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On terrible store holiday music December 10, 2012

Posted by Erin Ptah in Personal.
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Apparently playing bad music is a calculated strategy to get you to buy more. When you’re frustrated and overstimulated, your system panics and you’ll make the decision to buy something just so you can feel like you have closure and can get out of there.

This explains so much.

So, yeah, I work in retail now. A couple weeks in, and I have a whole lot of Feelings about their playlist. Like: No traditional carols that namecheck Jesus are on it. Okay, that’s understandable — they’re trying to get that holiday mood without annoying the non-Christians too too much. Except that the rule doesn’t apply to Taylor “here’s to Jesus Christ who saved our lives” Swift. What’s up with that?

Also, for some reason “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t get nixed. (Do they think Muslim customers won’t get that it’s about the nativity?) Meanwhile, lovely classics like “Silver Bells” and “Deck The Halls” don’t get played in any version. I object.

There’s a sharp contrast between the “buy more stuff!” songs (“Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”, “Santa Baby”, the insufferable “Toy Town”, etc) and the “Christmas is not about the stuff!” songs (“Christmas Must Be Something More”, endless variations of “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, “One Wish (For Christmas)”, anything related to The Grinch). Maybe the latter category is there to give them plausible deniability about the former.

They have three separate songs about celebrating Christmas in a tropical place. (“Christmas in the Caribbean”, “Christmas on Christmas Island”, and “Mele Kalikimaka”). It’s cute and trope-twisting when it comes in the middle of a bunch of more typical songs, but starts to grate when the idea is being smacked at you all the time. Call me back when you’ve decided to let “White Wine In The Sun” in on the action.

There’s one Mannheim Steamroller song. It’s a great song. Did they just buy the one? What, was the rest of the album not good enough?

You can make some inferences about the customer base from the playlist. We get a whole lot of Spanish-speaking customers, and there’s a decent amount of Spanish versions of carols. I can’t vouch for how well they work (my sample size of one, a co-worker, said she thought they were trying too hard). There’s also a fair proportion of black customers, so the playlist has one single Kwanzaa song, which I cannot for the life of me find online in video or lyric form, in spite of the fact that it’s stuck in my head right now. (“It’s a Kwanzaa celebration! Honor elders from the family tree! If not for them there’d be no you and me receiving glory from above. It’s a Kwanzaa celebration! Come together with your family. Something celebrate our history and the harvest of our love!”)

No sign yet of a Hanukkah song, btw.

I had thought, previously, that “Feliz Navidad” would be the song I hated most. I was wrong. It helps that they have a couple of versions that are sung prettily, crooned and harmonized, instead of the weird exaggerated Speedy Gonzales-esque cover that was the only one the radio back in MD ever played. No, the song that makes me want to punch things, or at least go hide in one of the young-adult corners of the store (tiny enclaves with TVs that play pop songs) until it’s over, is “Run, Run, Rudolph”. Multiple versions of it. If I never have to hear one more male singer happily imitating a girl whose greatest ambition in make-believe is to clean up baby pee, it will be too soon.

(It’s very disorienting to come out of one of the teen sections and transition from Taylor Swift singing “We are Never, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together” to Taylor Swift singing “Santa, Baby”.)

Also up there on the DNW list: “Little Saint Nick”. It’s apparently a riff on one of the Beach Boys’ other songs with Christmassy words put in, but since the other song (“Little Deuce Coupe“) isn’t played any more, nobody gets the joke and the result is just kind of teeth-gritting. Oh, and the speedy polka version of “Step Into Christmas”! Who thought that was a good idea? (Elton John’s version can stay.)

There are a couple of songs that have come up, but don’t seem to be on the endless-repeat list. Springsteen’s iconic “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” was there earlier, but I feel like I didn’t hear it at all last week. Same with Glee’s “Extraordinary Merry Christmas”. And I swear they played the SpongeBob version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” (which I had not known existed until then), precisely once. It has not returned.

Some bright spots: “2000 Miles” is pretty, as is “We Need A Little Christmas”. There are a bunch of covers of “Last Christmas”, all very lovely. I haven’t even ranted about all the ones with adults trying too hard to sound like cutsey children, which apparently means they’re not a lasting annoyance. And there are some notable terrors that they haven’t even touched. (Three words: “Dominic the Donkey”.)

So that was my Christmas music rant! Next up: customers: why don’t they notice that we have trash cans? Even if you don’t, come on, at least carry your kid’s used juice box out into the main mall and throw it out there, instead of leaving it on our T-shirt displays.

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Comments»

1. Nathan - December 10, 2012

I currently work at Walmart, and they haven’t been playing Christmas music. Well, at least not yet. Maybe they’ll have decided to start when I go in tonight.

2. klcthebookworm - December 11, 2012

I think you’ve covered most of the reasons why I don’t turn the radio to the Christmas carols station and instead have the “Nightmare Before Christmas” on my mp3 as go to holiday music. (Unrelated rant: It’s a Christmas story, people, NOT Halloween! If I ever had the energy in December, I would so make it my default cubicle decorating theme.) I have expanded to the Christmas Celebration album by Mannheim Steamroller this year.

3. Deck Them Halls and All That Stuff | VoVatia - December 21, 2012

[…] Erin Ptah recently wrote an interesting post on holiday music, and made the point that “Little St. Nick” was largely intended as self-parody of “Little Deuce Coupe,” which doesn’t get played that much these days, so the joke is lost. I think that might apply even more to “Snoopy’s Christmas,” the tale of a holiday truce between the beagle and the Red Baron. I know that’s a follow-up to another novelty song about Snoopy fighting the Baron, but how often do you hear that one played anywhere? Erin also points out how there are both songs about buying stuff and ones about how Christmas, perhaps, doesn’t come from a store. It’s all a weird hodge-podge, but maybe that’s what the holidays are all about these days. By the way, can everyone stop playing “Santa Baby” so much? The song is obviously cursed, as Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day. Thank you. […]


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