Week of Dec. 9, 2010

Instead of delving into the Billboard Hot 100 chart this week, A.V. Club writers Genevieve Koski and Steven Hyden get into the holiday spirit by listening to some new Christmas songs released in 2010, and placed odds on the chances of them returning on 2011.

1. Mariah Carey, “Oh Santa!”


Genevieve: Mariah Carey is trying to repeat the success of 1994’s multi-platinum Merry Christmas with this year’s Merry Christmas II You, but “Oh Santa!” is no “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Carey already has a bona fide modern holiday classic under her Santa belt with that one, so trying to capture tinsel in a bottle (these metaphors workin’ for ya yet?) a second time seems a little greedy. While I’m relieved that, despite the title, “Oh Santa!” isn’t a creepy St. Nick come-on along the lines of “Santa Baby,” it’s a little too calculated—even by holiday single standards—to stir up the warm fuzzies the way “All I Want For Christmas” does. Cheerleader chants? Handclaps? Faux-retro, Pointer Sisters-aping chorus? And of course, Carey’s signature dog-whistle tacked on the end. It’s just too much pop-trend-whoring—courtesy of trend-whoring producers Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox—with none of the warm holiday schmaltz that a true Christmas Classic demands.
Steven: My main objection with “Oh Santa!” is that it takes attention away from the true meaning of the holiday. It’s called Christmas, not Santa-mas. Only if we have faith in Him can we truly feel the Christmas spir—oh, I’m just fucking with you, Genevieve! Honestly, I don’t get your hostility toward this song. Your main objection seems to be the supposed audacity of Mariah Carey making another Christmas album. GK, the American retail industry makes a big potion of its profits during this time of the year, and Mariah is just doing her part to help music-sellers snap necks and cash checks this holiday season. “Oh Santa!” is retro like “All I Want For Christmas,” but it draws on a different ’60s pop tradition, aping finger-snapping Motown (with a dash of Outkast’s “Hey Ya”) instead of Phil Spector pop. It’s plenty warm, and fun, too.
Odds of becoming a modern holiday classic
Genevieve: 20:1. The novelty will wear off after this year, and everyone will still be listening to “All I Want For Christmas Is You” come 2011.
Steven: 10:1. Speak for yourself, GK. If Mariah Carey has a place on your Christmas playlist, “Oh Santa!” is the better song.

2. Jessica SimpsonMy Only Wish

Genevieve: Mariah Carey may be trying to replicate “All I Want For Christmas” with “Oh Santa!,” but Jessica Simpson is just straight up ripping it off with “My Only Wish.” Seriously, “My only wish for Christmas is you”? On top of a bouncy piano-and-sleighbell riff? Have you no shame, Jessica? Simpson’s pitchy-as-all-get-out vocals do nothing to save this from its fate as a Christmas also-ran. This is the single from Simpson’s new Happy Christmas album, which also contains covers like “Merry Christmas Baby,” “Carol Of The Bells,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” which I have no intention of listening to, but at least sound more palatable, if only because their bland obviousness seems a better fit for Simpson. (Though “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” sounds like a Christmas catastrophe in the making.)
Steven: You’ve got to feel sorry for Jessica Simpson. She’s already run through practically every career guise available to marginally talented celebrities: teen pop singer, reality-show star, Maxim cover girl, country-music diva, and now she’s doing a Christmas album. What’s left? The Apprentice? It’s the holidays, so I want to be generous and say nice things about “My Only Wish.” But this is pretty bad. In the spirit of thanksgiving, I’d love to get this woman a pitch-corrector.
Odds of becoming a modern holiday classic
Genevieve: 100:1. Normally I’d say something glib like, “Hey, drugstores need innocuous music to play over the loudspeaker at Christmas too,” but considering the scope of bland Christmas fare on offer already, I can’t see this one breaking into the rotation.
Steven: 75:1. In a world where Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” still gets lots of holiday airplay, I won’t rule out Simpson’s strange ability to endure in spite of her limited abilities. But “My Wish” is pretty forgettable.

