With latest cover, Phoebe Bridgers proves once again that Christmas music doesn’t have to be so terribly cheerful
Someone please tell whoever is in charge of the tunes at my local grocery store
The days are getting darker, rent is rising, inflation is soaring, the war in Ukraine rages on, we’re heading for climate catastrophe, Twitter is burning, and Vancouver’s forecast calls for nothing but rain rain rain rain rain rain.
So there’s really nothing more infuriating than Christmas revelers insisting on a cheery attitude around this time of year—especially when that sentiment is ceaselessly blasted from grocery store speakers over the next month.
Yeah, bah humbug, whatever.
It’s just tragic that the go-to playlist for store and restaurant managers to throw on the very moment the clock strikes November generally features sickeningly Holly Jolly songs when there are plenty of other seasonally-appropriate (and not yet played to death) tunes on offer.
Especially ones that thematically fit the Sad Girl Fall we’re experiencing as a result of all that doom-and-gloom in the first paragraph.
Case in point: Phoebe Bridgers’ recently released cover of the Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine”, a song from 2000 about alcoholic tendencies around the holidays, which Bridgers—alongside her beau Paul Mescal—transforms from the original’s harmonica-soaked, gothic country into a violin-accompanied dirge that is exactly what you’d expect from the Queen of Melancholy.
And these days it just feels a little more fitting to hear Bridgers’ soul-crushing voice lament on finding the bottom of a bottle of wine than it is to hear Michael Bublé joyously offering a cup of cheer for the millionth time.
That’s the real kicker when it comes to the usual list of songs that are queued up for the long festive season; that the only relevant theme needed to justify a spot on the list is some proximity to Christmas. It’s how we end up with the jarring juxtaposition of slow, smooth classics like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” being immediately followed by some upbeat, closer-to-a-children’s-lullaby ditty like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Throw a few religiously-charged Jesus Birthday Ballads into the mix for good measure and you’re left with a combination of song styles that have no business being in the same room, let alone time-zone, as each other.
But back to Bridgers.
“So Much Wine” is just the latest in a string of annual Christmas covers that Bridgers has release around this time of year (with proceeds going to charity, I should add), including Tom Waits’ “Day After Tomorrow”, Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December”, Simon & Garfunkel‘s “7 O’Clock News / Silent Night”, and McCarthy Trenching’s “Christmas Song,” all of which make for a refreshing diversion from long-standing Christmastime staples, and are gorgeous in their own right.
…And none of which you’ll find anywhere near Spotify’s Happy Holidays collection of playlists, which is what I’m assuming those store managers are playing on loop. The Christmas Hits list (naturally) starts with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which is expected to land on the charts yet again as we get closer to the most merry of seasons.
Carey’s visit to #1 over the past three years with that now-28-year-old song wasn’t enough to secure her the trademarked moniker of “Queen of Christmas,” however, as her application to do so was denied by the US Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month.
The reason? Another quote-unquote Queen of Christmas made a legal challenge to block the trademark. Singer Elizabeth Chan, who has been churning out annual holiday records for the past decade, made the challenge, and called Carey out for the attempt in an August interview with Variety.
"I feel very strongly that no one person should hold onto anything around Christmas or monopolize it in the way that Mariah seeks to in perpetuity," Chan said in that interview.
"That's just not the right thing to do. Christmas is for everyone. It's meant to be shared; it's not meant to be owned."
I’d argue that monetizing Christmas in the most capitalistic way possible is actually incredibly in keeping with the most commercialized holiday of the year, but I digress.
Maybe this will result in Carey putting out a new string of Christmas songs to a sadder tune—one that may even rival Bridgers’ haunting covers—lamenting the loss of profit from the failed trademark.
I’d give it a listen. Maybe it’d even find a spot on this Spotify playlist of holiday songs that actually fit together in a cohesively dreary kind of way.
Maybe the manager of the local Save-On-Foods will discover it and save us all from another *checks watch* 32 days of nonstop Christmas Hits.
But I’m not holding my breath.