December 4, 2014

NEEDELL | All I Want for Christmas is You Not Being a Jerk

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Every year, the morning after Thanksgiving, I find myself overcome by an odd sense of relief. A considerable contribution to this feeling has got to do with the fact that waking up provides me with the reassurance that the previous day of food consumption did not damn me to an eternal, inescapable food coma.

But the larger aspect of this relief is that I can finally let myself enjoy the holiday season. See, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to the appropriate date to put up the tree or light the menorah (coming from a mixed religious background, I get to celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah, #SoBlessed). This means that no decorations should go up and no music should be played until after Thanksgiving.

Call me a Grinch, call me a curmudgeon — both are likely appropriate titles. Yeah, it’s kind of messed up that other people’s joy for the holidays can bring me such frustration. But that is who I am. Give Thanksgiving its due respect, then prepare for whatever is next as much as you would like.

Now, Christmas music can be a wonderful thing. As long as nobody jumps the gun, I really do enjoy the upbeat, carefree tunes that lead us to late December. The unifying excitement and good vibes are a nice break from the braggadocious chest-thumping that pervades so much of our current pop-music scene (come at me, Calvin Patten).

So when I saw all the heat that Mariah Carey got for her recent performance of her classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” the other night, I was caught off-guard. And, frankly, kind of bummed out.

To be clear, I am by no means an avid fan of Mariah Carey’s. Other than her Christmas classic and “Touch My Body” (a guilty pleasure, if I ever had one), I feel basically indifferent to her and her music. I hope this does not come off as my “LEAVE MARIAH ALONE!” moment.

But I think her admittedly uninspiring (okay, totally brutal) performance of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and the subsequent criticism brings up a couple of questions. First, I think it brings up the lip-syncing conversation. And this is a conversation that I believe to be a bit more layered than one may assume.

I think I can speak for pretty much everybody when I say that, in a perfect performing world, nobody would lip-sync, and everybody would be awesome. I don’t think I know anybody who would not prefer a genuine and impressive performance to a prerecorded track. People pay to see a good live performance, and expect to get what they paid for. And people get pissed when they don’t. This has been made extremely clear by several instances of lip-syncing performances gone bad — notably Ashlee Simpson’s notorious Saturday Night Live mishap.

That said, it is important to consider the artist’s perspective here. Let’s use Mariah Carey as an example. She has a song that a lot of people see as synonymous with their favorite time of the year. People want to see her perform, and she probably knows that seeing a live performance of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” will always be a holiday highlight for these fans. But, maybe her vocal chords are not quite what they used to be. Those high notes get a bit harder to hit each year. Or maybe she has a cold. Or she does not work well with the frigid air. For whatever reason, this performance is not going to go well.

So, there are two options. She can opt to lip-sync the song and risk disappointing fans and attracting criticism from self-righteous viewers who question her sincerity. Or, she can give a really bad performance, and become the butt of jokes from now until New Years. Clearly, both are far from an ideal situation.

In an oddly admirable (but not particularly listenable) move, Mariah chose the latter option. And she is paying for it. I have seen countless people cracking jokes at her inability to hit her trademark high notes. Somebody even went as far as to isolate her vocal track completely, so you can really hyper focus on the star’s struggle.

Under normal circumstances, I am not sure I would feel pity for Mariah. I am admittedly a bit harsh when it comes to underwhelming performances, and probably could be a bit more sympathetic toward celebrities (but, should I really be?).

However, context is key here. Which brings me to my next point. Can’t people just be nicer during the holiday season? Like, c’mon people. This is a woman singing a holiday song that has been a staple for years. A light, feel good love song. All she’s trying to do is do her part in ushering in the holiday season. Mariah put herself out there, in a vulnerable position that few people have or ever will experience and understand, and she has been made a laughing stock because of it. Aren’t the holidays supposed to be about treating each other kindly?

Sure, it’s easy to blast her when you’re laying in your bed on your laptop. But you let me know when you have even a fraction of the impact on even a fraction of the number of people that Mariah Carey has had during holiday season.

Maybe it’s just all of the holiday spirit that I have been warding off until after Thanksgiving crashing over me all at once. But if this cynical, overly critical Scrooge can give Mariah Carey a pass here in the name of the holiday spirit, so can you.

With that, I will say happy holidays to you. Be kind, be generous.  And remember — all I want for Christmas is you not being a jerk.