Classic Christmas music makes the masses feel jolly and bright, but how often do these tunes actually have something significant to say? Although she's someone who admittedly "hates" most holiday songs, artist KT Tunstall is releasing "Hey, Mr. Santa!" because the opportunity to get its deeper-than-normal message out was one she just couldn't pass up. While the tongue-in-cheek tune is catchy and cheerful at the surface, it's layered with much more intense messages. And so while Tunstall may otherwise loath the holiday music genre, she's happy to change up its usual narrative.
"I love [the song]. It's so weird, because I've always hated Christmas music. I'm truly changing my mind," the singer says over the phone. "I think there has to be a sense of humor or a flip side. If something's two-dimensionally awesome from start to finish, and the world is happy and there's nothing wrong, I'm like, 'nah.'" Most Christmas music, she continues while cracking up, is "so unrealistic."
"Hey, Mr. Santa!" flips the mainstream idea of Christmas on its head. Instead of advocating asking Santa for cars and jewelry, the song acts as a plea for giving to a homeless shelter, creating equality, making bullied victims feel loved, and more (all proceeds from the song go to the charity War Child). It includes lyrics like, "What are all these presents for/when we could all do so much more" and, "Imagine you're a kid and you're trying to understand/why some guys with all the power just won't lend a helping hand."
Tunstall co-wrote the tune with composer Chris Lennertz, who presented the idea to her after he had a hard time explaining to his young daughters why the world is the way it is. The song was created to help explain things like "why someone would behave appallingly when they're in the position of responsibility and setting an example," according to Tunstall.
While the musician proudly stands by the message of the song, she also acknowledges that addressing heavy issues through (otherwise happy) holiday music could be off-putting to some. But she doesn't care. "There are reams of that sh*t out there," she says about typical Christmas music. "You can easily sign up for that." While she reinforces that there's "nothing wrong" with people's passion for normal holiday music, she wants to make her contribution to the genre different and more impactful. Explains Tunstall,
"I think it's the same with ski wear. People think you can wear the most hideous outfit just because you're skiing, and it's like, 'You can still look rad when you ski!' It's the same with Christmas music. You can still write really good songs. It shouldn't be a passport to write something crap."
Surprisingly, "Hey Mr. Santa!" actually isn't the first time Tunstall, whose latest album, Wax, came out in October, has tackled the Christmas music genre. A few years after releasing hits like "Suddenly I See" and "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" (both in 2004), the artist was approached by Target to do a Christmas EP for its holiday collection, an offer she immediately turned down. But once her manager explained she could record whatever she wanted, however she wanted, and do the artwork, she decided to take on the challenge. Says Tunstall, "I can't really say no when I have complete creative control... And I had a blast. It was just awesome."
Have Yourself a Very KT Christmas dropped in October 2007 and included covers of songs like "Mele Kalikimaka (Christmas in Hawaii)" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." And now, with "Hey, Mr. Santa!", Tunstall is putting her own holiday song out into the world, trying to hold on to the integrity of expressing a message without being too preachy. Paraphrasing John Lennon, she says, "It's not our job to tell people how to feel, it's our job to express how we feel and therefore give people an opportunity to relate."
Thus, the song's last line puts the spotlight on Santa, saying, "Hey, Mr. Santa, why don't we have a bet/the most amazing gift that you could give, you haven't yet.../We'll be waiting, together." Let's see if Santa is up for Tunstall's challenge.