3. Best Coast and WavvesGot Something For You


Steven: What’s this, two indie-rock bands in the This Was Pop column? “Got Something For You” falls under the pop umbrella not only by virtue of its inclusion on a Target holiday compilation, but also because cool-kid it-couple Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast and Nathan Williams of Wavves seem to inspire the kind of raw, groundless hatred typically reserve for pop stars. “Got Something For You” probably won’t win over any detractors; it’s just a lazy guitar strum spiked with boilerplate jingle-jangle that’s supposed to scream “Christmas!” but really just says, “We don’t have a song here!” C’mon guys, it’s the holidays—ironic distance doesn’t play here.
Genevieve: I’m fiercely apathetic toward both Best Coast and Wavves, so it’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm for this collabo. While I think the cooing, wordless chorus is catchy enough to provide the bones of a good holiday song, everything around it is half-assed. Plus, the lo-fi cool that characterizes the music of Best Coast and Wavves just doesn’t fit the season; up-tempo Christmas songs like this should be as bright and shiny as Rudolph’s nose, as overblown and gaudy as Christmas tree. This is not the time for subtlety. “Got Something For You” seems like it would be a good option for people who like lo-fi music and hate traditional Christmas music, and I’m the exact inverse of that description, so I’m left saying “bah, humbug” to this one.
Odds of becoming a modern holiday classic
Steven: 1,000:1. Holiday classics should pass the sing-along test; I just played “Got Something For You,” and I’ve already forgotten it.
Genevieve: 500:1. Maybe someone will cover this with the sort of panache that chorus deserves, but in its current listless state, this is an aural lump of coal.

4. Coldplay, “Christmas Lights”



Steven: Many pop artists don’t fit well with holiday music because of their natural aversion to unabashed expressions of rabid mushiness, but that sort of thing has long been Coldplay’s bowl of figgy pudding. Having said that, I sort of wish Coldplay hadn’t made “Christmas Lights” another one of its  “I’m so sorry I fucked up, hon” ballads. Chris Martin seems like a guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and it would have been nice to see him have a little bit more fun with this. I thought he was about to spike the eggnog when he got to the line about acting “like a drunken Elvis,” but he’s mostly in dour mode here.
Genevieve: I think it’s unfair to call this “dour.” Yes, it’s a straight-faced ballad, but those are as much a part of the holiday canon as goofy novelty songs and cheery carols. Plus, I think Coldplay injects a nice bit of Christmas drama without whacking us over the head with a sleigh bell: The song crescendos in that way that Coldplay pulls off so well, and by the last minute or so there are some serious peace-on-earth-and-goodwill-toward-men vibrations coming off all those strings. Sure, it’s a little bland—like most Coldplay songs—but it also has a nice traditional feel and some sweet holiday bonhomie.
Odds of becoming a modern holiday classic
Steven: 100:1. There are plenty of “I miss you” Christmas songs already, so “Christmas Lights” seems a little redundant.
Genevieve: 5:1. You’re not going to hear carolers singing this one at your door, but I think it has a future home on department store soundtracks and radio holiday playlists.

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5. Buckcherry, “Christmas Is Here”
Steven: I can’t hear a Buckcherry song without thinking back to a conversation I had over IM with Kyle Ryan about the band’s “Crazy Bitch,” which goes on my personal shortlist of the most repugnant rock songs ever recorded. (All together now: “You’re crazy bitch / but you fuck so good, I’m top of it.”) Heading into “Christmas Is Here,” I wondered how exactly these perpetually skeezy cock-rockers would make the holidays feel like a thoroughly icky, soulless experience. Instead of gathering presents under ye olde beloved tree, would Buckcherry simply insert its gift into an anonymous vagina? Instead of spreading cheer and goodwill toward men, would singer Josh Todd just pass around whatever happened to be growing on his penis this week? I shuddered with anticipation, but “Christmas Is Here” (currently available for download on iTunes) is a pretty innocuous, even sorta sweet holiday tune, with lots of references to Santa, snowball fights, and Christmas lights. “We’re having so much fun!” Todd sings in the chorus, and I can almost believe that he wasn’t being blown by a teenaged runaway when he recorded it.
Genevieve: Is it weird that I almost wish this were some down-and-dirty, Santa-fucking slice of holiday sleaze? At least then the cover art would be just gross instead of gross and misleading. Look, we all know somewhere out there on Dec. 25, a sad stripper and some even sadder patrons are going to be celebrating around the ol’ Christmas pole; if anyone’s capable of making a holiday anthem for those folks, it’s Buckcherry. But no, we’reforced to endure Josh Todd coughing up some BS about snowball fights and Christmas lights. Never has such generic holiday fun sounded so unappealing, and you can tell by Todd’s bored whine that’s not where his heart is; let the man sing about fucking strippers under the mistletoe and leave the wholesome holiday fun to someone else.
Odds of becoming a modern holiday classic
Steven: 1,000,000:1. Okay, so “Christmas Is Here” doesn’t reek of stripper perfume and crotch-rot. Congratulations, dudes. Do you really think anybody is going to turn off Bing Crosby for some Buck-fucking-cherry when the relatives come over?
Genevieve: 1,000,001:1. Gross. 

