Gather round the Christmas tree and get ready to cry!
Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, but sometimes you're not feeling the cheer.
Or maybe you just love sad music and want to get in the holiday spirit. Whatever your reason for listening to melancholy music, there are plenty of devastating Christmas songs to help you cozy up with a cup of spiked cider and the blues. From indie gems to old classics, are our favorites.
1. McCarthy Trenching — Christmas Song
This song (which was later covered by Phoebe Bridgers) is simply devastating.
Christmas Song www.youtube.com
Phoebe Bridgers - Christmas Song (Official Audio) www.youtube.com
2. Julien Baker — Decorated Lawns
Truly, this is sad Christian queer folk in its highest form.
Julien Baker - Decorated Lawns (REMASTERED) www.youtube.com
3. Brent Butler — Brooklyn Christmas Eve
Punk Christmas never sounded so good.
Brooklyn Christmas Eve www.youtube.com
4. Sufjan Stevens — Sister Winter
Our Lonely Man of Winter has millions of options, but this apologetic and devastating song has to take the cake for Stevens' saddest holiday anthem.
Sufjan Stevens - Sister Winter www.youtube.com
5. Elvis Presley — Blue Christmas
Elvis's delivery is so blue, so dreary, so lugubrious, you feel like you're falling into a snowdrift of sadness just hearing him belt out the chorus.
Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas (Audio) www.youtube.com
6. Wham! — Last Christmas
"This year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special" has to be one of the sickest burns ever to exist in a Christmas song.
Wham! - Last Christmas (Official Video) www.youtube.com
7. Taylor Swift — Christmases When You Were Mine
Taylor stabs you right in the heart with this saccharine song about missing an ex-lover.
Taylor Swift - Christmases When You Were Mine (Lyrics) www.youtube.com
8. Joni Mitchell — River
Joni Mitchell's mournful reinterpretation of "Jingle Bells" is seasonal depression distilled into sound, and it's four minutes and nine seconds of glittering, devastating brilliance.
Joni Mitchell - River (Official Audio) www.youtube.com
9. NewSong — The Christmas Shoes
It's "Christmas Shoes."
NewSong - The Christmas Shoes www.youtube.com
10. The Everly Brothers — Christmas Eve Can Kill You
Wait, it can?
EVERLY BROTHERS - Christmas Eve Can Kill You (1971) www.youtube.com
11. 7 O'Clock News/Silent Night — Simon and Garfunkel
This song is just "Silent Night" placed over a recording of the news, but as we all know, the news can be hard to listen to—and hearing it played against the soft sounds of Christmas makes the reports of violence and injustice even more difficult to tune out than usual.
7 O'clock News / Silent Night www.youtube.com
12. Prince — Another Lonely Christmas
Another lonely Christmas? How long has this been going on? Plus we all miss Prince.
Another Lonely Christmas www.youtube.com
Though it has no words, it's almost universally agreed that this song just sounds sad. That's actually because the human brain is literally wired to hear the blues in minor chords, and this song has plenty of them.
Greensleeves - best version www.youtube.com
14. Elmo & Patsy — Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer
Is Grandma ok??? Are Elmo & Patsy ok? Are any of us ok considering we made this into a Christmas classic?
Elmo & Patsy - Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer www.youtube.com
15. The Carpenters — Merry Christmas Darling
Everyone's favorite California dreamers got extra wistful on this dreary, exquisite number about heartbreak over the holidays.
Merry Christmas, Darling - The Carpenters www.youtube.com
16. Tom Waits — Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis
This song gets very real very quickly, but it does contain glimmers of hope.
Tom Waits- Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis (Studio Version) www.youtube.com
17. Marvin Gaye — I Want to Come Home For Christmas
Possibly the saddest song ever written, according to NPR.
I Want To Come Home For Christmas www.youtube.com
18. Darlene Love — Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
What could be sadder than this plea to a lost love?
Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby please come home) www.youtube.com
19. Miley Cyrus — My Sad Christmas Song
The title alone is just so sad.
