Every year, as the days start getting colder and the nights start drawing in, I brace myself for the long, hard month of December. Then, like an omen foretelling the arrival of something far worse, they arrive: Christmas songs. The first note of Michael Bublé‘s monotone voice on the radio; the first hint of a children’s choir in the backing vocals – like spotting the first soldier of an army on the horizon, these songs signal that Christmas is coming.
Now, despite how it may seem, I don’t hate Christmas. There are lots of good things about it – mince pies, for instance. And It’s A Wonderful Life is always on TV! And…well, I’m sure there are other things. But Christmas songs are, surely, the most insufferable part of the holiday season. The upbeat rhythms, the sickly-sweet, “let’s all be friends” lyrics, the sleigh bells on every instrumental: it gets repetitive, fast. But I understand – for most people, Christmas music forms the soundtrack to one of the most special times of the year. We often associate certain songs with certain times or feelings; Christmas songs, then, naturally invoke a sense of happiness and nostalgia that accompany the holiday, which is re-enforced by hearing them at the same time annually.
The biggest problem with Christmas songs, however, is simply their over-saturation. Given that there’s roughly a six week window of the year in which it’s acceptable to play them (although some of us, incredibly, would stretch to include the entirety of November), most people want to ‘get good value’ out of Christmas songs. Plus, the average member of society isn’t a heartless bastard like me, so no-one really wants to be branded as a ‘Scrooge’, and is thus socially compelled to embrace them. What this means is that every shop, pub, radio station – they all want to appear festive, making Christmas music pretty much unavoidable until January. This isn’t inherently a bad thing – if everywhere played R&B music all the time, life would probably be better – but there aren’t actually a huge number of Christmas hits in existence, meaning that we end up hearing the same dozen or so songs multiple times a day, every day, for over a month. How can people not get sick of this repetition?
Well, it turns out that they do: a 2017 study conducted by Soundtrack Your Brand asked 2,000 UK & US retail staff and customers for their thoughts on Christmas music, and revealed that 25% of customers actively disliked Christmas music, whilst 25% of staff said it actually made them feel “less festive”. A real cynic might say that retailers use Christmas music to trigger our festive feelings associated with it, thus influencing us to spend more. Wake up, people: don’t let the system play you. There’s also the question of whether we really care as much about Christmas music anymore; in the UK singles chart, a ‘Christmas hit’ hasn’t reached the number one spot at Christmas since Band Aid 20 in 2004. Last year, Ed Sheeran had the Christmas number one with ‘Perfect’; this December, it could just as easily be Drake or Selena Gomez. Perhaps, in this age of streaming, our ease of access to other types of music has something to do with it? Or because, let’s face it, people aren’t going out to buy the classic Christmas records anymore – we all own them already. But this hasn’t stopped artists from continuing to have a go, with John Legend and Jessie J having just released Christmas albums of their own. Clearly, then, musicians are still seeing Christmas records as hot commodities.
Like it or not, it seems clear that Christmas music isn’t going anywhere. The only solution, really, is to embrace it and try to enjoy it (also known as stockholm syndrome…) Or, like me, you could stay at home as much as possible, do your best impression of The Grinch and wish you could hibernate until the spring, when all this silliness is over. Merry Christmas.