And so this is Christmas, and the same old tide of festive songs are upon us again: but why is it that Slade, Mariah Carey, Wizard and Michael Bublé continually climb out of their caves over this period to open their pockets for enormous profit without anything new to show for their effort – or even that there’s any effort at all? And how is it that breaking into this market is so difficult – especially in an industry that seems to be in a constant craving of ‘the next big thing’?
Justin Bieber’s ‘Mistletoe’ and Ariana Grande’s ‘Santa Tell Me’ are arguably the closest we have to a modern Christmas song – and these are usually only used to flesh out the festive playlists so that younger listeners might recognise the artist.
Recognition of artists is fairly important to talk about as the majority of the masterminds behind our favourite Christmas songs are known just for that: I defy you to tell me the name of another Chris Rea or Brenda Lee song beyond ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ and ‘Rocking Around The Christmas Tree’. I’d even be struggling to name other Wham! or Mariah Carey songs if I’m honest!
This can be a killer for careers: you can become typecast and shunned by the mainstream music industry – just look Cliff Richard, and what seems to be currently happening to Michael Bublé.
If you try too hard to make a really good Christmas song or album, you end up releasing nothing but. Whilst this incessant wave of the mediocre original Christmas songs and covers might be a great stocking filler for your mum – it’s not conducive of good, creative music or of a widely successful album.
The limited listening time for festive releases means that songs take a lot longer to catch on than normal tracks – three weeks a year is not enough time for a song to grow on you and therefore tracks need airtime year upon year to become loved or “a classic”. Perseverance with every new Christmas song that comes out will likely push people further towards the known mass of existing tunes; for the fear of the unknown and the promotion of sub-par.
Of course the major names tend not to have this issue – Elton John, Paul McCartney and of course Bob Geldof and the rest of Band Aid have the cushion of their already established music career to fall back on if their song flops. This helps in that people will continue listening to songs that make no real sense, or aren’t as good as they could be, because of the name attached to it.
This, for want of a better term, laziness from established artists recently has taken another turn for the worse: they’re almost all covers. Sam Smith, Michael Bublé and Destiny’s Child are just some of the culprits of this, and it’s one of the causes of the stagnation of the Christmas music market as everyone is just listening to the same set of songs over and over.
The main reason these songs retain prominence year-on-year is perhaps the whole essence of Christmas itself: family. Christmas is the one time of year when parents are able to wrestle control of the CD player – or AUX chord if you’re in a more tech-savvy household than mine – and play their music, that they grew up listening to. This was alright back in the day when there were only the most traditional of Christmas songs (your Nat King Cole and ‘Frosty The Snowman’), but the ‘70s and ‘80s really fleshed out the market so that our parents have much more to play for us than we will for our kids.
Of course I’m not knocking the nostalgia that the whole idea of Christmas songs centres on – it’s a beautiful thing, possibly the best part of the festive period. But the clogging of the market with old songs will slowly but surely freeze out new listeners so that one day there may be a generation who barely listens to the songs because they seem so distant – the classical music genre shows us the risk of that. Although the inter-generational experience of Christmas is so similar, expression is changing so quickly that we need to make the most of new festive tracks that come out, in order to ensure that the sound of Christmas never fades into obscurity. So if I were you this year I’d branch out from ‘NOW! That’s What I Call Christmas’ and explore something newer – even if it’s only Magnus Carlsson’s ‘Wrap Myself In Paper’.