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The Terrible Things Your Christmas Music Is Saying About You

Get out.
Get out.

Look, I should probably start with myself. The only Christmas music I listen to every year comes on Bing Crosby's White Christmas, featuring the Andrews Sisters and Carol Richards. From that an FBI profiler would be able to judge that I'm a white male, late 20s-early 30s, with a large collection of screwball comedy DVDs, at least one biography of Frank Capra, and a latent desire to be Chevy Chase in a Vacation movie, ideally not European or Vegas.

Your Christmas music diet is no less revealing. What follows is a kind of Christmas horoscope, with all due apologies to people whose particular tastes have been elided.

Pop stars: I'm not entirely sure you exist anymore.

Back in the '90s you went dutifully to the store every December 3rd or 4th and picked up an album by Mariah Carey or Boyz II Men or some other basically family-friendly pop act. Now there are no family-friendly pop acts, and if Ke$ha has produced a Christmas album I am literally begging you not to tell me about it. Nobody in the current pop firmament, country crossovers like Taylor Swift excepted, is especially eager to give off a vibe that says "I absolutely did not spend last Christmas at a club with a bunch of half-naked women named after reindeer."

Country stars: You bought pop star Christmas albums back in the '90s. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is cute enough but "Santa Baby" is really kind of gross, if you're being honest.

Because traditional pop stars have vacated this market steel guitars and southern accents have gradually joined sleigh bells on the list of inherently Christmasy sounds―pretty soon people will not even hear them as "country" so long as the pickup truck has a layer of snow on it. We're on our way to a radical realignment of our idea of Christmas music, and only Mariah Carey can stop it.

 

Frank Sinatra: You gave yourself a nickname in high school, and the nickname was something like "Dead-Eye" or "Slim" or "Slats," and you watched yourself play blues harp in the mirror with your trilby―Hey, Daddy-o, it's not a fedora, all right?―and you called your harmonica "blues harp."

There is nothing wrong with any of this, and there's nothing wrong with the three quarter-empty tubes of Brylcreem in your childhood medicine cabinet. A certain class of single 17-year-old male just hits a point where all the only possible roles they see modeled among their peers are friendless nerd and EDM bro―it was nu-metal bro when this happened to me, but times change―and decides that the only possible response is to opt out entirely and emulate a much older, not-fully-understood model of coolness, when Men Were Men.

The result is a goofy sort of cargo-cult man, with all the straight-razor and hot-rod trappings of an old-timey photo with none of the ambition or charm or whatever that actually defined the men he's emulating. Usually all this passes once the doppel-Sinatra realizes he is not a fantastically wealthy and mob-connected singer, and that those facts probably had something to do with the way the dames reacted when he called them dames. (10 years later I mostly just love the Marx Brothers.)

 

Punk Goes Christmas compilation albums: You are neither all the way punk nor all the way Christmas, but your car has an "I missed my ex... But my aim is improving!" sticker on it and your friends always tell you you could be a standup comic, really, the way you're so irreverent.

And some of this stuff is just serious enough about Christmas that you're in a seasonal mood just in time for your white elephant party, so it's okay, even if they made "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" about stalking a lady at the Buy and Bye.

 

Put the Christ back in Christmas music: I sympathize with you, because a lot of explicitly secular Christmas music is hokey and awful and many of the hymns every new Goo Goo Dolls version of "Jingle Bell Rock" is pushing out are moving and beautiful.

It only gets unnerving when you listen to the classics to the exclusion of everything that reads as Christmas to everybody else. Jesus is the reason for the season, but the season has taken on a life of its own that is culturally a pretty big deal. It probably won't kill you to drop "Winter Wonderland" between "Adeste Fidelis" and "Faith of Our Fathers."

Novelty Christmas Songs: Ray Stevens and Dr. Distorto thank you for your continue patronage. Grandma getting run over by a reindeer went from tragic accident to goofy singalong under your watch, and your scientists have used supercomputers to uncover every possible dirty variation of the lyrics to "Joy to the World."

But novelty songs are sometimes made, not born. Your people have reclaimed Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," passed around samizdat copies of Weezer's "Christmas Celebration," and are even now on the lookout for David Hasselhoff and Frank Stallone recordings of "Away in a Manger."

It's a difficult job, and thankless. But when office parties run aground―when more grist for small-talk is the difference between life and death―you're the one stepping into the breech and saying, "Don't worry, this is ridiculous."

 

Christmas music sucks: You are the second-worst. Stipulated: Lots of Christmas music is terrible. Lots of Christmas culture and maybe your own Christmas past is joyless and perfunctory, red and green bows and gritted-teeth smiles on a day off from work. But reflexive Christmas music haters are often no less tradition-bound than their Christmas-loving nemeses, their arguments and counter-arguments about the holiday and the spirit thereof present in nearly every adaptation of A Christmas Carol ever filmed. There are no new arguments against Christmas music, only old ones with new mad-libbed proper nouns for Insincere Sentiment and Aging Pop Star.

There's no need to actually enjoy Christmas music, especially the new stuff and especially before Thanksgiving. But building your self-identity around hating something that makes a lot of people really happy and content in the world seems no saner than tearing up during "Silent Night."

Ying Yang Twins: You are the worst.

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