Christmas albums: 13 ways to spot a festive turkey

by Super User
Extremely “OK then?????” news this week, when it emerged that no-faced pop savant Sia is releasing a Christmas album. While we all sit around and figure out how exactly you can Christmas aesthetic a blunt fringe (will there be baubles in the fringe, or will it be covered in fake snow? Will it split down the middle in candy cane stripes? It’s impossible to know), Sia will be busy working with producer Greg Kurstin, once of Kelly Clarkson’s 2013 yulefest Wrapped in Red, to sing about reindeers and snow in a not-even-transparent land grab for that sweet Noddy Holder-shaped annual dividend. Add to that Gwen Stefani, a pop star you may remember from 2003, who is rumoured to be doing the exact same thing, and it’s set to be a banner year for Christmas. Anyway, here are 13 of the Christmas song cliche bells they are all legally obliged to ding throughout the recording process. An awkward duet Sorry, but Christmas isn’t Christmas without two opposing-gender singers clanging into each other in a three-minute festival of anti-chemistry. I personally cannot unpeel a single satsuma until I’ve heard a chart-topping popstress being weirdly sang at by a bloke who was famous in the 80s. Mulled wine? Not for me thanks: not until I listen to two people – who, according to this audio, aren’t actually in the same room – sing about how they want to have nudge-nudge wink-wink Christmas sex with about as much purring allure as that time you tried to explain to the AA man what was wrong with your engine when he already knew what was wrong with your engine. It’s likely Stefani will take the mantle with this one – she’s recording with man-friend Blake Shelton, so expect a country-western by way of Japan remix of Baby, It’s Cold Outside followed by a four-to-six-week cycle of thinkpieces about what that actually means. Sighing and saying ‘Merry Christmas everybody’ Everybody, though? Everybody? But Michael Bublé, what about violent criminals or despots. Are you really pausing this Silent Night performance to wish, like, Putin “Merry Christmas”? Please think about the power of your words. Listen, I’m as horny for Santa as you are – we’re all horny for Santa! He made every Christmas magical for me and I want to repay him with my body! – but I also think we all, as a culture, need to calm down a bit on wanting to jingle Santa’s bells. This goes double for Christmas albums: somewhere along the way, the lines of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus got a bit blurred. Ariana Grande’s Christmas & Chill (2015) is basically Santa Baby on special horniness medication. Any 13-minute EP that somehow works in the line “Are you down for some of these milk and cookies?” is a clear come-and-get-me plea to the Big Man. If Sia and Gwen want success this year, they need to at least hint that they want to rattle Father Christmas like a box of baubles (The only person who doesn’t want to shag Santa is Bublé, who in 2012 somehow managed to sing a pronoun-switched version of Santa Baby where he calls Santa “buddy” a lot and asks him for a car. It was honestly easier just to say you wanted to shag Santa, Michael.) Being loved up Speaking of having full sex with Santa Claus, on a rug, in front of a crackling fire: it is important to the spirit of Christmas that you are in love because you’re really excited about watching your partner open their present, even though it’s 10am on Christmas morning and you’re staring rapt as some Oliver you met on Tinder four months ago unwraps a gift-wrapped watch and says, “I thought we weren’t doing proper presents?” before handing you a modest Argos voucher, no card. Rampant commercialism Whoever Destiny’s Child were singing about in 2001’s 8 Days of Christmas had a bizarre and borderline psychotic approach to gift buying, undulating between thoughtful but broke tokens of love and entire actual cars: among the things they receive are a diamond belly ring, a crop top (it was 2001), a poem, a gift certificate to buy CDs with (it was 2001), a foot rub, and then a Mercedes CLK. Santa’s on the phone to Wonga, knees in pieces, sobbing for an extra 30 days. Kelly Clarkson was similarly demanding in 2013: in 4 Carats she was waiting up for Santa so he could bring her a ruby ring. Whatever happened to an orange in a stocking and being happy with that Enough references to snow to make me forget it’s not going to snow this year Most of the Christmases since my childhood have been grey, slightly wet days when you can sort of see your breath on the air, a bit, if you really breathe hard enough. Hardly the slick white foot of powder I really need to get