If you don’t absolutely love *NSYNC’s powerful, poignant 1998 holiday album “Home For Christmas” then I basically don’t want to talk to you.
But since you’re already here, let’s take a look at the fine, carefully handcrafted details of this extraordinary musical milestone and why the album continues to echo in our collective memory even today as a magical, heartfelt holiday staple.
As someone who has attended no less than two *NSYNC concerts live and in person myself (and two or three broadcast over the television back when we watched things like that on TV instead of online because, hey, there was hella minimal internet back then, if any), I consider myself a leading expert in what makes *NSYNC’s “Home For Christmas” truly legendary.
Let’s consider this in chronological order, as that is how a musical album is meant to truly be considered.
The lyrics of *NSYNC’s first track are surprisingly personal:
the singer Justin Timberlake (and occasionally JC Chasez) croons about gazing out of his plane window at the ocean, a line which indicates that the singer is a jetsetter of some kind, to be heading home for the holidays via transatlantic (or transpacific) flight, thoughtfully reflecting on how he has been “gone for too many holidays” and “on my own for too many years” and how he misses “the happiness” and “the tears.” Perhaps these are all genuine reflections of the boys in the band themselves – perhaps we are seeing (or rather, hearing) the more sincere repercussions of being an incredibly famous heartthrob with an international performance schedule.
There is a brief musical nod to carol classic “Deck The Halls” during the first chorus – but the theme does not make a reappearance, something I have always found mildly frustrating. It fits so perfectly, and yet during the other choruses that same place in the score is more or less blank – there is no other cheeky reference or musical quotation to fill the air which is dead except for the generic, rhythmic shaking of sleigh bells. A minor disappointment.
At 2:54, there is a key change which is nothing short of radiant. Revel in its shimmering beauty and never forget JC’s effortless vocals, because —
Wait, is that a gospel choir out of nowhere at 3:43?
Yes, it is, and they stick around till the end of the song. They sound great – but they literally came out of nowhere. As though known prankster Joey Fatone opened the door to the studio in the middle of the recording session and this fully robed choir in Santa hats shuffled in to harmonize in utter seasonal perfection.
So this is an abrupt shift from the wholesome, joyful, gospel-backed first track… With a slower, more R&B feel, this song is oozing with uncomfortable “romantic” imagery and insistent vows of “showing” the recipient of the song “how good it could be.”
Perhaps almost more troubling than the idea of sharing intimate moments underneath a fully lit and decorated Christmas tree is the chorus’ wistful, frustrated plea: “I wish that Santa could be here to see/it’s beautiful under my tree.”
What…exactly… are we talking about here?
The key modulation at 3:43 is grossly underwhelming compared to the pristine majesty of the key change in track one, and utterly unnecessary to the rest of this song.
If they are singing about cuddling under the actual Christmas tree (and assuming the Christmas tree isn’t a phallic metaphor), then how exactly are they both fitting in a comfortable position beneath the lowest branches? I guess I’m just confused on the staging of this scene as a whole.
This track is the same track as “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You” except it has Christmas themes. Seriously. Listen to both tracks. The synth drums and guitar line are basically the same. Which means, of course, that it’s the most romantic track on the album, and it makes you re-evaluate your values and requirements in both the holiday season and in finding a soulmate.
Track 4: “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”
This is BY FAR the best song on the album. It’s also the popular favorite, and sometimes is still actually played on Christmas radio stations. It happens to have the happiest music video ever – if not one of the oddest.
AW YEAH. Puffy jackets, snow goggles, an extremely ethnically diverse group of friends, and Gary Coleman.
The song also affirms the inherent coolness of God (“And with the blessings from above/God sends you His love/and everything’s okay”) as well as global religious tolerance (“No matter what your holiday/it’s a time to celebrate/put your worries aside/and open up your mind”).
Annnnnnnnd the gospel choir returns for an encore.
Justin Timberlake eases us into this more traditional holiday classic with his trademark crooning, and the rest of the guys join in with some faux-doo wop backup vocals. Interestingly, and mysteriously, JT passes the lead singer mic to JC in mid stride phrase, not even stopping to change verses or begin the chorus. The rest of the song is all JC, with the boys in the background oohing and aahing as one does when one doo-wops. No explanation, no switch back to JT at the end, nothing. It’s so odd. Regular *NSYNC fans will know that traditionally JT and JC switch off being ‘lead singer’ but they usually do so from verse to verse, not in the middle of the bridge like in this tune, as though “The Christmas Song” were some kind of sneaky sleight-of-hand relay race and Justin has had to tap out early and sneak JC in to keep running to the finish line.
