Love it or hate it, Christmas music is inescapable this time of year. And with each new year, it seems that the season for caroling and jingle bell rocking just seems to get increasingly longer. Christmas music is a melodic reminder of the all the different aspects of the holiday season blended together. From the joy of spending time with family to the dregs of a consumer-driven capitalist economy, there is a saccharine Christmas classic for every mood, story, and situation one can think of.
I, for one, love Christmas music. And I love it unironically. I find so much joy in the camp value of Christmas tunes, where everything just seems so sickly sweet and ridiculous, that the only reasonable thing to do is just forget about all the terrible shit that happened all year and enjoy the simplicity of a winter wonderland. Even if it may be manufactured.
There is a lot to explore within the world of holiday music beyond all the standards, traditional and contemporary, that dominate the holiday airwaves every year. For me, I like finding the more obscure Christmas songs that really rely on the novelty factor. And curated playlists help me discover Christmas songs that would otherwise never be found anywhere else. Such collections of adorably abominable Christmas not-so-classics include A John Waters Christmas, a collection of the Pope of Trash’s favorite Christmas abominations, or the annual Sound Opinions Christmas show, featuring a curated collection of obscure Christmas singles presented by the president of Jam Productions Andy Cirzan.
Since starting this blog, every Christmas entry has been focused on the more obscure and lesser-known holiday songs. And I could continue that tradition with this entry. Certainly, there are plenty of holiday tunes that I, and my readers, have never heard. However, I am going to put the brakes on that this year and go in a different direction. Instead of going on the beaten path, I am sticking to the mainstream.
If Christmas music only felt like it was impossible to avoid growing up, the advent of the Internet certainly made the holiday season a truly unstoppable assault on the senses. Memes this time of year run the gamut from celebrating the holidays to complaining that our consumer culture celebrates Christmas earlier every year (inadvertently adding to the general holiday noise) and have made a bugaboo about a season that already can feel overwhelming and stifling. And that is not a new phenomenon, social media is a content aggregator and it amplifies the significance of something even if it is unwarranted or not actually based in reality. But the content aggregation of social media allows users to constantly share and repost media until it changes meaning before coming back full circle. And one modern Christmas classic better represents this than any other.
In 1994, Mariah Carey was 24 years old when she her fourth studio album, a collection of Christmas songs called Merry Christmas. From the album, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” became one of the biggest hits of her career and a landmark song for the holiday season. With its recognizable intro, soulful melody, and up-tempo holiday enthusiasm, Carey’s Christmas classic was a manufactured pop juggernaut that has dominated the holiday season every year since its release.
However, despite being a massive success for Carey with a longevity driven by the holiday season, the song did not hit the top of the charts when it was initially released. In 1994, the song only reached number three. However, after 25 years, the song has finally hit the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. If there was any doubt that Carey was the Queen of Christmas radio before, there cannot be any now.
The reason “All I Want for Christmas Is You” hit number one after so many years is because of social media. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have evolved form being a platform to connect with people to becoming content aggregation sites. What this means is you just log on to see what memes people are sharing and to perhaps share some yourself.
One of the key features of this content aggregation is to constantly recycle jokes, themes, and ideas to fit whatever new meme format is the flavor of the week. And it is with this system that allows the oversaturation of the holidays to continue to grow, or perhaps create the illusion of that oversaturation. Last year’s meme of Grumpy Cat expressing their disdain for Carey’s song is this year’s Baby Yoda sipping tea with the caption “me when people tell me they hate Christmas music.” Same joke, different format. However, in this case, same song, different year.
This is not to say that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is a bad song. It is a damn fine song. It just suffers the same fate as other massively popular things; people will hate on it just because it is popular. And while it is one of the biggest staples of holiday music every year, it is also now a reminder of the impact social media has on our culture and its inability to progress. It is an arena where a criticism can amplify praise, and vice versa, and result in a seasonal holiday song to hit the top of the pop charts a quarter of a century after its release. There is an inherent power there that should be disturbing to those who are dismayed by the lack of choice in media these days. That when we go to share our thoughts on social media, we add to the recycling and regurgitation of content that prevents new things to replace what has always been around.
While I love Christmas music, I know other people don’t have the awareness, or even the time, to pursue other holiday music options. There have to be ways for truly great lesser known songs to become popular. However, social media is not the answer to that. If anything, it reinforces the status quo. What has to change, in order to break up the homogenization of the content we see on our feeds, is to engage differently, or perhaps not even engage. While sharing that meme expressing your disdain for the “Mariah Carey Christmas song” may seem edgy and cool, it actually plays into the system that makes it more popular than ever when all you want for Christmas is different music.