Miley Cyrus - My Sad Christmas Song www.youtube.com
20. LCD Soundsystem — Christmas Will Break Your Heart
So apparently if Christmas Eve doesn't kill me, then Christmas Day will break my heart, even though last Christmas, I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears, maybe I just won't celebrate Christmas... or maybe I'll start listening to happy music instead.
LCD Soundsystem - Christmas Will Break Your Heart video www.youtube.com
So there you have it — the twenty saddest Christmas songs we know of. However, despite these songs, we hope you have a very merry holiday.
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They are two masters at the top of their game—their game just happens to be making fools of themselves.
Once in a generation two titans in their fields go toe-to-toe in a battle that will echo through the ages.
Ali vs. Frazier. Venus vs. Serena. Kasparov vs. Topalov. Now we have a new match to mark down in the annals of history. Not between two great athletes or cunning strategists, but between two of the most unflappably obnoxious ghouls the world of TV punditry has ever known: Rudy Giuliani and Piers Morgan.
In interview after interview they have each proven themselves incapable of allowing others to speak or of recognizing when they're making asses of themselves. No call for civility or reminder of their contradictions will convince either of these mythic figures to back down, apologize, or allow someone else to finish a thought. To see such paragons of interruption and phony outrage sparring over President Trump's disgusting handling of the George Floyd protests—shouting over each other through a delayed video feed—is like watching Baryshnikov and Nureyev stomping on each other's toes.
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Does her new album go too far?
Billie Eilish's sophomore LP, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is significantly darker than anything she's released before. Even "idontwannabeyouanymore," the most serious track on her debut "dont smile at me," was an indictment of damaging beauty standards.
Her music has always been melancholy, pulled from whatever spring of velvety, neon-saturated darkness that Lana Del Rey and Lorde first drew from. But When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? dives deeper. It stares into the far reaches of the subconscious, and somewhere along the way, it moves into the realm of explicit suicidal ideation, raising the question—should we be concerned about Billie Eilish? And what do we do with music that isn't just sad, but sounds like a genuine cry for help?
Although lyrics like "I want you to worry about me" and "call my friends and tell them that I'll miss them / but I'm not sorry" express new levels of desperation, Eilish has long been open about her struggles with mental illness. She told Zane Lowe on Apple Music's Beats 1 that depression had "controlled everything in [her] life," adding that "I've always been a melancholy person… I feel like there are some people that neutrally they're happy." When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? doesn't shy from this at all, visually and lyrically. Despite a few exhilarating tracks like "you should see me in a crown" (accompanied by one of the most magnificently creepy pop music videos in recent memory), it's mostly about depression, heartache, and death.
Billie Eilish - you should see me in a crown (official video by Takashi Murakami) - Teaser www.youtube.com
Eilish is no stranger to death, and it's clearly not a joke to her. She publicly mourned the passing of her friend XXXTentancion, who was shot in June, and by the sound of it he's not the only one; songs like "bury a friend" and "ilomilo" excavate these painful experiences.
But "bury a friend" and especially "listen before i go" both veer into explicit ideation at points; the latter is a veritable suicide note. It sounds like giving up, like a last call at the end of the night when plans have already been made. And that's where it goes too far.
Obviously, Billie Eilish not the first musician to write and speak out about these themes. Everyone from Billie Holliday to Elliot Smith has detailed the intricacies of their struggles in the public eye, and the media has been glamorizing the trope of the troubled young star since time immemorial. A new generation of emo-rappers, from Lil Peep to Lil Uzi Vert, has also brought raw, unfiltered honesty about mental illness into the mainstream.
Since extreme emotion is a shared aspect of the human experience, it's no surprise that these themes are so pervasive. Ours is a strange world—and especially for those growing up with unlimited access to the Internet, faced with pending environmental catastrophe and ever-more-insidious pressures from a voracious media-industrial complex, it's not an easy place to be. So all this definitely is not meant to criticize Eilish and her peers for feeling these things and for creating sad, furious, disconcerting art.