It’s almost suspicious.
To be honest, there’s a lot about this song I don’t get. We didn’t really need another watery ballad, let alone one as overwrought with flimsy “peace on earth” themes and obvious rhymes as this one. Somewhat surprising is the fact that Chris Kirkpatrick, the group’s high soprano, gets recurring lead vocals on this song. JC certainly hits the chorus hard, and Joey had a bit of a verse, but it’s mostly Chris’ track.
OMG. IS THAT KENNY G?
Also, good for you, Chris, you get another opening moment in a song. That’s more than you’ve had on any other album! It’s really too bad that this song is not as good as the song it’s clearly trying to be, the infamous Mariah Carey pop mega-hit by a similar name. And there are times in the song when I can’t even hear the lyrics over the riffing and the vocal runs they’re performing.
But still. Kenny G though.
This iteration of the classic carol starts off pretty nice, with strong five-part harmony – the harmony which made them famous, some might say – but then this little synth percussion track sneaks in, and the next thing you know it’s a steady pulsing train ride through the rest of the song with no real feeling or connection to the joy of Christmas and the birth of the child who would grow up to be Jesus Christ… but there are a lot of vocal pyrotechnics.
The return of the R&B Slow Jamz: there’s one for every occasion. And sometimes more than one for a single occasion.
The opening line from JC (“Christmastime/is so special”) sounds like it’s sung in disgust and with air quotes around it. It’s painfully condescending. He was obviously trying to sound… I don’t know… sexy? But come on. Really?
This is essentially just a regular smooth slow jam with a hastily-applied Christmas theme.
This snow crunching, wind blowing intro segment brought to you by Mannheim Steamroller.
If it had been between this track and track 9, this is the one that deserved to stay on the album, and that’s a difficult decision to make because these two tracks are both pretty dang bad.
Chris, your Beegees influence is showing again.
And a weird talking outro… is that Lance? That has to be Lance.
THIS is the classic carol we’ve been waiting for. Beautiful, genuine and cleanly harmonized. This is classic Christmas, classic *NSYNC, and a beautiful track overall. It’s heartfelt, where “The First Noel” was rushed and overproduced. The simple, clear a capella treatment is outstanding and very sincere. A gorgeous rendition.
Ohhhh. Good. Another piano-driven ballad. Did we need another? Apparently the producers thought so. I’m just not sure why all the lyrics are starting to sound the same: hearts, yours and mine, Christmas Day, special time we share, blah blah blah. It’s all fine.
And back to the consumerism-vs-love debate, this track is a welcome change. It’s a slightly more uptempo ballad, and each of the guys has a spotlight phrase or two – EVEN LANCE, who hits a supremely low note and causes anyone who is trying to sing along with him to fail miserably because he’s The Bass Bass.
We also hear the recurring theme of missing someone long-distance; perhaps this, much like the first track, is a personal plea to the band’s loved ones to know that they are missed and adored, especially on holidays.
And there’s a more power ballad-y key change in this tune – still not as majestic as the first on the album, but still worth mentioning.
The final track on “Home For Christmas” was a fascinating phenomenon for me as a young person listening to this CD in 1998. First of all, I didn’t know very many New Year’s Eve songs – there are plenty of Christmas songs, but not quite so many New Year’s songs. Secondly, I was aware of the cultural concept of New Year’s Eve being worthy of a flashy, sparkling, adult, classy party event with music and dancing and hors d’oeuvres. I was only minimally aware of the concept of being kissed at midnight to herald the beginning of the coming calendar year. The idea was fascinating; was it good luck? Was it a special kind of kiss? Kissing to me at the time was a) utterly foreign and b) utterly desirable. I was so far off from being kissed that it seemed like magic, like a completely unique and exotic occurrence. Kissing at midnight on New Year’s, therefore, must be like completely transcendent or something.
Especially because *NSYNC is singing about it.
Now that I have experienced kissing and also New Year’s parties and some combinations of the two together, I can say that it did not transform me into a fairy princess or anything like that – but it was pleasant. And there is something romantic about it, of course. But it’s mostly symbolism.
Even so, this song remains one of my favorites – it’s fun and bubbly and upbeat. Which is more than I can say for most of the tracks on this album.
AND SO, IN CONCLUSION….
This is clearly
not one of the best albums ever and you should not obsess over it as much as I clearly have.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!