Many of us who are fortunate enough to have a public forum to write about music share a certain level of cynicism. It’s a bug that bites me at strange and random times; it generally puts me off to treacly dramas and sitcoms about the bumbling misadventures of loutish patriarchs, but I can often turn it off just in time to give the impression that I have the music taste of your average 13-year-old girl. (Thanks, “Call Me Maybe”, for letting me love you.)
Point is, all bets are off around Christmas. Many of our ilk find our cynicism heightened when the same massive fistful of Christmas standards is unceremoniously dumped upon us around this time of year; others retreat in the opposite direction, diving face-first into the cuddly sentimentality of Christmas classics with reckless abandon, realizing that this just may be the only month where all bets are off. I’m tempted to say I hew closer to the latter, but I get sick of my fair share of Christmas slop. I often take umbrage with hyper-modern Christmas music — it doesn’t even sound festive anymore! — and attempt to filter a select few chestnuts from my listening consciousness. Around this time last year, we discussed the Satanic qualities of sinister seasonal tearjerker “Christmas Shoes” in this very column, so this year, we’re going to look at another popular Yuletide turd: “Santa Baby”, popularized by Eartha Kitt and every female singer who’s ever put out a Christmas album ever.
We all know the familiar sounds of the slinky doo-wop number; the workaday vocal progression isn’t inherently offensive. But the thing about “Santa Baby” is — you know what? Let’s just drop the charade. You know what I’m going to say. I mean, seriously, if you’ve read more than one of these things from me, you know my formula: I’m gonna latch on to some lyrical snippet that actually means something terrible (or potentially sociopathic), and expound on that ad infinitum. I’m not saying it hasn’t made for some entertaining rants — after all, I amawesome — but it’s all pretty well telegraphed at this point.
So let’s cut to the chase: the singer of “Santa Baby” wants to bang Santa. Oh, she doesn’t come out and say anything so crass; it’s a fairly coy song for the message it delivers, honestly. But that’s the thing about “Santa Baby”; it’s clearly about a woman using her sex appeal to get a dude to buy her stuff. It’s the seasonal version of “Material Girl”, basically. But where there’s an inkling of the tongue-in-cheek about that Madonna tune — an artist who, by the way, has recorded arguably the most popular version of the ditty at hand — “Santa Baby” is all come-hither moans and sensual coos. Directed towards perhaps the most beloved children’s icon of all time.
Now, look, I’m no dummy. People flirt for material goods sometimes; it’s the way our society works. But during a holiday that is predicated on peace on earth and selfless giving, is it really ideal to record a song that suggests that you can have lavish, expensive gifts showered upon you, just by sacrificing your dignity? Keep it real: Eartha, Madonna, these women aren’t going after Santa Claus with that flirtatious tone because he’s a catch. There’s no Channing Tatum 20-pack under that red velvet robe, just mounds of flesh; granted, he’s clearly a very nice dude, a quality not to be underrated, but he’s clearly being taken advantage of. Santa Claus is, after all, a man. Stop toying with his emotions so! Stop using your body as a bargaining chip!
And that’s to say nothing of the crass commercialism at play. I mean, look, nobody likes the kid who shows everyone up at the Christmas party by wishing for peace on earth. Santa is strictly about material goods; giving them selflessly and with a magnanimous spirit, mind you, but he peddles possessions nonetheless. (Once those elves start cobbling together peace on earth, then it makes sense to ask for it, but until the technology is perfected, just ask for an iPad like everyone else.) But still — the sheer amount of stuff asked for in “Santa Baby” is ridiculous. The singer is never satisfied; convertibles, yachts, a platinum mine, and worst of all “a ring — and I don’t mean on the phone.” That line pretty much directly translates to “I want jewelry, but I’d never dream of holding a conversation with you.” Yes, all the telltale signs are there: our narrator implies, through clever-gross phrasing (“come and trim my Christmas tree”) and breathy sex appeal, that carnal holiday relations are possible IF Santa hooks her up with some insanely expensive stuff, and doesn’t bother to call her ever again. It’s gross. (Factor in that Santa is famously married and we’ve got a disconcertingly scandalous little number.)
The only way this song makes sense is if it’s really an elaborate sting. Think about it; Mrs. Claus slaps on her sexiest tone and gets on the horn to her famous hubby to see if he takes the bait. If the gifts show up at her rented P.O. Box on Christmas Day, she knows he’s susceptible to seduction, and can take measures to nip his cheatin’ heart in the bud. That’s a sequel to “Santa Baby” I’d pay to hear — but until the day that happens, we can only take the song at face value. And at face value, it’s a pretty nasty number.
In conclusion, I leave you not with Eartha Kitt’s iconic original, but Michael Buble’s hilariously misguided cover. He tries to overcompensate with a manly “Santa Buddy”, and it doesn’t work. Enjoy!