Some Christmas songs are so catchy, so jolly, and so deeply embedded in pop culture that they inspire revulsion. An otherwise good-hearted person might hear "Jingle Bells," "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," or even "Sleigh Ride" and recoil in disgust, sickened by the sweetness. I sympathize with these holiday cynics. I didn't start writing The Noisey Advent Calendar because I wanted to hear Andy Williams singing "Let It Snow" over and over again for four hours on a grey weekday morning. I want to avoid schmaltz where possible.
Some schmaltz demands closer inspection though, and that's why we need to talk about this tweet from Paul F. Tompkins, a beloved and brilliant comedian with one terrible take:
Now, I cannot in all good conscience defend "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" as a work of art. It's a story about a reindeer whose glowing nose turned him into a social pariah. The pathos is all dealt with pretty quickly—the other shit-eating reindeers under Santa's employ wouldn't talk to Rudolph because he was different. But our hero's nose was so bright that it lit up the night sky one foggy night and forced his bullies to immediately declare him an all-time great reindeer—an animal who would, for some reason, "go down in history." That story is told over a kindergarten melody, the type of smiley-happy tune that belongs on a child's $5 keyboard toy. It is, as Tompkins points out, for children. Small children. Small idiot children.
Written by Johnny Marks in 1939 and made famous by Gene Autry a decade later, "Rudolph…" has spawned hundreds of covers, and I seriously recommend that you don't spend any time today trawling through YouTube for a good one. There are maybe a half-dozen decent, straightforward efforts out there, but none of them are going to prove Tompkins wrong. If you hate the song from the get-go, neither Dean Martin nor Kacey Musgraves will turn you. The best of the recognizable modern covers obviously belongs to DMX, who reeled off a flawless a cappella version of "Rudolph…" on Power 105.1 in 2012, then released a studio version of the song for his Spotify Singles mini-EP last year. But even in his gruff and grizzled way, DMX stays faithful to the original.
I might as well admit here that Christmas music has already started to burrow into my brain and warp my logic. I'm only six days into this project, but the hours I've spent listening to holiday music every morning have had a profound and not altogether attractive impact on me. Friends, acquaintances, and lonely people on nearby barstools are starting to look at me funny while I wholeheartedly defend stray Christmas songs of yesteryear. I spent 20 whole minutes last night explaining the plot of Holiday in Handcuffs, an ABC Family movie starring Melissa Joan Hart, to someone I barely knew. This morning I found myself singing a festive Frank Sinatra medley in the shower. I'm not the same person I was on November 30; I have no idea what sort of monster I'll be by December 26. All I know is that it's December 6, and I'm now intent on defending "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Thank God for Big Freedia, then.
"Rudy, The Big Booty Reindeer" is not for children. The first song on the Queen of Bounce's 2016 holiday EP A Very Big Freedia Christmazz recasts Rudolph as a reindeer who, in the words of Miss Tee in the first verse, "had a very large behind." He's bullied by the other reindeer, but he finds redemption one Christmas Eve when Santa comes to relieve him of his duties and ask for some instruction: "Rudy, all you do is work / Won't you show me how to twerk?"
Freedia takes charge of the song after less than a minute, howling her lines with the righteous indignation of a theatrical lawyer defending an innocent client: "Rudy only wanted a good time / Rudy only wanted to dance / He'd sneak of and listen to Freedia / Whenever he got a chance." And then it drops. Every song is an excuse for Big Freedia to explode into a bounce beat. She builds the story out a little more—"Santa tried to shake his hips / While Rudy did a standing split / Then the elves dropped a nasty beat…"—but the bass has taken over by then. Freedia makes everything fun, fiery, and deliciously weird—try telling her that she can't turn "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" into a twerk-heavy bounce classic.
There's a moral in here somewhere. Maybe it's that we shouldn't judge a song by its most tawdry interpretations, just as we shouldn't shame a large-assed reindeer just because he's different. Maybe the moral is that Christmas is for club-goers in New Orleans just as much as it's for picture-perfect families in colder climes. Either way, there's one undeniable truth—give a song to Big Freedia, and you'll never get let down.
Alex Robert Ross isn't like the other reindeer on Twitter.