into the festive mood, so any Christmas album is going to have to really bring it with the snow references and lyrics about snow because, thanks to the Earth heating at an alarming rate, we’re basically never going to see it on Christmas again. Bells Good Christmas bells: jingle, sleigh, chime, church, hand. Bad Christmas bells: cow. That’s the rule. That’s the only rule. A legendary guest star If you don’t pause mid-song to say, “Mary J Blige, everybody!” – ideally to polite applause from a studio audience – then did you ever really record a Christmas album at all? It’s like the trees falling in woods thing, only with MJB getting really stuck in to We Three Kings. Live performance special that includes lots of shots of you getting your hair done I figure after the big label-wide Christmas piss-up there’s not a lot left over for a high-gloss video shoot (can you imagine being the executive who, in 1994, somehow convinced Mariah Carey to shoot her own video for All I Want For Christmas on Super-8? How?). For some reason, the main Christmas video trope these days is one of two budget options: 1. The slow buildup to a festive live performance that includes lots of shots of the singer getting her hair done and laughing (Clarkson). 2. An hour-long Christmas special that culminates with singing on a darkened stage to a studio audience while adjusting your tie a lot (Bublé). Those are the only options, choose wisely. Ruining a classic with a load of vocal riffs No other song bar The Star-Spangled Banner brings out the “woah-woah-ooh-ooh” and “yeah-ee-yeah-ee-ye-yeahs” like The Christmas Song, as Christina Aguilera demonstrated in 2000 with her version, essentially a four-minute-long “hnngh” noise matched with a video of her wearing a big pair of headphones and watching her own hand move while she did runs. Mentions of fire Suppose we really should have seen the shape of what Bieber would turn into – typical teen-star tearaway wild child-turned-mega-Christian – based on his 2011 Christmas album: it’s basically a series of oblique and not-so-oblique references to fire and burning, like a teen arsonist’s handwritten request for remand. Despite nobody actually owning a wood-burning fire any more because we live in a future where we have radiators now, references to burning, toasting, logs and flames are surprisingly replete in the Christmas canon. Figure out what rhymes with “crackling” and go on from there. Saying ‘ho ho ho’ in the middle of a song I feel as if Michael Bublé probably just slips this in quietly to most of the sentences he says. Even in May, or the middle of July, he’s at the deli counter trying to buy some cheese and takes a mid-sentence about-turn – “Yeah could I get a medium block of brie and — ho, ho ho — probably some of that cranberry Wensleydale” – a verbal tic he can no longer control, so forged is his very soul to the concept of Christmas and the act of hoeing. But that’s what he has to do: sorry, Sia, but if you don’t break out of the beat and do a sotto voce “ho-ho-ho” then your Christmas album is going where it belongs: in the big bin bag full of wrapping paper that your mum follows you around with from the time you open your stocking onwards. Attempting a nü-classic Christmas song that sounds curiously joyless There are only so many times we can all hear White Christmas, The Christmas Song, Last Christmas and All I Want For Christmas Is You before we are driven collectively insane (take this from the person writing about Christmas songs in August and having a sincere dissociative episode about it: the sun is currently shining outside), so each Christmas album normally swings for the stands with a generic upbeat Christmas number with the hopes that it (the song) will catch on forever, be lucratively covered by whatever proto-popstars that currently exist as children but in 15 years will be the next generation’s megastar-with-an-outstanding-tax-bill-that-only-a-Christmas-album-can-solve, and all will be well forever. And it never works like that. Take accident claim victim CeeLo Green, for example, which sadly we must: his 2012 Yule dud CeeLo’s Magic Moment opens with What Christmas Means To Me (sample Christmas meanings to CeeLo: “Lots of snow and ice” / “Fill a sheet with the angel hair”?????), and he sounds frankly knackered throughout, CeeLo apparently the first artist in history to record an entire Christmas album immediately after climbing five flights of stairs. The lesson here: if you’re not going to at least force some jollity into proceedings, do not darken our lives with your Christmas album. This time of year is meant to be fun.

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