Which pop star is trying to steal the crown from Mariah, the queen of Christmas?

From Kelly Clarkson to Ariana Grande and even Big Freedia, there are plenty of pretenders to the throne

It seems like the Christmas season begins earlier and earlier each year. Most stores already have their Christmas stock out before Halloween is even over, and Mariah Carey didn’t wait a second past midnight on Nov. 1 to post an Instagram video of herself smashing jack-o-lanterns with a candy cane. 

Welcome to Mariah Carey awareness month! The elusive-chanteuse makes up to a million dollars a year from the “All I Want For Christmas Is You” royalties alone and she wants those streams! Mariah is the undisputed queen of Christmas but artists across all genres want a piece of the very lucrative Christmas pie, too. For a long time, Christmas albums were a quick cash grab for has-been legacy artists. But since Mariah’s 1994 mega hit Merry Christmas album, more and more artists are releasing Christmas albums during the peak of their popularity—and this year is no exception. We’re here to walk you through some of those new releases (most notably Kelly Clarkson’s), and take a look back at some of the queerest moments in the Christmas music canon. Is November too early? Yes. But Mariah Carey has said “it’s time” and we are powerless against her. 

Tranna: It feels like we can’t even enjoy Halloween anymore because all the Christmas freaks are counting down to Nov. 1. And it’s all Mariah Carey’s fault—Mariah is such a brilliant artist, as we’ve previously discussed, and I hate that she’s made Christmas her entire brand. From her Christmas commercials to her Christmas specials, it’s all so unbelievably tacky and Mariah is better than that. Her Christmas aesthetic is so garish! 

Thomas: Is she, though? She only has herself to blame for such poor brand management, especially in the last 10 years. The 2011 Bieber duet version of “All I Want” was tragic and Mariah’s Christmas brand only went downhill from there. Even though I obviously love the original version of “AIWFCIY,” I think it’s time we look past Mariah toward a new Queen of Christmas. The first obvious contender is Kelly Clarkson, who gave us what is perhaps the best original Christmas pop song of the 21st century: 2013’s “Underneath the Tree!” It’s saccharine and warm and festive, with a ’60s vibe. She sings that before her “special someone” came along, Christmas was cold and grey (how original!). You know me, I love generic pop and this song certainly delivers the goods. Also, kudos to Kelly for writing original Christmas music. (Fun fact: her co-writer on the track, Greg Kurstin, also worked on Adele’s “Easy On Me.”) 

 

Tranna: Kelly Clarkson is definitely trying to steal Mariah’s Queen of Christmas crown. She’s just released her second Christmas album, When Christmas Comes Around… The first single is called “Christmas Isn’t Cancelled (Just You),” which is an obvious nod to her recent, messy divorce. Love that Kelly is capitalizing on the popularity and virality of cancel culture debates to pimp out her Christmas single—what could be more festive? 

There’s also a song called “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” When I first saw the title in the album’s track listing I thought it was a cover of Mariah’s signature song and I was ready to pounce. But it’s not—it’s a totally different song. I did a little digging and discovered that Kelly’s is a cover of Vince Vance and The Valiants; the song was released in 1989 and then it was re-released in 1993, a year before Mariah’s. Mariah’s song not only uses the exact same title but the lyrical themes are the exact same! 

I don’t need sleigh rides in the snow
Don’t want Christmas that’s blue
Take back the tinsel, stockings and bows
Cause all I want for Christmas is you
I don’t need expensive things
They don’t matter to me
All that I want
Can be found
Underneath the Christmas tree. 

Did Mariah Carey fucking plagarize her biggest hit?! 

Thomas: By putting that song on her album, Kelly is trying to expose the truth of Mariah’s plagiarism! 

Tranna: Forget How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this year is all about how Kelly stole Christmas from Mariah—or, more accurately, how Kelly tried to steal Christmas from Mariah. Even with Mariah’s plagiarism exposed, Kelly will not dethrone Mariah. 

Thomas: A potential contender for princess of Christmas is Ariana Grande, whose “Santa Tell Me” has also softened my previously hard stance against holiday music. The song is generic in a very comforting way, with lots of woo-hoos and vocal acrobatics and a big choir bow at the end. It’s perfectly predictable, which is exactly the kind of camp I’m looking for when it comes to Christmas music. Ariana also covered Wham’s “Last Christmas”; she wrote new lyrics for the verses and gave it an R’n’B spin, but it falls flat. Honestly, “Last Christmas” is the “Hallelujah” of holiday music and people need to stop covering it (Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor, Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift are just a few of the singers who’ve sucked the soul out of this classic). George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley created a perfect Christmas sad bop and no one should touch it anymore.

