It happened again. The calendar had barely ticked over to December before the chimes began tinkling over the supermarket PA.
“Ahhhh-ahaaa-eye …” began Mariah Carey, “… dohn-whaahn-ahh-loht foh-oh-oh-hooor Christmaaahs …”
And she was off, dragging out those vowels, shaking those bells and haunting the aisles like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Each December, the ‘Queen of Christmas’ leads the cavalcade of seasonal schmaltz and provides a surprisingly anti-materialistic soundtrack to our shopping.
Supermarkets love to bombard us with an avalanche of tinsel tunes in the hope that we spend more, and I’ll confess, there is a genuine level of anxiety that comes with the constant reminders of the Christmas countdown.
The jingle of sleigh bells has begun to sound more like coins slipping through my fingers and the more I hear Mariah’s insistence that she “don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree” I can sense the sarcastic tone and the passive-aggressive subtext hidden in the lyrics.
The irony of her cheery message is laid bare by the knowledge that the song has earned Carey an estimated $60 million (USD) since its release in 1994.
Mariah might say that all she wants is “you”, but what she gets is about $3 million in royalties annually!
The first Christmas hit dates back over 2000 years to the time a host of angels staged a free concert for a group of shepherds in a backwater village on the fringe of the Roman Empire.
Today, Christmas music is big business and a recurring seasonal hit can set an artist up with a lifetime’s supply of gold (or even frankincense and myrrh if they want it).
If Mariah is the Queen of Christmas, then Wham! is the brokenhearted King.
In a Netflix documentary released this year, the late George Michael (or ‘Yog’ as he is called by bandmate Andrew Ridgely) tells the story of how Bob Geldof’s Band Aid ruined his quest for a Christmas number 1.
In 1984, the pop duo was blowing up and George felt that the time was right to drop his Christmas banger that he hoped would be their fourth chart-topper that year.
They nailed the recording, shot a wine-soaked video in Switzerland and were ready to conquer the December charts when the phone rang.
The Boomtown Rats frontman was getting the world’s biggest stars together on a record to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia and, of course, Bob wanted George to be part of the celebrity choir.
“That was what was so ironic about the Band Aid – Do They Know it’s Christmas – everyone else was just thinking, how fantastic it is, this is great, it’s going to be number one,” George recalled.
“And I had all those same feelings about it, but I just had this little bastard ego thing that I just had to keep squashing that was going, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!”
Ego aside, not only did he sing on the iconic Christmas collaboration, but Wham! donated all the profits from their number two hit to the famine appeal.
Ultimately, while Live Aid’s problematic message has aged poorly, Last Christmas is a sentimental favourite and finally went number 1 in 2021, 36 years after its release.
The song has also spawned the seasonal game, Whamageddon!, which is played annually by hundreds of thousands across the globe and is based on the idea that it is almost impossible to avoid the Christmas classic.
The aim of the game is to try to make it through the whole 24 December days before Christmas without hearing the iconic song while out in the wild.
If you hear it, it’s game over and you have to post #Whamageddon to your social media to indicate you’ve lost.
I believe I was a #Whamageddon loser by about 2 December this year.
But whether you play the game or not, or you’re starting to struggle with the seasonal music, the upside is that Christmas-comes-but-once-a-year and the shopping day countdown also serves to remind us that the end is in sight.