News & Politics

The 10 Most Annoying Pop Christmas Songs of All Time

Why do pop artists have to get involved in Christmas?

In 1940, Irving Berlin penned “White Christmas,” that woozy, mournful standard that wished for snow from a sunny California office. In 1941, popular and handsome actor/singer Bing Crosby recorded it, somewhat haplessly (he didn’t think it was a hit). A version was included in the 1942 film Holiday Inn; Crosby sits at a piano, duets with co-star Marjorie Reynolds, and at one point, plays the bells on a Christmas tree with his pipe. It won an Oscar that year for Best Original Song, and its legacy has endured: probably the most recognizable pop Christmas song of all time, it’s sold over 50 million copies to date.

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After that, the music industry realized that Christmas was a lucrative commodity. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was fine and dandy, but audiences wanted holiday music that wasn’t penned in the 12th century—music that more accurately reflected their culture and everyday lives. They were accommodated. After “White Christmas” blew up, a flood of new songs followed, including “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Little Drummer Boy” among them. At this point we consider those traditional holiday jingles, but in the 1940s, those were brand-new pop songs.

Now that Christmas is more of a consumerist holiday than it ever was, obviously we’ve seen a flood of related albums. In a way, cutting a Christmas album is a good way to know if someone has made it: if a record label believes people care about an artist enough to want to hear him singing songs about getting zooted and making out on a day meant to celebrate Jesus’ birth, clearly he's a pop star. But somehow, even with the increased variety of Christmas pop songs available, it seems like all the same ones are playing over and over in every single store and on every radio station from the day after Thanksgiving up to New Year’s Eve. Some are absurd (everything by Mannheim Steamroller), and plenty of them are annoying (everything from “The Nutcracker”), but thanks to our late-stage capitalist society, we were able to identify the 10 most annoying pop Christmas songs. EVER.

1. Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”

It’s hard to knock a song that was originally written to help starving children in Ethiopia—and meant to remind the privileged in the Western world that we are incredibly lucky compared to a majority of the global population. But another way to look at it is that it’s the ultimate in religious colonialism: a bunch of white men from the United Kingdom, like Simon LeBon, Sting and Bono, wondering if needy Africans “know it’s Christmas.” The song’s refrain is “feed the world”—indeed, and we should do more to do just that. But we're gonna go out on a limb and say Ethiopia probably knows it’s Christmas, since the majority of its population is Christian, and the country adopted Christianity as a state religion in the fourth century. What should be a sweet call for aid just ended up being completely condescending. Good job, Bob Geldof!

2. Madonna, “Santa Baby”

Cut during Madonna’s most acute phase of Marilyn Monroe-stalking, the pop queen’s attempt at a mafia moll accent just ends up sounding like a demonic kewpie doll brought to life through the dark arts. Not to mention: the whole thing is a send-up of a grossly materialistic woman, imploring Santa to bring her some toys... from Tiffany's. When Eartha Kitt did it in 1954, it was funny. Madge sang it after getting famous off “Material Girl,” the ‘80s anthem that declared she would never date a man who didn’t buy her fancy knick-knacks, and it's just kind of gross. It would be tempting to describe Madonna’s 1980s career as the anti-99 percent if there weren’t so many despots from that decade to choose from. Nevertheless, when this song comes on over the piped-in sound system of any given retail establishment, as it’s been all season, it’s a good reality check amid the bloodlusty frenzy of Christmas consumerism. What’s worse: in 2007, uber-privileged, horrible songmaker/prom queen Taylor Swift cut a version of this song that makes Madonna’s b-grade accent sound super-believable and sincere.

3. Justin Bieber, “Mistletoe”

New to the Christmas songs pantheon, the internet generation’s Mel Torme recorded “Mistletoe” this year, presumably to capitalize on the number of young girls who want to get caught under it with him. (Also, Bieber is an avowed Christian, and nothing’s more godly than sleigh bells and high production values.) Possibly the first Christmas song that calls a potential love interest “shawty,” but certainly not the last. Bonus points for the line about not buying him a gift, but it’s because all he wants for Christmas is your lips, which is the most sickly cloying ploy for teenaged iTunes buys ever.

4. Andy Williams, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Nothing is more disspiriting than being in a discount store with hundreds of weary shoppers searching for last-minute Christmas gifts, when Andy Williams portals in from 1963 to tell you how great all of this is. He’s the ghost of Christmas past gone wrong, singing with his show-host permasmile and completely missing the irony, while somehow shaming the seasonally disgruntled into feeling like dicks for not having a good time. Also, I have a major problem with one of the lyrics: who tells ghost stories at Christmas?! Proof that Andy Williams is actually an agent of Beelzebub.

5.Maroon 5, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”

This horrible band took an actually beautiful song penned by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as a protest song against the Vietnam War and turned it into overproduced, insincere-sounding pablum. All the poignant sentiment that Lennon and Ono imbued the song with is completely sucked out by singer Adam Levine’s reaching aria and overdone vibratos. I’m no “Lennon is God” type of person (I prefer Ono), but others have covered this song and done a much better job. This Maroon 5 version, unfortunately, is the one that gets played everywhere.

6. The Pogues and Kirsty McColl, “Fairytale of New York”

This is not a fairytale unless your idea of magic is waking up in a gutter on the Lower East Side. Opening with Pogues singer Shane McGowan singing about Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, what unfolds is an inordinately long romp through a very unhappy couple’s alcoholic brawl, sung in (natural) Irish brogues and boozy aplomb. Even if the voices don’t annoy you, the concept of having to sit through someone else’s dysfunctional holiday arguments will.

7. Faith Hill, “Where Are You Christmas”

A super melodramatic ballad that is essentially a self-help song about self-esteem disguised as a holiday song. Faith Hill, you’re okay in general, but why are you USING Christmas?

8. Slade, “Merry Xmas Everybody”

Listening to this song, you’re tempted to think there is no way Slade recorded it without being at least drunk in the studio if not jacked up on various regulated stimulants. Singer Noddy Holder’s aggressive iteration of the words “red-nosed reindeer” sounds as though he wants to slaughter the Christmas icon for venison, and though its chorus is telling us everybody’s having fun, it seems like they’re doing so at gunpoint. Perhaps one of the least fun songs about having fun ever! Then again, it was the glam era, everyone was messed up on fame and blow. The moral of this story is probably, never trust a guy who has a neck beard.

9. Wham! “Last Christmas”

Sonically speaking, this is one of the least annoying songs on the list: George Michael’s voice is lovely and sweet, and the synth melodies and sleigh bells allude to tradition without going overboard. But one of the worst things on earth around this holiday season is knowing that some people are utterly alone, and don’t want to be. This song is a constant reminder that someone, somewhere, is crying on Christmas. Because they got dumped. Thanks, Wham! Good vibes.

10. Mariah Carey, “All I Want for Christmas Is You”

Though I’m sure I sound like a real grinch, I actually love Christmas music, and this single by the goddess Carey is one of my favorites (though I prefer this bass remix featuring Jermaine Dupri and Lil Bow Wow). Yet in the spirit of seasonal generosity, it’s on the list because I know it’s intensely reviled by many, in part because of its ubiquity: “All I Want for Christmas is You” is the most-played holiday song on the Billboard charts, and has been since it was released in 1994. Even if you’re trying to avoid any sort of retail establishment that might be hawking Christmas wares this season, you’re still likely to hear this song in the seediest of bodegas. And if you think there’s any chance that will change anytime soon: this year Carey re-recorded the song with Justin Bieber, and made a video that doubles as a Macy’s ad. In case you had any doubts that shopping is the true meaning of Christmas!

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.