Saturday, December 29, 2012

Terribly Festive

So. Christmas music. It sure is bad nowadays, huh? Not anything like the good old classics you remember from when you were young. Those kids these days just don't know how to write a good Christmas song, do they? I find that a lot of what people choose to gripe about over the holidays is the mass amount of terrible Christmas songs that seem to find their way onto the radio this time of year. I personally have never really been able to see why this is, because, in my family, awful Christmas songs make up one of our most beloved traditions. See, I come from a family of musicians, which I feel has given me an appreciation for what distinguishes a good song from a bad song. Of course, I also grew up in a family of smart-alecks, which gave me an appreciation for why terrible songs are hilarious. When the Christmas season rolls around, we keep the radio on as often as we can, and when one of these songs comes on we all delight in singing along as awkwardly and off key as possible. It's reached the point where I start feeling giddy whenever something like, say Justin Bieber's enchanting little tune "Under the Mistletoe"comes on the radio. I can't help but get excited and sing terribly along with it. So I'm here now, as this current holiday season comes to a close, to share with you a few of the songs that are particularly special to me and my family.

Keep in mind that the definition of what makes a 'bad' Christmas song is very specific here. Most of us agree that those novelty Christmas songs that are trying to be funny are generally nothing but annoying, but that's not the sort of bad that I'm talking about here. What I mean are the songs that don't know they're bad. The songs that, for whatever reason, think they are so very touching or influential or inspirational and just fall very short of their mark. These are the songs that I love. So, without further ado, here are the terrible Christmas songs that are very near and dear to my heart. 

The first two on my list are the two I find the most tame, despite bringing out varying degrees of hate in the more cynical folk. I don't want to be too mean about them, as they are songs that a lot of very nice, intelligent people genuinely like. I'm sure a lot of these songs fall under that description. I like a lot of things  unironically that are generally considered 'bad', so I'm not in the business of making people feel bad about what they enjoy. That said... "The Christmas Shoes"...
This song is a tale of a man who isn't really feeling the Christmas spirit as he is out doing some last minute shopping until he encounters a young boy out trying to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother and learns the true meaning of Christmas. That's the general idea. Earlier this evening as I was working on this post, my father referred to this song as 'emotional blackmail'. And really, that's what it is. You can't not be  moved to tears by the plight of this poverty stricken young boy and his terminally ill mother unless you are the most terrible heartless person in the world. Why, even the Grinch himself would have an extra four or five sizes added on to his tiny heart by the heartfelt sincerity of the boy's plea. And that's why I think so many people hate it so much. Because it makes them feel uncomfortable about not liking it in the first place. And that is exactly why I love it. This song is basically threatening that if you roll your eyes at its sappiness, then you will be outcast from society for hating all that is good and not understanding the meaning of Christmas. This is enough to send the people who don't like it and don't know they're being blackmailed into a frothing rage, sending them on tyrades about why they hate this song and generally stirring discontent for anyone who dares not to be moved by it. That is just pure evil genius, and I respect that. "The Christmas Shoes", you are as diabolical as you are fun to sing, and I tip my hat to you. 

The second is less... smart, I think, on the whole. It is not crafty enough to be manipulative, and is, perhaps, all around more innocent than "The Christmas Shoes" but far more deeply sincere as well. The song I am referring to is "Mary, Did You Know" or, as I like to call it, the stupid question song. 
I am all for keeping the real meaning of the holiday present in the music that plays on the radio during the season, but this song seems to flounder a bit, particularly due to the fact that yes, Mary DID know all these things. That's what the angel told her when he said she was going to have this baby. So as sincere and well meaning as it is, it's still a dumb question, which makes it a fun song to mercilessly mock like the excellent individual I am. Not to mention that my sister does a delightful off-key and 'heartfelt' rendition of it, complete with an awkward shimmy jerk dance that is really quite stirring. 

As I said, those ones are pretty tame. It's hard, at least for me, to find any offense in sentimental little numbers meant for small town Christians. The songs that I find truly special during the Christmas season are the ones that cater to the wider mainstream. The holiday love songs; the white guilt ballads; the songs that work so hard share the very vague message of 'Christmas is neat'; these are where the real meaty goodness of bad Christmas music lies.

Here's a song that tries too hard. I've never really even been sure what it's trying too hard to do, but it is.
A song that seems to think that growing up means asking for more vague, unattainable things for Christmas, like peace on Earth and for everybody to hug and stuff. I think my favorite part of this is that the singer seems to be asking Santa for all of these things. Lady, Santa ain't know how to make any peace on Earth in his toy shop. Leave the guy alone and ask for normal things like an iPod. Quit your contemplative introspection and go out and rally for peace or hug a hobo or something yourself. Santa's a busy man. On the list of songs that are my favorite to overdramatize off key, I think this one might be the top...

Now, everybody knows that Christmas is all about spiting last year's lover by flaunting around this year's, but I think this song takes it to the next level.
Video aside (though it should not be ignored because it is one of the most hilariously overdramatic and spiteful things ever) this is the ultimate song about re-gifting. Though there are a few bewildering logistics... Like... if she gave HIS heart away to somebody else, then how did he get it back the next year to give it to somebody else? I am so full of questions here. Anyway, I really have no idea how the rest of the song besides the chorus goes, despite having listened to it several times today, because it kind of tunes itself out. I don't even have to do any work for it to fade into the background. But the chorus always comes back in with its powerfully petty message and makes this song something truly special.

But among all of these, there is no song that spews self-righteousness vaguely disguised as Christmas cheer quite like this.
My favorite part is when it zooms in on Sting looking like he doesn't want to be there during the "bitter sting of tears" line....
Written from the perspective of a bunch of rich white people who have absolutely no idea what Africa is like,  "Feed The World" makes up the centerpiece of any great banquet of terrible Christmas music. Just in case you were enjoying your white suburban Christmas a little too much, Band Aid is here, straight from the 80's, to remind you that you should be feeling guilty about the things you have because people in Africa are suffering. I mean, they don't even have any giant rivers there or anything! One can only hope that, in addition to this song, all of these artists donated a significant portion of their millions to humanitarian aid, or else this song's premise falls completely flat instead of just mostly flat. And let me tell you, I just about screamed with delight when I discovered that there was a great big sparkly Glee version of this song as well, because that means the completely clueless sentiment expressed in it is still alive and well today in mainstream pop. Because sometimes we really all do need to be reminded that yes, there really are people that stupid. Also, for a real treat, come over to my parent's house some time and watch my dad jerk to this like an awkward white 80's kid. 

So there's my list. I'm sure there are more out there, and I'm always on the lookout. For instance, my sister maintains that there is a song that exists somewhere that contains the lyrics "We shared a Christmas hug..." However, searches for this gem have turned up little, and so I am convinced that is is a mere urban legend. Kind of like bigfoot except for with worse writing.

Anyway, I know that Christmas is now over as are most of the holiday songs on the radio, but I want you all, next year, to try and find something different in all the awful things playing over the holidays. Don't grump and groan because the music has completely missed the spirit of the season or is just plain terrible. Think of it a different way. Because if we believe hard enough, bad Christmas music can give us all a very important gift. The gift of laughter.

And as I said before, if you happen to like any of the songs on it, please don't feel attacked. This is all just opinion. After all, I  like several of the Barbie movies. 


Taylor said...

This is absolutely fantastic Erin! I agree on all accounts. And those movies alone are downright fantastic! And for the record I never could understand ANY of the words of "Feed the World", but now I know the sad truth. "Let them eat cake!"

Devin said...

You are an evil genius who makes milk come out our noses. Curse you, you diabolical music savant!
Your parents.