The inescapable trap of soulless Christmas music


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Mariah Carey’s fourth studio album, “Merry Christmas,” which features seven covers and three original songs. Despite garnering a mixed reception upon release, the album itself has largely become overshadowed by the iconic single “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” ASCAP’s number one most-played holiday song in 2020.

This year, all I want for Christmas is to not be forced to listen to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Is that too much to ask?

Although a large portion of songs played around Christmas focus more upon the traditional Christian holiday, or the winter season as a whole, the majority of popular Christmas tunes tend to either address the celebratory aspects of secular Christmas or use Christmas simply as a basis for more heavy romantic overtones. In either case, any potential for genuine innovation or development within the genre remains limited because of the narrow, repetitive, and frequently commercialized songwriting focus. Additionally, from a purely compositional standpoint, a lot of music within the genre is incredibly basic.

“I can’t say I am a fan of the Christmas music that you hear on the radio station or while you are out shopping, but I do enjoy classical Christmas music,” said band director Eric Hoang. “There is a TON of classical Christmas music that is very sophisticated and intricate (i.e. Handel’s “Messiah” or Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker”). Yes, all of the traditional songs we all know, like Jingle Bells, may be initially simple (which also makes them accessible), but there are many arrangements of these songs that elevate them to more intricate and interesting compositions.”

While there is admittedly some room for musical innovation and creativity with these old songs, in general, the Christmas genre is still largely built upon nostalgia. When a national audience is willing to hear the same old songs being played year after year, there isn’t much of an incentive for musicians to create new Christmas music. In fact, according to The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), only four of the top 25 most-played holiday songs in 2020 were written after 1970. Again, much of the music that makes up the collective Christmas genre really leans into this sense of longing for simpler times and, due in large part to the ongoing pandemic, it’s easy to understand the appeal of Christmas music. But it’s just as easy to find the genre insufferable, especially given how the holiday is now promoted so early in the year.

“I worked at Old Navy for about a year,” said senior Raegan Aplanalp. “They started playing Christmas music the first week of November. They started by mixing it in with the normal songs but about after a week or two it was completely Christmas songs, Hanukkah songs, etc. It was the same 20 songs on repeat, so it got repetitive very quickly.”

Regardless of personal preferences, Christmas music is undoubtedly overexposed in modern society. The traditional start to the holiday season is the day after Thanksgiving, but, through a larger marketing strategy known as the Christmas creep, many radio stations now make the jump to exclusively playing Christmas music a mere day after Halloween. Local DC radio station 97.1 WASH-FM started playing its Christmas music less than two weeks after Halloween, and, just a couple days into November, SiriusXM satellite radio debuted 19 new Christmas channels, its largest holiday line-up to date. Granted, the start of the holiday season may seem like a minor thing to gripe about, but studies have shown being exposed to Christmas music too early can actually have negative effects on overall mental health, especially for retail workers forced to deal with a barrage of stressed holiday shoppers.

“The holidays are a very crazy and busy time to work in retail but it’s great profit for businesses so they will extend their hours,” said Aplanalp. “That makes it very stressful for us workers but we unfortunately don’t get to make the rules.”