A deep dive into the curious world of emo Christmas songs
Around this time of year, every year, we start putting on the Christmas playlist. If you don’t, someone definitely will. Circa Michael Bublé’s yearly rollout from storage, you can hear All I Want For Christmas Is You in every single building you have to visit during the month of December. It’s an important tradition and one rooted in Christmas cheer, but it can be hard if you’re not really feeling it. Luckily, there’s another musical tradition closer to the heart that can be indulged if you’re so inclined: that of ‘alternative’ – namely emo or pop-punk – Christmas songs. If whiny songs about leaving your hometown courtesy of heartbroken men are your thing the other 11 months of the year, it’s likely you’ve come across a fair few pop-punk Christmas bangers in your life. There are even entire compilations dedicated to the tradition, Punk Goes Christmas and A Taste Of Christmas, to name just two.
Maybe you’ve already heard Fall Out Boy’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out or My Chemical Romance’s cover of All I Want For Christmas Is You. Maybe, feeling a little sombre around mid-December as the nights roll in, you have a small cry to the Bright Eyes Christmas album. But what’s perhaps less commonly known is that basically every emo or pop punk band has quietly dipped their toe in the Christmas song pool: Jimmy Eat World, New Found Glory, Bowling For Soup, even From First To Last. And the most important question is: why? Why are the most ostensibly depressing, most self-centered genres so preoccupied with covering themes of holiday cheer in a tradition more often reserved for only the most sincere of popstars? But before we answer that question, there are a few other things to cover.
For one, there isn’t just one type of emo Christmas song. Firstly, there’s the straight covers, which make some sense: it’s easy to take a song and cover it in your own, ‘alternative’ style – see A Day to Remember’s cover of Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone. A lot of bands have tried it: for their Christmas EP, A GC Christmas, Pt. 1, Good Charlotte covered Last Christmas to go alongside two original songs. Bright Eyes covered Little Drummer Boy and Blue Christmas among others on A Christmas Album, and My Chemical Romance covered All I Want For Christmas, to name a few. It’s this type of Christmas song that maybe makes the most sense – covering other people’s songs in a semi-ironic tone is an emo and pop punk tradition. See Punk Goes Crunk, which is full of hip-hop covers by pop-punk bands, or Punk Goes Pop. Pop-punk loves to mock other genres, and while this might not be the motivation behind every Christmas cover, it definitely plays a role.
The other type is perhaps more sincere: bands writing their own Christmas songs. This is where we get some of the best: Fall Out Boy’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out is, naturally, a vengeful and cruel twist on a holiday song. The Used’s Alone This Holiday is a breakup song exploring the loneliness that comes hand in hand with a season oriented around family and love. Good Charlotte’s Christmas By the Phone, which is about their dad leaving them on Christmas Eve, also explores the disappointment and loneliness of the season. New Found Glory’s Nothing For Christmas, is a slightly sweeter original song, while blink-182’s Happy Holidays, You Bastard and I Won’t Be Home For Christmas are a more, well, blink-182 take on Christmas cheer. Most original emo or pop-punk Christmas songs aren’t the most cheerful, but perhaps that’s just why they exist: not to be ironic or mocking about Christmas music or the season generally, but in an attempt to tackle some of the lonelier emotions that come hand in hand with such a relentlessly cheery time of year. Of course, that isn’t to say that mainstream Christmas music never has a sadder edge, but with lyrics like, ‘All I want this year is for you to dedicate your last breath to me,’ emo Christmas songs are just a little more visceral and on the nose.
And then, finally, there are artists who are so committed to the idea of Christmas music that they release entire Christmas albums, either in a grab for money when their Christmas album ends up wrapped up under loads of tiny little emos’ Christmas trees, or just because. Bright Eyes, as already mentioned, have an entire Christmas album for a more chill, self-loathing background soundtrack. For a much more typically pop-punk Christmas, Bowling For Soup have Merry Flippin’ Christmas (Vols 1 and 2!) with tracks like Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy. Jimmy Eat World and Good Charlotte both have Christmas EPs, showing their commitment to the season. The Maine have a Christmas album called …And a Happy New Year – the list, seemingly, never stops.
All Time Low, Panic! At the Disco, Joyce Manor, Funeral For A Friend… you name the emo or pop-punk band, and I can pretty much guarantee you they’ve had a go at a slightly depressing twist on Christmas music. There’s any number of reasons why: perhaps because Christmas music tends to be so cloying, it’s instinctive to make it more realistic. As far as miserable Christmas music goes, the mainstream only really has Fairytale Of New York. Christmas is a time of year rife with tension, with loneliness, with realising just how few people you have in the world (and just how little you get on with the people you do). That reality is often skimmed over, leaving the people who feel like shit to feel even worse. Emo Christmas music, if depressing, at least embraces that reality with genuine bangers that make the pain a little less. Plus – and this is, probably, the main reason – the songs are good, and it’s funny to add some unclean vocals in the background of a Mariah or George Michael track. Regardless of why, they exist – so put on a pop-punk Christmas playlist and get comfortable. Happy holidays, you bastards!
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Posted on December 8th 2020, 3:45p.m.