In a time where thousands of voices are vying for our attention, Hillsong youth band Young & Free are cutting through the noise to draw people to God with their new singles Best Friends and Never Have I Ever.
Recorded live at their annual Summer Camp, Best Friends is a declaration against distraction, and as songwriter and singer Aodhan King says, it captures the cry of a generation longing for truth.
Opening with the lines, “I don’t want to be on my phone but I can’t be alone/Welcome to the modern way/Trying to be somebody I’m not but it’s not what I want/Tell me there’s another way”, it’s an expression of a familiar struggle.
“Personally I can identify with my phone controlling a lot of my life,” Aodhan said, “and it’s a huge distraction as well as an amazing tool to reach people. I think it’s really easy for us to be misguided by our phones, and be distracted from the things that are good an important… and find our value in the things that are said about us on there.
“…with [Best Friends] we want to say, ‘this is the way the world is going, but as Christians we’re called to be set apart’. For us [the song] felt like a confession for our youth group – we want the truth, we want to go another way, and we’re all in this together, we’re not doing it alone.”
Songs For the Gathering
Four years since their Grammy nomination for Youth Revival and seven years since their debut, Young & Free’s new music shows how much they’ve grown up since the early days.
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“I think there’s a sense of maturity and life experience that’s come since the beginning”, said singer Renee Sieff. “Back then a lot of the song writers were writing from what they know, and [our new stuff] is very genuine, and what we want to listen to. It’s what we want to sing and what we want to declare over the youth.”
“When we started Young & Free,” Aodhan adds, “we’d just come out of being students and we had a real excitement about that [on We Are Y&F]… then our last album [III] was very introspective, and this one is all about an appreciation for gathering… we’ve written songs that aren’t ‘ours’ but that the youth can take [for themselves].”
Adjusting to Worship in Lockdown
Like many churches around the world, ‘gathering’ has looked different for Young & Free as they record online services for Hillsong congregations. But, they say it’s only deepened their appreciation for rallying with others to worship Jesus.
“You definitely miss the power of coming together [in lockdown],” said Aodhan, “…But I’ve been loving the intentionality of creating a service during the week for Sunday.
“You start to realise what’s important and you can’t feed off the energy of a crowd; what you’re doing needs to be genuine enough that it’s engaging and points people to Jesus without being hype… that’s been something that I’ve been thinking about a lot.”
Renee says she’s learned, “That you don’t need other people to worship… I think I already knew that, but it’s definitely been solidified now.”
Over the years the group have also grown in friendship, and credit their solidarity for how well they lead as a band.
Guitarist Ben Tan said, “We all grew up together, so I feel like our whole team are best friends. [A good friendship] is about kindness, joy and trust. Knowing you can rely on someone no matter what.”
“The saying that, ‘if you show me your 5 closest friends I’ll show you your future’ is so true,” said Aodhan. “We have to be intentional with the friendships that we choose to foster and be a part of, because a best friend is someone that’s meant to spur you on, and sharpen you… I know for sure that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this team and my best friends.”
On Life After Lockdown
Looking ahead to life after lockdown Aodhan says he hopes we’ll all still be as authentic in our friendships online as we have in the pandemic.
“Because you can only connect online [right now] it feels much more genuine then it ever has before,” said Aodhan, “… and I like that. I hope it doesn’t go back to the way it was before. I hope that when we can see each other in person the online connections still stay as authentic as they are now.
“…A genuine connection to community is so important… For our young people we’re trying to create those online forums and connections, but there’s no substitute or replacement for sitting with you friends… I hope when we come back we appreciate the significance of that.”
As everyone grapples with the aftereffects of the coronavirus crisis and the uncertainty that it brings, the band have a clear message for the youth they speak to:
“Seek God and love Him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5),” said Renee. “There’s a lot of things that don’t make sense right now in the world – and it’s OK to ask questions, but I pray that they choose to follow Jesus and desire what He wants for them in their future and their life.”
Aodhan adds, “The only thing that we have right now is our ability to trust God. I would say to young people: trust God and know that He has a plan for you. This time is so unique… and it’s such an opportunity to stop and reset, and consider what your priorities are, and what you’ve been spending too much time doing – and hear what God’s calling us to. ‘Be open to the voice of God’ – that’s the practical advice I’d give young people.”
Young & Free’s Best Friends and Never Have I Ever are available now.