It's been a deplorable year for optimists.
Alternate facts, climate change, genocide, corruption, the looming threat of nuclear holocaust: It all equates to a not so holly jolly holiday season. For millennials it all felt so different a mere decade ago. The snow would fall slowly and stick to the ground for weeks on end, rather than evaporate in a few days. On Christmas Eve, many of us would curl up in our jammies with our families underneath a heavily decorated pine tree and watch all the varietal but thematically similar Christmas specials spewed across basic cable (Dolly Parton for some, Charlie Brown for others). We'd listen to these ridiculous, and at times problematic, Christmas songs and ignorantly bask in the holiday season's unrealistic cheer. It was all so campy and all so naive, but in hindsight, it makes some of us sigh with bitter nostalgia. What a gift it was to completely disconnect for a few days, to eat that shit up. But in 2019, the task feels insurmountable, even privileged, and offensive. But doesn't everyone deserve a break?
Christmas Makes Me Cry (From The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show / Live From The Ellen D... www.youtube.com
Kacey Musgraves thinks so, and on her whimsical new Christmas special, it's impossible not to be charmed, or at least grin at its farce. Recounting Christmas shows of yore, Musgraves doesn't quite "reimagine" the Christmas Special as initially advertised, but instead delivers a traditional offering in shiny new wrapping paper a la Amazon Prime. Filmed on a live set, in front of a live audience, it's all quaint and theatrical. From can-can dancers dressed as candy canes to Troye Sivan's shimmering green blazer and pink button-up to a dancing reindeer to Musgraves fluorescent sparkles and shimmering red and gold dresses, it's all unapologetically in your face.
A Christmas special this exuberant wouldn't be possible unless the cast of characters were up for the task, and Musgraves does an excellent job of rounding up the most unproblematic, happy-go-lucky people in pop culture. No one else could sing Mele Kalikimaka with as much Bikini Bottom candor as Zoey Deschanel. Camila Cabello's voice is like butter alongside Musgraves, and Fred Armisen's bone-dry, dead-eyed demeanor as he's continually interrupted by construction workers while singing "Silent Night," (get it? Cause it's not silent), is reminiscent of the simple times of early SNL. All the while, Musgraves offers awkward quips of dialogue with charming sincerity. "I really, really appreciate you making the time to come here," she says to Lana Del Rey as if her surprise cameo was unplanned.
But the show's biggest highlight comes in the form of its narrator, Daniel Levy. While Musgraves delves into the holiday melodrama, Levy's playful sass contrasts Musgraves's campiness with a few bitter realities of 2019. "So Kacey had an emo moment in her bedroom," he says at one point. "Because sometimes, just sometimes, a great singing career, a bunch of Grammy's and this over the top bathroom just aren't enough." He jumps in at opportune moments to lightly criticize the most dated aspects of Christmas. When Musgraves asks Levy to remain cheery, he replies sarcastically, "Cheer? In this corporate political climate, okay, sure."
The commentary doesn't go much farther than that, but his frisky derision quells any cynics and attempts to silence critics who will undoubtedly find Musgrave's relentless optimism dated or insensitive. The politically active country star is a die-hard liberal, but Musgraves is also a massive proprietor for taking a step back from reality and engaging in simple pleasures every now and then. "It can be easy to forget that right now there are literally jellyfish that light up, and plants that can change your mind, and Northern lights and shooting stars," she told Billboard. Musgraves has an uncanny ability to warm the hearts of even the most bitter scrooges. It's what made Golden Hour such a captivating record, and while her Christmas special doesn't hold a torch in comparison, it radiates a similar narrative. Just play along. It's Christmas after all, and you deserve to feel happy, even if just for an hour or two.