Why are Christmas songs so horny?

Everyone’s a ho, ho, ho this Christmas.

by Alim Kheraj
|
Dec 21 2020, 9:00am

It’s no secret that Ariana Grande is DTF. If her most recent album, Positions, taught us anything, it’s that Ms. Grande regularly has sex on the brain, although she made that abundantly clear on “Side To Side” and “Love Me Harder” too. You could even argue for an X-rated reading of “Piano”, if you so wished. 

But before she got truly explicit with Positions, Ariana demonstrated her kinky side with a career curio, an insanely libidinous holiday EP.  Released in 2015, the six tracks on Christmas & Chill have no chill whatsoever: on “Wit It This Christmas”, Ariana questions whether a lover is “down for some of these milk and cookies”, before proclaiming that “’tis the season for some love giving”.

Ariana isn’t the only popstar to make Christmas music that makes cheeks blush as red as Rudolph’s nose. Of course, there are classics like Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby”, the Jackson 5’s rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and the oh-so-problematic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. But in recent years we’ve had additions to the canon like Katy Perry’s “Cozy Little Christmas”, which makes allusions to getting “frisky” over the festive period, and RuPaul’s Drag Race star Trixie Mattel’s “All I Want For Christmas Is Nudes”. In 2020, former One Directioner Liam Payne released his take on the sexy festive song, “Naughty List”, although he and featured artist Dixie D’Amelio seem to have misunderstood the brief about Christmas songs being festive and not sounding like you’re on summer vacation in Magaluf.


For Christmas purists, these overtly sexual songs might seem antithetical to the spirit of the season, which should be about good tidings and mince pies and the baby Jesus. But these sexy additions to the seasonal songbook simply follow a much larger movement of love songs dressed up as Christmas songs, albeit with more sauciness. It begs the question, though: just why are Christmas songs so horny?

Perhaps it’s important to firstly understand the enduring appeal of Christmas music. According to Professor Joe Bennett, a musicologist and Resident Scholar at Berklee College of Music USA, whose research interests include songwriter creativity and lyric themes in Christmas songs, it’s “about a combination of familiarity and nostalgia”.

“There is a particular canon of songs that we keep coming back to, and I think we find comfort in them as seasonal signifiers,” he explains. “We don’t just listen to any Christmas songs, we listen to the same Christmas songs, year after year. This, combined with the warm nostalgia in many of the lyrics, creates what I like to think of as self-reinforcing meta-nostalgia — we become nostalgic for the nostalgic songs we heard in the past.”


Professor Bennett suggests that Christmas songs have become more secular because of a more multicultural society, and agrees that while there have always been love songs set at Christmas, there has been a “steady uplift in the proportion of love-themed Christmas songs in recent decades”. He points to the success of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” as being an example of a modern holiday song merging the traditional aspects of festive music with something more contemporary: “It has 1950s-style chord changes and band arrangement, a universal secular love theme, seasonal imagery, and a title that brings together gift-giving and falling in love. And it has sleigh bells. What’s not to like?”

However, Professor Bennett points out that, usually, these romantic Christmas songs are about “a particular innocent, nostalgic, domestic type of love — the lyric themes are often about being at home with that special someone, or missing them when they’re far away”. He’s not of the opinion that this trend towards a hornier take on Christmas is going to last.

“I think that overly sexualised Christmas songs are unlikely to become future classics — it’s just not a universal enough lyric theme,” he argues. “Almost everything in the annual canon appeals to all age groups — kids, teens, young adults, parents, and grandparents. When a successful Christmas song hints at sexuality, it does so subtly and playfully — for example ‘Santa Baby’, and the arguably more problematic, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’.”


However, you can’t deny that Christmas is a time for horniness. Speaking to Vice in 2018, Jesse Kahn, director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective in New York City, suggested that people’s raised spirits during Christmas could result in “feeling more bold and seeking sexual connectedness”. “For those where sex is connected to family and reproduction, they may feel inspired to create or expand their families,” Kahn said. “For those with difficult family experiences, sex with those they choose intimacy with can be a way to feel more connected or pleasure at a time of feeling disconnected or estranged from the rest of their families.” 

Indeed, internet searches for “sex” boom across various holiday periods, according to research, and as Dr Kate Lister, a university lecturer and writer who also curates the online research project Whores of Yore, pointed out in a piece for the i Paper, there’s a long history of Christmastime being a period for getting sexy.

One artist who has contributed to the canon of horny holiday songs is rising pop newcomer Alaina Castillo, who in 2020 released the NSFS (not suitable for Santa) song “Wish List”. Reminiscent of wintery evenings by the fire, the song is actually pure filth, with lyrics that might inspire some regrettable texts sent after you’ve mainlined too much eggnog. “Wanna be your ho, ho, ho this Christmas,” Alaina sings on the chorus over production that comes complete with all the bells and Christmassy accoutrements one could wish for. “Gonna be the one thing on your wishlist / Let you eat the candy; boy don't kiss it / Wanna be your ho ho ho.”


“Christmas has been my favourite holiday since forever,” Alaina says when asked about the decision to record a sultry festive song, “and last year, Romans, my producer, and I went to New York. It was January, there were still Christmas vibes and I really wanted to write something Christmassy. We didn't want to do a typical Christmas song, and 'Wish List' is not a typical Christmas song; it's its own little thing.”

Initially, Alaina says that she struggled to find things to come up with that didn’t feel too classically Christmas. “We wondered about what three little words we could say and 'ho, ho, ho' came up,” she recalls. “But then as we started thinking about who I am as an artist, that's how it came to be, 'I want to be your ho, ho, ho this Christmas.'”

At first, Alaina says she was hesitant about the explicit nature of the song, especially as it stood in contrast to the diet of Christian music her parents played for her when she was younger. “But in the second verse I say, 'Boy it's only you, you, you / You're the only one to see this side of me’,” she adds. “So that's where the cuteness comes in. It's that song that you'd sing when you're confident enough to be a little ho, ho, ho with the one that you love.”

Pop music has always, in some degree, pushed the boundaries of what some deem acceptable when it comes to sex. “This one is quite explicit, but in its own time, 'Santa Baby' was probably that one that people questioned,” Alaina argues. “I feel like each era of music has had its own little contribution to the sexier side of things because people want to express themselves more without feeling limited. It's been growing. In 2020 we're getting used to new things, and 'Wish List' is part of that evolution.”

Clearly there’s space and an appetite for sexiness at Christmas. Yet despite their horniness, all of these sexy festive songs still seem grounded in that pervasive sense of romance that surrounds the holiday period. To quote a certain Richard Curtis movie, if you look around at Christmas time, hopefully you’ll find that love actually is all around. And if not love, then definitely lust. Now, who else wants to be a ho this Christmas? 

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