Finally, proof that Christmas songs really do your head in

Mariah Carey, purveyor of the perfect Christmas song. Photograph: Startraks Photo/REX/Shutterstock
Mariah Carey, purveyor of the perfect Christmas song. Photograph: Startraks Photo/REX/Shutterstock
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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Finally, proof that Christmas songs really do your head in” was written by Arwa Mahdawi, for The Guardian on Sunday 3rd December 2017 15.00 UTC

God rest ye merry gentlepeople, let nothing you dismay, except excessive festive music, heard well in advance of Christmas Day.

Yep, it’s that time again! That magical time of year when it is impossible to leave your house without a faint fa la la la la ringing in your ear. ’Tis the season of Christmas songs. ’Tis the season when you are reminded every single day of Michael Steven Bublé, a man whose existence you had otherwise, mercifully, forgotten. ’Tis the season when you can recite every single word of It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year because you’ve heard it 25,671 times this morning already and, let me tell you, there is nothing remotely wonderful about the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you to be of good cheer. It’s extremely annoying. In fact, it’s more than just annoying; I hate to bring you tidings of discomfort, not joy, but Christmas music is emotionally damaging and a hazard to our health.

Now, before you accuse me of being a sensitive snowflake who wants to ban Christmas and enforce Santa-free safe-spaces, let me direct you to some seasonal statistics that prove my point. Namely, a study of more than 2,000 customers and retail staff in the US and UK by Soundtrack Your Brand, a startup that helps companies identify great music that artists have poured their heart and soul into, so said companies can then use this music as background noise in their shops to sell stuff. The report found that a quarter of retail staff think an excess of Christmas music in their workplace makes them less festive and one in six said that it negatively affects their emotional wellbeing. “This adverse effect may hurt service quality, since emotionally damaged staff may not deliver top-notch service,” the report notes, going on to recommend that retailers play only one Christmas song every 10 minutes. It would be a disaster, after all, if the inner trauma of the person serving you negatively affected your customer experience.

It’s not just retail staff who are being driven to deafening desperation by hearing the same Christmas songs over and over again in an interminable loop. It’s all of us. Well, 25% of us anyway. According to the report, a quarter of British shoppers dislike being subjected to Christmas music while out and about. It seems we have less capacity for Christmas cheer than Americans – only 17% of shoppers stateside say they don’t enjoy being hammered over the head with holiday music. Anything that takes your mind off not being able to afford Christmas presents because you’re being bled dry by medical bills because your country disdains affordable healthcare is a blessing after all! Well, that bit wasn’t really in the report. The report did note, however, that 43% of people who hate holiday music think it’s too repetitive and 26%, who I imagine all read the Guardian, said they the dislike the materialism of Christmas music.

It’s true that a lot of festive music is extremely materialistic. But, worse still, a lot of it is just deeply weird if not outright disturbing. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, for example, a classic of the genre, and the most played Christmas song of the past 50 years according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, can be read as an early warning about the powers of the surveillance state and the pervasiveness of sexual predation. “He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake.” I mean, for goodness sake, who thought that would be a good children’s song?

And then there’s the 1944 call-and-response duet Baby, It’s Cold Outside which is listed by Urban Dictionary under the heading “Christmas Date Rape Song”. It’s basically a man plying a woman with booze so she can stay a little longer because, baby, it’s cold outside, “what’s the sense in hurting my pride”.

Anyway, I don’t want to ruin Christmas for you. So, let me remind you that, among all the problematic holiday favourites, there is one completely pure and perfect Christmas song. I am talking of course, about Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You, the gift that keeps giving, year after year. Not only is Mariah’s magnum opus – also known as All I Want for Christmas Is You (And A Proletarian Revolution) – extremely catchy, but it is a clear criticism of the excesses of festive capitalism. I mean, it’s basically the Das Kapital of Christmas music.

Take, for example, the intro: “I-I-I don’t want a lot for Christmas / There is just one thing I need / I don’t care about the presents / Underneath the Christmas tree.” What Mariah is really saying here is: “Capitalist production, during the holidays, produces not only commodities, not only surplus value, but it also produces and reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on the other the elf-labourer.” She just makes it rhyme a lot better than Marx ever did. It’s a real shame the pair never had a chance to collaborate. A Marx-Mariah Christmas album is something I would happily play on repeat.

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Myrddin Gwynedd

Myrddin Gwynedd

Journalism Tutor at NZ Radio Training School
Myrddin Gwynedd is an award-winning writer who hails from Wales. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with his partner and an army of felines.
Myrddin Gwynedd

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