I love Christmas. Hand to Santa, it’s my favourite holiday by a long shot. I look back at Christmas with gleeful wonder. My adolescence was filled with decorating fake plastic trees and leaving cookies and water out for the big guy himself (Mom wouldn’t waste a glass of good milk but cookies were OK because they’re sugary and bad for your teeth). I did it all.
I fondly remember that timeless moment between sleep and wakefulness, when the gravity of Christmas morning would dawn on me. I share vivid memories of wild flailing towards the Christmas tree at 7 a.m., hoping to find a puppy with a big red bow.
There’s no denying that I practically bleed eggnog. But I will say this about Christmas — terrible tunes. Absolutely ghastly. Worst soundtrack of any holiday ever. Even Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which my family celebrates, has absolute bops in the vein of devotional aartis and bhajans. Christmas songs, though? Oof. Not it, chief. The worst part is, they’re played everywhere the whole of December.
I can’t take it anymore and all I want to do is rant. So, for my sanity, and at the risk of sounding like a son-of-a-grinch, I’ve rounded up the worst, most annoying, teeth-grinding, ear-splitting, sock-giving, “classics” that plague us at Christmastime.
"Do They Know it's Christmas" - Band Aid 1984
In 2010, singer-songwriter Bob Gedolf admitted that he’s responsible for the two worst songs of all time. Those are “We are the World” and the first song on this list, “Do they Know it’s Christmas.”
The track was a response to the Ethiopian famine that gripped Africa in the mid-1980s. After a BBC documentary chronicling the issue aired, Gedolf felt that something needed to be done, and proceeded to dial every pop star at that time. George Michael, Boy George, Bono, Paul Mccartney, and others all turned up to show support. Recorded in 24 hours by an ensemble of 80’s British and Irish megastars, the song was a smash hit and helped raise upwards of $10 million for humanitarian aid in Ethiopia.
That’s all great but if you really listen, some of the lyrics are absolutely inappropriate and patronising, painting Africa as a hapless, sorrowful continent.
Where the only water flowing,
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom,
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
It’s no wonder the song was updated in 2014 with new lyrics. Unfortunately, the original version still manages to land on our ears every December.
"Santa Baby" - Madonna
Another thing that has aged dreadfully is this Betty Boop-esque rendition by the Queen of Pop. Channelling a 1940’s sugar baby with a Long Island accent, Madonna absolutely massacres Eartha Kitt’s " Santa Baby."
The original’s sultry notes are punctuated with cutesy drawls, making the whole affair come across as cartoonish. To her credit, she does commit to the voice really well, but that’s a compliment in the same way you telling your aunty you like the underwear she got you for Christmas is a compliment.
"All I Want For Christmas Is You" - Mariah Carey
60 million dollars. That’s how much Mariah Carey has earned in royalties for this song. Every year, we wake up this tired classic, slap on a bow, and put it at the top of the Christmas tree, when it really belongs in a dusty forgotten box in the corner of the attic with the words “last decade’s Christmas decorations” scrawled on it.
The truth is, it wouldn’t be so bad if it weren't so overplayed. But this inescapable tune comes on every year — on the radio, in the department store, in the cab on the way to work. It’s in the same league as Justin Bieber’s Despacito. The league, being, “Songs that are so overplayed they will survive the heat death of the universe.”
"Mistletoe" - Justin Bieber
Speaking of The Biebs, his 2011 Christmas song “Mistletoe” is an ode to how creepy and desperate we all were as teenagers. The song follows the singer (he was 17 years old at the time or recording) as he shirks off all the usual joys and obligations of Christmas at the off chance that he gets to make out with someone. Something which we can all relate to, but don’t like to be reminded of.
I should be playing in the winter snow
But I'ma be under the mistletoe
I should be chilling with my folks, I know
But I'ma be under the mistletoe
I should be making a list, I know
But I'ma be under the mistletoe
The song’s lyrics sound really young, but not in a good way. Not cute or innocent or any of the other endearing bits that come with childhood. They’re young like a teenager who says “lit” a lot and vapes at the dining table.
The song was recorded at a time when Bieber was arguably at his most aggravating. Fresh off the release of his My World 2.0 album and his 3D concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Yes, that happened), he was the it guy we loved to hate.
"Mistletoe" resurfaces every holiday season, like a time capsule you buried during your parent’s divorce. It only serves to bring back bad memories. You stay deep in the ground where no one can hear you, buddy.
"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" - John Lennon & Yoko Ono
The song lurches forward with the panning whispers of John and Yoko as they mutter a Christmas wish to themselves directly into your ear. Right off the bat, you’re already uncomfortable. Little do you know that that was just the first two seconds of this rollercoaster of emotions you’ve just strapped in for.
The first line of the song follows a peace-loving and benevolent John Lennon as he poses a question to us: “So this is Christmas, what have you done?” If I’m being honest, John, not a lot of good. I’m not proud at all; it’s been a very questionable year for my morals. I’ve done some shady shit and if you ever met me, you would probably hate me.
Once you’ve gotten over the existential panic attack that comes with being interrogated by John Lennon, what follows is insult to injury. A children’s choir is joined by Yoko Ono, doing her best impression of a metalcore frontman-rejectee, screaming pleasantries at you.
A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
I’ve never known fear like this in my life. The end result is you, in a fetal position, your hands around your ears, wishing the bad voices would go away. But they never do. The song has an alarmingly catchy hook and, like a Christmas-loving parasite, it burrows its way into your brain, making its presence known by scraping around your skull every December.
Anyway, here’s a playlist I created on Spotify with all five classics. Put it on repeat at your next Christmas party and see how many times it plays before someone notices. Hell, make it a drinking game. Happy Holidays, everyone!
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Cover photo: Michael loccisano / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP