From John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s cringe-worthy reunion to Snoop Dogg’s rap about Santa in the ghetto, too many pop stars have tried and failed to churn out the next great Christmas hit. Hear the worst of the worst. Plus, Malcolm Jones offers a playlist of hidden holiday gems.
It’s mid-December, which means it’s time to break out your puffy coat, catch up on all the Oscar contenders in theaters, and start playing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on constant loop for the next two weeks. The urge to play Mimi all day, every day, during the Yuletide season is understandable—the track is holiday-tinged aural pleasure and anyone who disagrees is the soul-spawn of Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge. (Have you seen this new version featuring Jimmy Fallon, the Roots, and four precocious wee ones? Joy set to music.)
But it’s also because the track is, really, the only true new Christmas hit we’ve had since its release in 1994. Sure, the standard carols and tracks by the likes of the Beach Boys, Wham!, and John Lennon endure, but Carey’s bouncy pop track is the only modern one we can really consider a true holiday standard. Nevertheless, dozens of Christmas albums from huge music stars flood shelves each year, and typically contain at least one attempt at introducing a new, original holiday song to the canon.
More often than not, they are embarrassingly awful and quite bizarre. From John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s most recent effort to releases from Justin Bieber and even Snoop Dogg, here are the worst and the weirdest.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: ‘I Think You Might Like It’ (2012)
Ever wonder what Danny and Sandy from Grease grew up to be like? As John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John so tragically illuminate in the music video for their new Christmas song, “I Think You Might Like It,” they became your embarrassing parents. In the video, the long-ago high-school sweethearts recreate the “You’re the One That I Want” line dance and feign tears while watching It’s a Wonderful Life, while Travolta rocks a soul patch. And then, inexplicably, the whole thing turns sexual when Newton-John begins moaning, “I like it,” toward the end.
The Killers: ‘I Feel It in My Bones’ (2012)
Not to be confused with the hilariously tone-deaf Christmas tune crooned by Bill Nighy in Love, Actually, The Killers’ latest holiday effort might be even more inappropriate for the season: the song features a Santa brandishing a rifle and mounting in Harley in pursuit of those who’ve been more naughty than nice. Still, if nothing else, it’s a fitting follow-up to the band’s 2009 Christmas track, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa.”
Snoop Dogg: ‘Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto’ (1996)
Hard to believe this one never caught on, eh?
Backstreet Boys: ‘It’s Christmas Time Again’ (2012)
BSB’s new holiday tune would be harder to mock had it not been released a decade after the band’s prime, but alas, the newly reunited group has gifted us “It’s Christmas Time Again” now. In the age of One Direction and X-Factor’s Emblem 3, lyrics like “La ta la ta la da” just show the group’s, well, age. Upon its release, group member Nick Carter said, “There aren’t that many original holiday songs out there”—an astute point—“and we really feel we made a timeless contribution to the season, and a song our kids’ kids will be listening to.” Or not.
Britney Spears: ‘My Only Wish (This Year)’ (2000)
Britney Spears’s foray into holiday music, released before she was “Not. That. Innocent.,” is so quintessentially bubblegum that it has the same nauseous effect as overindulging in gingerbread cookies. Slightly refreshing, however, is the lack of Auto-Tune and digital sweetening that has come to define Spears’s voice in recent years.
Jessica Simpson: ‘My Only Wish’ (2010)
Oh, Jess! You’re about a decade late. Brit Brit beat you to the cringe-worthy-Christmas-song-called-“My-Only-Wish” by a full 10 years. With lyrics like “If only given one wish for Christmas / A lot of things would truly come to mind” and a melody that sounds like she was making it up on the spot, Simpson doesn’t even reach the mediocre heights of Spears’s earlier effort.
Kenny Chesney: ‘All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan’ (2003)
“Don’t you think it’s a really good plan? / All I want is a real good tan.” Yep. Credit Kenny Chesney for trying to warm up carolers with a tune that evokes surf, sand, and drinks with umbrellas over more season-typical things like snow, Santa, and hot cocoa. The end result, however, is extreme bitterness from listeners over the fact they are, not, in fact, getting a “real good tan.” Real good wind burn, maybe, though that’s less catchy.
Justin Bieber: ‘Mistletoe’ (2011)
The Biebs was only 17 when he crooned about “feeling one thing, your lips on my lips” and called his paramour “shawty” in the 2011 song “Mistletoe.” So, in summary: Ew.
Gloria Estefan: ‘Love on Layaway’ (2000)
At first there’s a semi-pleasing Latin vibe to Gloria Estefan’s 2000 track “Love on Layaway,” with bongos punching up a traditionally schmaltzy holiday orchestration. But then the groan-worthy chorus kicks in, in which Estefan literally sings about putting “love on layaway for you,” as if her heart goes shopping at Wal-Mart. Then she egregiously cribs Mimi’s hit, warbling about how “all I want for Christmas is you,” which is just unforgivable.
98 Degrees: ‘This Gift’ (1998)
Sorry, couldn’t get through more than 30 seconds of this one.
Hanson: ‘Everybody Knows the Claus’ (1997)
The Hanson brothers, those long-haired teenaged elves from Tulsa that earwormed their way into pop-culture history—if not our hearts—with the infectious “Mmmbop,” try so hard with “Everybody Knows the Claus.” But it’s just so, so bad. “Don’t you smell the cookies he’s bakin’,” the song warns. “Can’t you see that belly it’s shakin’ / Don’t take a cookie off of that pan / You don’t want to mess with this man.” It all comes off like a song written for a freshman English class project—which is actually quite appropriate, considering the Hanson brothers were just wee cherubs themselves when they wrote it.
NewSong: ‘Christmas Shoes’ (2000)
It’s the holiday song that doubles as a full-length soap opera, with a narrator who buys a pair of women’s shoes for a boy who wants to give his dying mother a nice gift, but in the end receives the greatest gift of all: the true meaning of Christmas. It’s inspired a full-length book, a movie starring Rob Lowe, and alternating floods of tears or groans, depending on who you talk to. Just don’t talk to Patton Oswalt about it.