Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why is Christmas Music Annoying?

We're now at the time of year where it's almost impossible to go anywhere without hearing Christmas/holiday music playing almost constantly. I'm mostly talking about pop Christmas music - multiple covers of "Santa Baby," "White Christmas," or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

The problem I have with Christmas music is that there's a finite number of these songs, but a theoretically infinite number of covers. The other problem is that, because there are only a fixed number of these songs, artists try different tricks to set their versions apart from the others, tricks that can make the songs sound over-produced or quickly dated. Mind you, sometimes these tricks work and create some really interesting versions. Other times, artists write original songs - and some are actually good.

And I also want to add I certainly don’t blame the artists for releasing all these Christmas or holiday albums - I’m sure for most of them, it’s not their idea.

But if you're anything like me, you cringe just a little when you walk into a store, or flip on the radio, and hear yet another cover of [fill in the blank.] And by the second week of December, you've probably had enough.

What exactly is it about this music that can be so annoying? One possibility is what we’ll call the “familiarity breeds contempt” hypothesis. We hear these songs all the time, and know them well, even if we’ve never heard a particular cover before. They are often repetitive and infectious, like a product jingle or Katy Perry song. You may only have to hear them once, and they're in your memory forever.

Of course, while jingles may be going away (to some extent), repetition and “catchiness” are meant to serve the opposite purpose of making us like something more quickly. In fact, social psychological research suggests that the familiarity breeds contempt hypothesis often isn’t correct, and the opposite is often true. Familiarity can be comforting. Being exposed to a particular racial or ethnic group, depending on context, can increase your positive feelings toward that group (a concept known as the mere exposure effect). So this, alone, may not explain why Christmas music can be so annoying.

Another possibility is intrusion. Some radio stations and stores begin playing Christmas music quite early - I’ve seen some Christmas displays with music as early as September. At that point, we’re still coming to terms with the fact that summer is over, and accepting that we're moving into fall. Seeing/hearing elements of Christmas/holidays where they don’t belong causes annoyance, like we’re skipping directly into winter. And though winter holidays can be joyful and fun, let’s not forget what else comes with winter. In fact, my husband argues that this is why he (and others) leave Christmas decorations up past the holidays: After Christmas is over, it’s just winter. And winter blows.

Remind me to cross-stitch that onto a throw pillow sometime. :)

And because the music starts so early, combined with the above-mentioned repetition, even good Christmas songs will be played again and again and again, until you're insane.

There's also the fact that so many artists have Christmas albums, including ones where it seems completely out of character. Sure, Billy Idol may seem to be having some (tongue-in-cheek) fun with his Christmas album, but it's still a little surreal. And no matter how much Bruce Springsteen tries on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," it's not rocking. Shouting, yes. But not rocking.

One reason I may find Christmas music particularly annoying is from working in retail. Anyone who has worked in retail knows what it’s like to be forced to listen to music one did not choose all day. My friends have heard me tell stories about the summer Titanic came out, when the player piano at JC Penney’s was programmed to play “My Heart Will Go On” every 15 minutes; my coworkers and I plotted half-jokingly about breaking in and pushing the piano down the escalators.

If you too have been traumatized by repeated listening to My Heart Will Go On, check this out. Trust me.

Fortunately, the piano had a bit more variety when it came to Christmas music. (Mind you, not a lot because, see previous comment about finite number of Christmas/holiday songs.)

As with so many things in social psychology, it's likely a combination of factors that results in the outcome. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. What about you, dear readers? Do you find Christmas and/or holiday songs annoying? If so, why do you think that is? (And if you don't, what's your secret?!)

Musically yours,

No comments:

Post a Comment