled me up… poured my soul into a cup until it runneth over.” Sounds like the personal God of many a Christian radio staple, right down to the Biblical language. The Almighty even gets name-checked in the chorus: “When it feels like I’m nothing, you’re there, and, God, well, at least that’s something.” That would be to ignore the second verse, however:

Some people have their faith
I don’t what to think
‘Cause if there’s something guiding us,
Then why am I still drawing blanks?

Our protagonist may not be able to find meaning in the belief in a higher power (at least in any traditional sense). As the video makes even clearer, the “you” he can believe in isn’t God – it’s other people, maybe one specific person. It reminds me of something Joss Whedon said a couple years ago about humanism (over and against traditional notions of religion):

Faith is something we [humanists] have to embrace. Faith in God is believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers.

To quote another song that’s Very Important to me: “I believe in friends and laughter and the wonders love can do, I believe in songs and magic – and that’s why I believe in you.” That’s all the credo I need, really. Because, for all the proof to the contrary, there are plenty of reasons to believe in humanity too – and Paradise Fears help me do precisely that.

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5 Responses to Track Spotlight: Paradise Fears, “You to Believe In”

  1. Katlyn Hawke says:

    A Paradise Fears’ post, including a Joss Whedon reference…. you are my favorite person in the world right now 🙂

    • Tom Emanuel says:

      Thanks! 😀 I worked at Sam’s dad’s church in Vermillion for two years, and like I said in the post, he’s the reason I’m at seminary now – so the Miller family are kind of a big deal in my life. They KILLED it at their San Francisco show too a couple weeks ago.

  2. Katlyn Hawke says:

    Ah! That’s so exciting! I love how you said Sam knows how to “preach.” There’s something about his words and his passion towards people and life that’s just so invigorating. The first time I met him I was absolutely mesmerized by the way he talked. He really met the things he said… he really believed it. Although I was super naive back in 2011, the first time I met him, his words and the band’s music was what I always turned to in the darkest of times since then… Lately things have been really great, except for one aspect of my life, and I finally got to meet him again last night (they killed it last night, too!), and I simply feel so much more at ease about everything. It’s really great how powerful positive thinking can be when dreamers color the world. I can’t imagine how incredible his dad’s words and ideas must be, as well. If it was feasible to drive from Wisconsin to South Dakota to here him talk and not seem super creepy, I would do it.

    • Tom Emanuel says:

      Haha, I hear you. If you knew his dad, you’d know where Sam gets his positivity and–you are completely right–his belief in every word he sings. I’m always interested how people who DIDN’T live in Vermillion, SD (i.e., most of the world) became familiar with the boys. They must’ve been opening for somebody on tour back in ’11?

      • Katlyn Hawke says:

        I don’t even remember the concert I was at, but he was there just trying to sell CDs and promote the band… they weren’t even playing actually! Last night was the first time since then that I’ve been able to make it to a show. I haven’t went to a concert since 2012, but when I heard about them coming to MN the weekend before my birthday I had to do it. He’s so inspirational… I can’t get over it.

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