Every year around this time, people put aside petty differences to agree on one thing: Christmas music is almost universally unbearable. Sure, there are many beloved classics, but for every Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby gem, there are dozens and dozens of fresh disasters arriving annually as the music industrial complex never stops its hateful assembly line of woe. While we can all quibble about what makes a Christmas song resonate, one thing a Christmas song can never be is cool. There is nothing cool about Christmas, and there never was.
Paradoxically, the songs that have stood the test of time come from artists who were the epitome of musical cool in their day—Elvis’ “Blue Christmas,” or Wham’s “Last Christmas,” for example—but it’s only through the IRL Instagram lens that these have been grandfathered into the canon; their hip edges sanded down to the point where the songs seem like they have always existed independent of space and time. That’s because Christmas is never about the present—or the presents, for that matter—but about the past. It’s not this week’s holiday we’re looking forward to, it’s the ones that have gone by. We’re hoping to feel the way we used to feel when we were younger and things were simpler. We’re hoping to ignore the other 364 days of the year when we’re consumed with a desire to be cool.
And yet, the vast majority of Christmas songs are the furthest thing from a comfort blanket. Here, a countdown of the worst.
20. Pentatonix – “That’s Christmas To Me”
It takes a lot of work to sing harmonies this tight, but when the result sounds like frolicking band of cyborg carolers going door to door in the Uncanny Valley, it sort of defeats the purpose. This song by Pentatonix, an a cappella group made up of GAP mannequins that come to life when the mall closes at night, has almost 18 million views on YouTube—which, judging by their lofty standards, is a disastrous failure. But considering it’s the only original tune on their second album full of Christmas songs, it gets the nod here.
19. John Denver – “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk on Christmas)”
Nothing says holiday cheer like a child pleading with his emotionally abusive alcoholic father not to get shit-faced and pass out under the tree again. While that’s certainly fertile and appropriate territory for a country song the rest of the year, the contrast between the subject matter and the jaunty holiday arrangement here is enough to drive you to the bottle.
18. Bon Jovi – “Back Door Santa”
Like Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” this is another in the long line of lunchpail rockers putting on the hardhat and punching the clock at the Christmas Rock Factory tradition. A cover of Clarence Carter’s 1968 recording, it also fits squarely into the Horny For Christmas canon. Aside from the truly dreadful riff that sounds like someone spilled eggnog on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra keyboard, it has very little to do, thematically—or lyrically—with Christmas.
17. Christina Aguilera – “Oh Holy Night”
You know that one house on the block covered every inch from foundation to chimney in garish, glowing lights, with animatronic Santas and reindeers running up the roof and a nativity scene to boot? This is less subtle than that.
16. Maroon 5 – “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)
Despite what other, lesser Worst Christmas Songs Ever listicles might tell you, the John Lennon original is unassailable. But, and this may come as a shock to many of you, Adam Levine and company manage to derail Lennon’s composition here with a plodding arrangement and a falsetto warble that drains the song of any remnants of soul or poignancy.
15. Duck the Halls – “Santa Looked A lot Like Daddy”
We had a good run, culturally speaking.
14. NewSong – “The Christmas Shoes”
NewSong isn’t just this Christian rock band’s name—it’s also something they probably want to put on their to-do schedule. This one is another maudlin, manipulative tear-jerker about a young boy who’s watching his mother on her death bed. He wants to buy his mom a new pair of shoes for when she “meets Jesus tonight,” and he just wants her to look her best… Ah… Actually? I think it’s getting a little dusty in here. This one… This is the most loving thing I’ve ever heard. I take it all back.
13. Joel Grey – “I’m Gonna Put Some Glue ‘Round the Christmas Tree (So Santa Claus Will Stick Around All Year)”
This is a song about a budding serial killer and torturer devising an elaborate Saw-like trap for Santa Claus, who he plans to hold captive for the entire year. Creepy enough before you get to the fact that Grey was a grown man singing in the voice of a little boy by the time he recorded this one.
