NASHVILLE, Tenn. – ’Tis the season for bright, cheery holiday music playing ad nauseam on the radio, in shopping malls and television commercials. But if you’re not feeling the Christmas spirit, there’s still a song for you.
Take Elvis’ mournful “Blue Christmas,” released in 1957, which has become a holiday staple. Or consider Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” a Vietnam War-era song about wishing for a world where all men could live in equality and peace.
But a few contemporary artists are also tapping into less-than-jolly emotions to write songs for Christmas.
Contemporary Christian pop singer Amy Grant is synonymous with Christmas. She’s put out several Christmas albums over the course of her career, including a couple that went platinum, and regularly hosts holiday tours and performances.
But she said some fans told her that their holidays aren’t always so joyous.
“I’ve recorded a lot of Christmas music, but I thought, what I haven’t done is to consider somebody that spends their holidays alone,” Grant said, during an interview in Nashville. “I want to make a record for an audience of one. I want to tell one person ‘Merry Christmas’ and I want to be willing to sit there in the sadness, too.”
Her new holiday record, “Tennessee Christmas,” which has reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Holiday Album chart, includes several nontraditional yuletide tunes: “Melancholy Christmas,” “Another Merry Christmas,” and “December.” The lyrics speak to people who have no one to talk to, who have lost loved ones or who have struggled to make it through the year.
Grant said fans have taken to her Facebook page to talk about their feelings of grief, isolation and loneliness. And they have been reaching out to each other for support.
“My goal with this record is I am making it safe to say, ‘I am alone,’ ” Grant said.
But not everyone is a fan of her somber approach to holiday music.
LifeWay Christian Resources, the national retail arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, decided not to stock the record. Jennifer Cooke, Grant’s manager, wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post about LifeWay’s decision and said songs like “Melancholy Christmas” were bringing people together despite the fact that the song never mentions Jesus.
Soul singer Andra Day re-introduced “Someday at Christmas” to a new generation of fans last year when she sang it with Wonder during a TV commercial. That song is included on her new holiday EP, “Merry Christmas From Andra Day.”
“I love that it has all the spirit of Christmas in the song, but at the same time the message in the song is beautiful, and it’s relevant and it’s selfless, taking an opportunity to celebrate Christmas but to also say, ‘Hey, there are things we need to address,’ ” she said.
Country singer Kacey Musgraves is new to the holiday music tradition, releasing her first collection of Christmas songs this year called “A Very Kacey Christmas.” Known for her acerbic wit in lyrics, Musgraves covered the funny side of Christmas with “A Willie Nice Christmas,” with Willie Nelson, as well as holiday classics like “Feliz Navidad” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
But when she thought about what she could add to the catalog of holiday music, she wanted to write a sad song.
“The sad side of the holidays, I feel like no one really wants to talk about to acknowledge,” Musgraves said. “For a lot (of people), including myself and my family, there is a kind of sadness to Christmas sometimes.”
She wrote the original song, “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” about feeling like the only one getting the holiday blues while everyone else celebrates.
“Ironically, that was very fun for me to tap into,” Musgraves said. “I cried when I wrote the song, and I cried when I was tracking it.”