Tranna: Kelly also covered “Last Christmas” on her new album! Her cover is an act of homophobia—I had to listen to the original immediately afterwards to heal myself. And I agree with you, people need to leave this song alone. George Michael is untouchable. I love the video for “Last Christmas.” It’s a glamorous bisexual orgy at a ski lodge and it’s how I dream of spending Christmas. 

Getting back to Ariana, Kelly also has a duet with her on the album—and I’m sure the gays are rejoicing. It is honestly the most generic, made-by-numbers Christmas song. It sounds like every Christmas song ever made rolled into one. It is completely unremarkable and soulless, like most of the album, which I trudged through for the integrity of this column. This album has had the opposite of the intended effect on me—it’s making me hate Christmas. 

Thomas: Don’t come for my gig—I’m the Christmas grinch of our duo! I have so much family trauma connected to the holidays that for years, I couldn’t really let myself enjoy the season. And I think a lot of queers are in the same boat. Christmas music often felt like I was being “forced” to enjoy the holidays, and if there is one thing I profoundly dislike, it’s being forced to do anything. I hated holiday albums so much that I couldn’t even get into Céline’s classic Christmas album These Are Special Times (tbh, I still can’t). 

Tranna: Céline should have called that album “These Are Trying Times.” It would have more accurately reflected the listening experience. 

Thomas: Her version of “O Holy Night” makes my skin crawl! I guess I still need an ironic detachment to enjoy holiday music, hence why I dig Kelly Clarkson’s fun Christmas vibe!

Tranna: Maybe Kelly’s first Christmas album, Wrapped in Red, was fun, but When Christmastime Comes Around… is torture. I’m going to be brutally honest, I do not understand the gay love for Kelly. She’s the Rachael Ray of the music world: in the way that Rachael appeals to the most basic of palates, Kelly appeals to the most basic musical taste. To me, Kelly is Céline Dion for a new generation of soccer moms and white gays. Great voice but no style, no emotional depth. Over-produced schmaltz at its factory finest. 

“I do not understand the gay love for Kelly. She’s the Rachael Ray of the music world.”

Thomas: They are both singers made for TV and there is something very reassuring about that! Enough about Kelly, though, I’d like to give a shoutout to Kylie Minogue and her criminally overlooked Kylie Christmas album! It gives off a very gay-husbands-hosting-Christmas-Eve vibe, striking the perfect balance between old-school crooner classics (there is a duet of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with Frank Sinatra) and campy originals like “100 Degrees,” a duet with her sister, Dannii. The only flaw on Kylie Christmas is the James Corden duet, but the overall result works because Kylie sounds like she’s genuinely enjoying herself. 

Tranna: I love that you brought up Kylie’s Christmas album. The remix of “Everyday’s Like Christmas” is so good. Halloween is often called “gay Christmas” because Christmas is really fucking straight. But if you look hard enough, there is some amazing queerness in the Christmas music canon. Besides Kylie, there’s Eurythmics’ “Winter Wonderland,” which is my number one Christmas song of all time; Annie Lennox’s intro is hauntingly gorgeous. The whole song has this electro melancholia running through it that perfectly mirrors the inherent sadness of Christmas. Then there’s Carnie and Wendy Wilson’s “Hey Santa,” which is criminally not streaming anywhere. I can’t explain why it’s queer, but you know queerness when you see it, and this is it. (Maybe it’s their very ’90s brown lipstick.) But the gayest Christmas song is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” performed by Rosie O’Donnell and Cher, using the “Believe” Autotune! It’s from Rosie’s super gay Christmas album, A Rosie Christmas, which every ’90s kid remembers. Rosie can’t sing but because everyone loved her she got to duet with Lauryn Hill, Elton John and Gloria Estefan. 

Thomas: I think Christmas music is at its most interesting when there is a queer bent to it! I’ll be honest I had to do some research, but I think I finally found holiday songs I can fully get behind. My new favourite Christmas song is Big Freedia’s “Santa is a Gay Man,” a hilarious track where the queen of bounce re-imagines Santa Claus as a tall and scruffy Black gay man and samples The Chordettes’ “Mr Sandman.” All Big Freedia wants for Christmas is to get laid, and she gets very specific about her demands: 

Santa, I’ve started to think
Now that I’m older, I don’t want a twink
I want a man, who’s older and wiser
Don’t mind if he has a pocket full of Pfizers
Santa to tell you the truth (To tell you the truth)
I think I want someone like you
Come down my chimney if you can
Mister Santa is a gay man. 

