“If you love something, leave it alone,” isn’t really an expression that people use enough to qualify as a cliché, but I think it should be? It might help us out as a culture. (My cat, who recoils from touch no matter how affectionately intended, would seem to agree.) Having that idea in the ether might make people think twice before covering songs that don’t need to be covered. Like, for example, “The Christmas Song,” the tear-jerking night-before-Christmas ballad made famous by Nat King Cole. To be fair, there have been solid versions recorded by people other than Cole (Toni Braxton’s is my second favorite), but the risk of fucking up a classic is so high that most singers shouldn’t even bother taking this one on. Pick a different song! There are so many! Your new version is destined to live in the shadow of Cole’s perennial holiday juggernaut anyway (on the most recent Billboard Hot 100 chart, Cole’s rendition sits at No. 16).
But I’m talking sense in a senseless world. To wit, on her 2000 Christmas album, My Kind of Christmas, Christina Aguilera recorded “The Christmas Song.” Her rendition gets some airplay every year, and every year it makes my teeth rattle and my bowels clench. I am not one of those people who hates Christmas music, but this version of the song makes me understand those people. Aguilera’s kind of Christmas is a tangle of melisma, a ball of stringed lights that’s better off just staying in the attic. It’s like a tree whose every branch is bending under the weight of too many ornaments. Every syllable is actually five syllables. You have to wonder if she is connecting to the actual words coming out of her mouth, or whether they’re just vessels for her runs. She makes her songs feel inconsequential to the singing of them.
Christina Aguilera’s “The Christmas Song” is my least favorite Christmas song. It’s worse than “Wonderful Christmastime.” It’s worse than “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” which I actually love even though it’s hideously obnoxious. It’s worse than the Christmas slow jam Justin Bieber released when he was 17 in which he sang about wanting to eat your cookies. It’s worse than the smug “The Christmas Shoes.” It’s way worse than the imperialist “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Aguilera’s “The Christmas Song” is nothing short of heresy, even to an agnostic like me.
Anyway, she performed it on Monday’s Late Night with Seth Meyers. It was good, if you like what she does. She was clearly lip-syncing, though, as this moment conveys:
Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.