Even if you’re the type to break out Mariah Carey on November 1st, you very likely have a song that every year around the holidays makes you grimace. Often created in a slapdash rush to hit the year’s busiest shopping season, holiday music is rarely a labor of love for the artists making it. By its nature, it is bound to turn out plenty of duds, but every so often a really memorably awful one surfaces. It takes a lot to stand out in such a saturated field, but these ten songs manage to pull it off.
10. Cyndi Lauper – Christmas Conga
Like so many Christmas albums, Cyndi Lauper’s 1998 Merry Christmas… Have a Nice Life! has been all but memory-holed, and with it the ill-considered Latin bop “Christmas Conga.” You can’t blame Lauper for trying to create a new holiday tradition, but you absolutely can blame her for the lyric “Bonga bonga bonga, do the Christmas conga.”
9. The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa
This song was The Killers’ gift to every edgy 12-year-old in 2007 and has probably held up the worst out of any song on this list. Tongue-in-cheek as it is, its lyrics about a murderous boy pleading with a vengeful Santa to spare him have aged like unrefrigerated milk.
8. Pentatonix – O Come All Ye Faithful
No matter what side of the Pentatonix love-hate fence you fall on, there’s no denying the consistent popularity of their holiday offerings. So it’s hard to fault their holiday music for being barely distinguishable from the rest of their high-fructose a cappella pop offerings. Their version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” off A Pentatonix Christmas is worth special mention for how much of a mess it is, with reggae beats and a church choir that make it a mess even for Pentatonix.
7. Bon Jovi – Back Door Santa
Clarence Carter’s raunchy 1968 recording of “Back Door Santa” is an iconic anti-Christmas song, but somewhere along the line, someone made the mistake of telling Bon Jovi, who then decided to cover it with full-throated, aggressively horny sincerity. This has the dubious honor of being perhaps the single most off-putting song you could have sing-shouted at you over arena rock guitars.
6. Sia – Puppies are Forever
Yes, responsible pet ownership is a timely subject around the holidays, when animal shelters see some of their highest traffic and not always for the right reasons. Still, they could have asked for a better ambassador than this well-meaning but deeply cringey reggae-lite PSA off Sia’s 2017 holiday album, delivered with her signature quirkiness and featuring the soothing sounds of barking dogs.
5. Christina Aguilera – Oh Holy Night
There’s no shame in sitting something out if you can’t nail it. “Oh Holy Night” is an infamously tricky one to get right, but Christina Aguilera’s issue is not so much ability as the truly baffling directions she decided to take it in. Inexplicably dropping an “Our Father” voiceover into the middle remains one of the weirdest things anyone has ever done with a Christmas song.
4. Paul McCartney and Wings – “Wonderful Christmas Time”
The original grating Christmas song, this one probably would have been left on the cutting room floor and forgotten long ago if anyone other than Paul McCartney had sung it. Unfortunately for us, he did, and shoppers, drivers, and any worker forced to endure a Christmas playlist will forever have to contend with this plodding, barely musical song that might just be the low-point in not just McCartney’s, but any Beatle’s career.
3. Michael Bublé – Santa Baby
Michael Bublé’s rendition of the classic “Santa Baby” is a classic case study in the merits of changing the lyrics of a song to match the gender and (hetero)sexual leaning of the singer. Leaving that aside completely, though, this cover is worthy of special mention precisely because, in an apparent fit of advanced “no homo,” Bublé seems to have thought that changing “Santa baby” to “Santa buddy” would make the song sound less erotic.
2. Lady Gaga – Christmas Tree
It’s easy to forget Lady Gaga once tried her hand at an original Christmas song. Frankly, the pop icon and occasional Patrizia Gucci impersonator would probably rather you forgot all about this thoroughly confusing avant-garde pop mashup of holiday melodies revolving around the central bizarre metaphor of herself as a sensual Christmas tree.
1. RuPaul – With Bells On
Long before Drag Race holiday content became an almost-yearly occurrence, RuPaul’s 1997 Christmas album Ho Ho Ho showed us what happens when camp goes bad. You might think Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “With Bells On” would be a natural fit for the supermodel of the world, but just about everything that can go wrong with this does. Ru is flat, Michelle Visage seems to be trying to do vocals for a different song entirely, and worst of all, neither of them are having any fun with it at all.
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