Image via Pitchfork
This also isn't a damnation of sad music. Sad songs and other forms of public honesty about mental illness can do a lot of important, often subversive work; they can interrupt the media's simulacrum of false happiness or function as catalysts for discussions about mental health. Those conversations are vitally important, especially in light of the fact that many reports say there's a higher level of depression and anxiety in teens than ever before, and when one in five adults struggles with a mental illness.
But there's a difference between being honest about mental health, and creating work that threatens actual self-harm and could be potentially triggering, especially for vulnerable fans who view artists as cult leaders who they'll follow, quite literally, to the end. Billie Eilish's new music goes too far because—coupled with her too-cool-for-you ethos and pending superstardom—she not only glamorizes mental illness; she glamorizes suicide, packages it up in a bundle of synths and bass and sells it for $200 a ticket.
Billie Eilish - bury a friend www.youtube.com
So what are we as listeners to do with music that's explicitly suicidal? In truth, there's not much we can do except trust that Eilish has a solid support system. She's in a band with her brother, and a whole bunch of people had to be involved in creating her album; hopefully, someone is taking steps to get her the help she needs. Of course, often with things like depression, even if you're close to the person, there's not too much you can do aside from validating their feelings and encouraging them to seek professional support. And even with professional help, there's no easy solution for mental illness, no neat way to sew it up; it's a monster that ebbs and flows, changing shape and requiring individualized treatment and attention.
This is most definitely not meant to criticize Eilish for speaking out, or to say that should just try yoga and get better. In fact, she's truly brave for speaking out so candidly about her feelings, for continuing to create and for staring fearlessly into the eyes of her demons.
But part of the issue here is that Eilish's music is so flat-out beautiful, her persona so magnetic. She's a bona fide star, with a huge amount of power that's sure to only grow with this release. In light of the huge amount of sway she holds over deeply impressionable kids across the globe, she now has a responsibility—or at least a tremendous opportunity—to speak out and share messages of support, to promise that it's okay to feel and struggle and that healing is possible, to inspire others not to give up, no matter how much pain they're in.
Billie Eilish - when the party's over www.youtube.com
After all, there are ways to talk about depression and mental illness without glorifying and aestheticizing them. Lana Del Rey has long been the poster girl for the "sad girl" trope, which came to a head when she received blowback from Francis Bean Cobain after telling an interviewer that she "wished she was dead already." Since then, Del Rey has released a hopeful Trump protest album followed by the empowering "Mariner's Apartment Complex." This shift in her approach, though slight, is significant because it moves away from the passivity that made her earlier work so dangerously seductive. And Julien Baker, who makes some of the saddest music around, is stunningly hopeful and inspiring in interviews and online, constantly spreading messages about faith, community, and recovery. Other artists like Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga have been explicit and honest about their mental health struggles, but equally explicit about their healing journeys.
Lana Del Rey - Mariners Apartment Complex www.youtube.com
Julien Baker - "Appointments" (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Eilish is also 17, significantly younger than any of the aforementioned artists, so she can be forgiven for not channeling her pain into some kind of larger force. It may be a good sign that she's coming to terms with her emotions early, that she's sharing them and learning how to deal with them. Often depression and mental illness stem from an inability to process deep-rooted trauma, so allowing oneself to traverse the depths of the subconscious mind and unearth repressed memories can be incredibly beneficial.
But for people as uniquely powerful and culturally influential as Eilish and her team—and for anyone interested in addressing and subverting the reasons mental illness is becoming an epidemic—simply being honest about mental illness isn't enough, especially in terms of serious suicidal ideation. Stopping the stigma should be a beginning point, the launching pad for structural changes and new ways of understanding and treating real mental health issues, not an end in itself. We should be talking about recovery, about how it is possible to live a full life while suffering from mental illness. We should be talking about how there are always options and pathways through places of darkness, and how it's definitely not beautiful or somehow more authentic and honest to give up hope.
If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255 or visit afsp.org to learn more.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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