When it comes to Christmas, I love all of the traditions that come along with the holiday. It’s a little ridiculous, actually. For instance, after I was so upset last year that my mother had decorated the tree before I got home from England, this year she left the tree undecorated until after I got home on the 17th (waaaay later than the tree’s ever been left undecorated!) so I could do it. Just this morning I finished going through all of our old ornaments, each one with a name and date painstakingly written on the back in Sharpie, commemorating the person who gave it to us and the year that they did.
I also love Christmas music. LOVE. In fact, my mom has me curate the Christmas playlist every year because I’m guaranteed to find versions of Christmas classics as done by her favorite bands. Killers? Got ‘em. Death Cab? Of course.
But as I listened to my playlist this year, I was struck by how few female artists I have on it. So I decided to put together a list of my favorite Christmas songs by female artists to remind myself of all the great woman-fronted Christmas music there is out there! (Obviously I did not include “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” since we already know how I feel about that one…).
So here we go – my top twelve Christmas songs by women! (Click the title for each to go to the song on YouTube).
I love the movie “White Christmas”. There is nothing feminist about that. But since we were little, my sister and I would duet to the “Sisters” song (I was always Rosemary Clooney, naturally), so the movie has a special place in my heart. Most of the covers of the film’s title track have been done by men, but I had to include a tribute to it on this list! While Mann’s version is a little slow for my tastes, I really love her voice (and the fact that she participated in Rookie Mag’s song “Go Forth, Feminist Warriors”).
Obviously, this song is a Christmas classic, and has the unique distinction of being pretty much the only modern song that has earned that title. While Anita Sarkeesian sees it as a tired retelling of the “all a woman needs to be happy is a man” trope, I’d like to point out that nowhere in the song does Carey specify that her desired “baby” is a man. Plus, given that Carey co-wrote and co-produced the song herself, and that it’s earned over $50 million (as of 2013) in royalties, I’d say this deserves a place on any girl-power Christmas song list!
Eartha Kitt, everyone’s favorite Catwoman, first recorded “Santa Baby” in 1953. While it can be argued that the song perpetuates the stereotype of woman as golddigger, I think it can also be seen as the singer asking Santa for all of this material wealth so she doesn’t have to rely on a man (even though I guess Santa is technically a man?). I always saw it as the singer’s bid for financial independence, especially as it was written in a time when a woman would have had a harder time doing so through a career.
One only has to attend one of the “Night of a Thousand Stevies” events to see what an impact Stevie Nicks has had on the gay community. Her career choices (appearing in American Horror Story? Genius!) and personal choices (she has unapologetically decided not to have children, focusing instead on her music) have shown her to be a confident, savvy woman who tries to live her life with integrity. Personally, I like how she keeps it simple on “Silent Night” and lets her voice do the talking. Um, literally. I guess.
I just really love Erika Wennerstrom’s voice.
Annie Lennox is a kick-ass role model. Not only is she the most-recognized female artist at the Brit Awards and an eleven-time Grammy winner, she also works to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS charities, Amnesty International, and a host of other organizations. A long-time gay icon, she is well known for her androgynous style and powerful vocals. I love how she updates Winter Wonderland to feel more pop without losing any of the charm of the original!
I can take or leave She & Him’s music (and I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that they will never change their grammatically incorrect band name), but this cute little ditty echoes my feelings about the Christmas season, that “I’ll never outgrow the thrill of Christmas day”. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Zooey Deschanel, one half of the band, is an avowed feminist.
Chrissie Hynde’s voice on this song, which was written for the band’s original guitar player after his death, is mournful and strong. I loved the Pretenders’ music as a kid, and was especially impressed by Hynde’s black eyeliner and badass style. Also, I think it breaks up the playlist nicely to have some songs that aren’t necessarily ABOUT Christmas.
When I decided to write this post, I was horrified to discover that I didn’t even have ten songs by women on my Christmas playlist. I felt like a terrible feminist. Scrolling through the songs, however, I noticed that “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” shows up several times – by U2, Bon Jovi, and Death Cab for Cutie, just to name a few. I love the song, so I looked it up and found that it was originally done by Darlene Love. (I guess if I watched Letterman I would know that?). Anyway, her version, with its soulful vocals and wall of sound production has made it quickly one of my faves.
For me, this song is a Christmas essential. Mitchell’s expressions of loss and longing set against the backdrop of Christmas traditions (distilled, in the lyrics, to “cutting down trees… putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace”) paints a simple, lonely picture with a gorgeous melody.
Okay. I love Patti Smith. I’ve seen her in concert a bazillion times, and am always blown away by her stage presence and talent. One of my favorite things about her is her complete refusal to give a fuck about what anyone thinks about her. I’ve seen her completely go off on an audience member for what she perceived as a slight, go into mama bear mode when her children were on stage with her, and set her hair on fire blowing out her birthday candles. And she’s done it all with passion and integrity.
In her version of We Three Kings, she layers spoken word over the haunting melody for a truly gorgeous version of the song.
Ask anyone in my family, this song has been my Christmas fave as long as I can remember. While I was drawn to it for the funky bassline and saxophone, my favorite thing about this song is that it tells a story – and a story that I can get behind. Cancelling one’s Christmas plans to spend the night alone? Sold! While I always grimace and snort, “ugh, heteronormative” at the ending, this song was, is, and always will be my number one!
What are your favorites??