Sunday, December 04, 2005

Great WTF? Moments in Christmas Music #2
(click here for introduction, and here for a word on copyright)

Donna and Blitzen
Badly Drawn Boy

The terrible Christmas song has become a recurring theme in modern books and movies set at Christmastime -- for instance, I've already talked about how the charming Love Actually features a terrible Christmas song and an artist who becomes popular by his willingness to admit how bad it really is, and how the joke took a turn for the meta-ironic when the terrible song was actually released for actual consumption by the public.

A slightly different take comes in the film About a Boy, based on Nick Hornby's novel. Hugh Grant plays a thirtysomething who has lingered in adolescence thanks to a trust fund created by the profits from his father's successful Christmas song -- a tune which he absolutely despises. When the film was put in production, therefore, someone had to write that infuriating song. That task fell to Damon Gough, better known as the "band" Badly Drawn Boy, who wrote nearly all the music for the soundtrack (and released it as a hit album) at the personal invitation of Nick Hornby. He wrote a Christmas song that seems to lumber along whenever the characters sing it, and (like the film Lili Marleen) you truly come to appreciate Grant's disdain for the song.

But when Badly Drawn Boy performs the song over the credits, it's a real winner. It's called "Donna and Blitzen" -- har har -- and though its lyrics are somewhat opaque, it appears to be a relationship song where the protagonist admits his current failures but promises a bright future that he compares to the glory of reindeer flying. Of course, I think it's probably a warning sign in any relationship when your boyfriend says that he'll stop being a louse when reindeer fly, but somehow BDB makes it work.

So the question, then, is this: was Damon Gough successful? He made a "good" Christmas song, which is a real cause to celebrate, but his assignment was to write a terrible Christmas song (albeit one that has endured). Did he "fail"? And moreover, hundreds of artists have written terrible Christmas songs without that being their explicit assignment. Does his "failure" indicate that he's a much better artist than they are? Or is it unfair to boost his song by external factors, like the fact that it was supposed to be bad?

 7:11 PM

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