12. Iggy Pop – “White Christmas”
In theory, this is supposed to coast by on the irony of a guy like Iggy Pop singing a delightful Christmas classic, but it’s such a half-baked slapdash arrangement, with Pop seeming like he recorded his vocal from inside of a stocking, that it instead comes across as macabre. And not in a good way.
11. Set It Off – “This Christmas (I’ll Burn It To The Ground)”
This comes from one of those ubiquitous Punk Goes… albums, in which contemporary pop punk, emo, and metal bands are tasked with stunt covers, but surprisingly the bulk of the album is pretty good! This one, on the other hand, is a cavalcade of raving carnival barker theatrical-horror-core that somehow comes off as both a parody of the scene and the idea of Christmas itself.
10. Bruce Springsteen – “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
Since it was written back in the ’30s, this classic has been recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to Miley Cyrus, but it’s this sweaty-dad-ripping-a-hole-in-the-ass-pocket-of-his-Levis groaner that’s somehow become ubiquitous in recent years. Some artists have the ability to lose themselves in a cover, elevating the original to heretofore unheard heights, while others, like Springsteen, manage to make everything they ever do sound like the same hokey bar band shtick over and over again forever.
9. She & Him – “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
In our current era of wokeness, this is, in all likelihood, the most problematic Christmas song ever. Nothing sets the Christmas mood quite so readily as a protracted date rape in action. And yet, somehow, we’re still treated to a new recording of the song nearly every year. There are many to choose from, but you won’t do much worse than She & Him, which inverts the gender dynamics for the sake of being “playful,” which, you know, completely undermines the point of inverting the gender dynamics.
8. Tiny Tim – “Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS”
OK wait, maybe the only less appropriate subject matter for a Christmas song than date rape is Santa Claus getting AIDS. That’s the premise of this truly bizarre number from Tiny Tim. Recorded in 1980, the track from the ’70s TV staple and ukulele weirdo wasn’t released until almost a decade later, where it has haunted the dreams of everyone who’s heard it since.
7. The Killers – “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”
Never mind the subject matter—a murderous boy pleading with Santa to not shoot him—this 2007 song would be harrowing enough for the jerky time changes and psychopath-level spoken word sections
6. Band Aid – “Do They Know It’s Christmas”
Considering how Ethiopia has been a Christian nation for something like 1,500 years, and a majority of its population identified as such when this benefit song was written in 1984, I think it’s safe to say they do, in fact, know. As much as it pains me to say anything critical of Phil Collins and Duran Duran, this track is an example of how nostalgia is dangerous.
5. Justin Bieber – “Mistletoe”
Jingle bells, a jaunty island vibe, and Bieber pledging to be under the mistletoe with his “shorty.” What could go wrong?
4. Pussycat Dolls – “Santa Baby”
While it’s hard to find much fault with the Eartha Kitt original, if there’s one thing this already-thirsty song needed to push it over the edge, it was about 5000 percent less subtly, a few stripper-poles, and Carmen Electra gyrating in thigh-high stockings to really sell the spirit of the holiday season.
3. The Jackson 5 – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
Surprisingly, “Santa Baby” isn’t the only entry in the venerable old Horny for Santa canon. This is another that’s been recorded many times over the years, but the idea of a five-year-old Michael Jackson singing this one only heightens the weirdness level. There’s nothing that says Christmas quite like the thought of a voyeuristic child watching his father get cuckolded by a man who snuck into your house in the middle of the night.
2. Lady Gaga – “Christmas Tree”
Hear me out: What if we jammed as many iconic Christmas melodies as possible into one bloodless slog of an un-danceable dance track in which Lady Gaga alludes to her vagina as a delicious Christmas tree?
1. Paul McCartney and Wings – “Wonderful Christmas Time”
This is the Beatles of terrible Christmas songs. It’s a love song between a middle-aged man and the new Casio keyboard he got in his stocking. A song whose awesome black hole of musicality is almost powerful enough to suck the life out of everything McCartney did before.
This article was originally published on menshealth.com.