The song is on a 2016 EP called A Very Big Freedia Christmas, which bizarrely doesn’t feature the twerking holiday anthem you didn’t know you needed: “Make it Jingle.” 

Tranna: That Big Freedia song just reminded me of Destiny’s Child’s “8 Days of Christmas”—the dumbest Christmas song ever—and I love it! I also need to acknowledge Ricky Martin’s “Ay Ay Ay,” which is from the second volume of A Rosie Christmas. The premise of the song is very simple: Ricky didn’t have enough time to get you a Christmas present—he’s very busy—so instead he’s going to fuck you. I can’t think of a better present. 

Thomas: I mean, if Christmas is about love (as RuPaul sings on the too-literal “Christmas is About Love”) it’s also clearly the season to get horny! My other favourite Christmas queer anthem is Pansy Division’s “Homo Christmas” from 1995. I can’t believe I had never heard it before this year! The song features the most iconic lyrics ever: 

You’ll probably get sweaters
Underwear and socks
But what you’d really like for Christmas
Is a nice hard cock
You deserve a cute boy
Who’s horny and queer
To make the most out of Christmas cheer. 

It’s brash, it’s fun and it will turn you on! That’s the song everyone should be covering on their new Christmas albums.

Pansy Division’s “Homo Christmas.”

Tranna: All of this year’s biggest new Christmas releases—Kelly Clarkson, Rob Thomas, Norah Jones, Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss—are already out and the first week of November isn’t even over yet. This is too much. And obviously the reason the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier is to sell us as much useless shit as possible. The fact that we recognize Nov. 1 as the start of the Christmas season instead of Dec. 1—as it used to be, and should be—means we’ve allowed late-stage capitalism to win and that’s so depressing. All of these soulless Christmas albums are a toxic byproduct. 

None are more soulless than the abomination that is Darren Criss’ album, which he had the audacity to title A Very Darren Crissmas. Yes, “Crissmas.” He took Joni Mitchell’s devastating “River” and turned it into a joyous, up-tempo Glee song. I’m sorry but he should face jail time for that. 

Thomas: Sam Smith also covered “River” and it’s pretty meh. It proves that nailing sad or bittersweet Christmas music is actually very hard. Only true artists can do it, in my opinion. Kudos to queer icon Mary Lambert for giving us a holiday song called “Seasonal Depression” on her 2020 Happy Holigays EP. Also, did you know that Quebec’s own gay chanteur Pierre Lapointe recorded what is allegedly considered the first same-sex love duet with none other than Mika AND that it’s a chanson de Noël? It’s called “Six heures d’avion nous séparent” (“a six-hour flight separates us”) and it’s really fantastic! As a basic gay, I also have a sweet spot for Kacey Musgraves and Troye Sivan’s “Glittery,” the pop-country artist’s contribution to the Christmas canon.

Tranna: I actually really love Christmas but I cannot deal with this highly flammable corporate Christmas crap. I will not be adding any of this year’s Christmas releases to my collection. I’ll be sticking with the classics: A Very Special Christmas, Barbra Streisand’s The Christmas Album, Christmas with Boney M, Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song and of course Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas (when it was released in 1994 it wasn’t Mariah’s entire identity). Also, I will shamelessly end this by saying I, too, have my own original Christmas song, which I co-wrote with Feren Isles. It’s called “Holiday Afterglow” and you can stream it everywhere! Unlike Mariah, I make about 30 cents a year from my holiday song. 

Thomas: It’s funny, because I really don’t like Christmas. It stresses me out and brings me back to the years I had to split the holidays between my mom and dad’s and their respective spouses’ families. But today, Christmas music is healing these traumatic memories and it’s helping me survive the true hell that is the stretch between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25!

Tranna: I have a parting gift for our readers: a Spotify playlist with all the songs we’ve mentioned in this column! Enjoy!

Thomas Leblanc is one half of the Montreal comedy duo Thomas and Tranna, hosts of the CBC podcast Chosen Family.

Tranna Wintour is one half of the Montreal comedy duo Thomas and Tranna, hosts of the CBC podcast Chosen Family.

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