6. Chris Colfer and Darren Criss, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”


Genevieve: Glee’s take on our most borderline-rapey holiday standard is certainly sweet, with an extra dash of salty subversion thanks to vocals from two male (and gay, at least on the show) leads. Unfortunately, like far too many Glee singles, it’s a cookie-cutter arrangement, with no musical surprises beyond its re-imagination as a male-male duet. That said, I have a soft spot for Chris Colfer’s cherubic vocals, and Darren Criss’ voice is a nice complement, if perhaps a little too similar. It would be nice if the song had a little more texture, but it’s sweet as candy canes.
Steven: Great! Another Glee song! I sound like a broken record whenever I write about the music from this blasted phenomenon, but once more for the record: Colfer and Criss are nice enough singers, but speaking as someone who’s hearing these songs outside the context of the show, they just seem really boring and void of any spark or personality. I appreciate the subversion of having two gay kids sing “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” but there’s no heat or sexuality in the execution. It’s just yet another bland show-choir rendition of a song I’d rather hear two real singers tackle.
Odds of becoming a modern holiday classic
Genevieve: 10:1. It really depends on where Colfer and Criss’ careers go post-Glee—and how soon Glee burnout overtakes the country—but this has enough gay cachet to keep it going for a few years at least.
Steven: 75:1. There are already so many other (and superior) versions of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” that I can’t see this surviving outside of Glee’s cult. 

7. Neon Trees, “Wish List”


Genevieve: If you’re an up-and-coming group that’s between albums, a quick holiday single is a good way to stay on the pop radar, particularly if it’s almost indistinguishable from your non-holiday fare. Neon Trees’ “Wish List” is a sound-alike of the band’s hit “Animal”—it even name-checks that song with the lyric “I’ve been an animal since you left me”—with some sleigh bells thrown in to Christmas it up a bit. “Wish List” is almost as catchy as “Animal,” but its yuletide cheer is questionable at best: Sure, the lyrics name-drop the Grinch and Scrooge, but it’s a pretty standard “I miss you” song wrapped up in the same wishing-for-love-this-Christmas motif that Carey and Simpson use.
Steven: Yeah, I smell a rat here. I feel like some genius record executive decided to take a Neon Trees outtake, insert some sleigh bells and a few stray holiday references, and whip up an ad hoc Christmas song. I’ve defended “Animal” as solid modern-rock junk, but I can’t abide cheap Christmas opportunism. Some things are sacred, after all.
Odds of being a modern holiday classic
Genevieve: 50:1. This is really dependent on whether Neon Trees manage to avoid one-hit-wonder status, something I’m not particularly confident they’ll do.
Steven: 100:1. “Wish List” isn’t that great of a song to begin with, and the holiday connection feels pretty tenuous.

8. Indigo Girls, “There’s Still My Joy”

Steven: I wasn’t familiar with “There’s Still My Joy,” a holiday song that was covered by Roberta Flack and Kathy Mattea, among others, before Indigo Girls did it for this year’s Holly Happy Days. It’s about the restorative power of Christmas and little baby Jesus, and how thoughts of long-lost family and friends inevitably fill our heads at this time of the year. It’s incredibly sappy, of course, which is totally the point—if you can’t give yourself over to unbridled sentimentality during the holidays, you might as well climb into a pine box and wait to die. “There’s Still My Joy” also happens to be really pretty, with a touching Emily Saliers vocal that yanks at the heartstrings from the moment she opens her mouth.
Genevieve: I have no problem with keeping the Christ in Christmas music—I unabashedly love to sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” “The Gifts They Gave,” and a bunch of other holiday hymns—but if you’re going to put “Joy” in the title, try to give it a little oomph, would ya? “There’s Still My Joy” makes me feel like I’m at midnight mass, waiting for the choir to transition to “Joy To The World,” signaling that it’s time to go in peace and drink eggnog. I appreciate that Saliers’ vocals are appropriately reverent; I just wish there were a little catharsis at some point, instead of two and a half minutes of weepy gratitude. C’mon, it’s Jesus’ birthday, it’s okay to get happy; save the maudlin mourning for Lent.        
Odds of becoming a modern holiday classic
Steven: 10:1. “There’s Still My Joy” sounds traditional and yet “pop” enough to appeal to scolds that hate Christmas carols, which makes me think it could stick around. I’d feel equally comfortable playing it for my in-laws and my hippie-lesbian pals.
Genevieve: 20:1. Even though it’s not my jam, I have a feeling this album—and this song—is going to wind up playing out of a lot of suburban speakers for many a Christmas. The odds of it getting played by “hip” church choirs that feature acoustic guitars are 1:1.

Filed Under: Music, Glee

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