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  1. Culture
3 December 2021

If you don’t already have a hangover, Ed Sheeran and Elton John’s Christmas song will give you one

Sheeran in a tiny romper; Michael McIntyre in a white puffer coat. Is this what humanity has been striving for?

By Emily Bootle

Oh, deary, deary me. The festive season is upon us, which is to say I have a raging hangover and I’m listening to Elton John. If it wasn’t bad enough that I have woken up after the office Christmas do this early in December with “Disturbia” ringing in my ears and the sensation that somebody is sandpapering my arteries, Elton has teamed up with Ed Sheeran in a sleigh-bell-jingling, jollity-invoking bid for Christmas number one, with the new, inventively-titled “Merry Christmas”. This very rich, very pale 30-year-old man is now on my screen, and he appears to be dancing at me in a Christmas romper. I don’t feel so good. 

Although causing any disturbance to the calm waters of the Christmas musical canon is a risky business, Elton and Ed have plunged in relatively splash-free by sticking to the formula – which Elton, of course, knows well. There are bells (church; sleigh; pretty much any other type of bell you can think of); a children’s choir; kissy-kissy lyrics about mistletoe. There is finality in the melody over those three little words: “Merry Christmas everyone”. These dulcet festive tones thrum in my damaged eardrums just as any other Christmas song would: in a benign, vaguely irritating, perversely comforting way. 

The problem here is visual. My brain is sodden with cheap prosecco. I was unprepared for the spectacle that befell me, which is supposedly a parody of other Christmas videos, which I assume means that it is supposed to be funny, but is in fact incredibly stressful. There are red and green shell suits. A bright red grand piano. Ed Sheeran in his short, red, fur-trimmed play suit (WHY is it a play suit? Bare knees are not remotely festive. I think I’m upset). He is dancing sexily, doing come-hither eyes, kicking presents around. It stars someone who looks like Boy George dressed as King Henry VIII. It’s chaos. It’s anarchy. I begin to worry about the dynamic: perhaps Elton is Santa and Ed is his naughty little elf. The romper is haunting me. I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all. 

Is this what humanity has been striving for all this time? Ed Sheeran paying tribute to The Snowman, flying in a brown dressing gown in front of an unconvincing green screen? Or is it the shot 30 seconds later, when, parodying East 17’s “Stay Another Day”, Sheeran is joined by (brace yourself) Jonathan Ross, Michael McIntyre and Big Narstie, all dressed in white puffer coats, looking like a demented barbershop quartet? This, this is the cream of the crop of British culture. They’re all singing at me. “It’s Christmas time!” (is it though?) “For you and I!” (for everyone, surely?) “We’ll have a” (nervous breakdown?) “good night! And a” (please make it stop) “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” 

Given that the whole point of these songs is to evoke nostalgia for Decembers past – the very foundation of the insatiable behemoth of Big Christmas – it is tricky to slot in with a new one and make it count. I fear Elton and Ed’s “Merry Christmas” may achieve this, simply because it is so generic its chorus has already melded in my mind with all the other choruses in which festive platitudes are invoked repeatedly, as though if you say the word “merry” enough it’ll prevent the Trivial Pursuit board being upturned in rage.

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And you’ve got to hand it to him – Elton John really knows his way around a chord sequence. This will be around for a while, on the robot-made Spotify playlists of the future and on adverts for lab-grown pigs in blankets. So we’d better get used to it. But whatever you do, stay away from the video. Particularly if you are recovering from one too many eggnogs. 

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