A Brief History of a Department Store Christmas Advert Ruining Music
Strap in, fuckers, the John Lewis advert is here and it's hot take o'clock.
Different countries have different Christmas traditions. Did you know, for example, that in Norway, families exchange gifts on Christmas Eve? Or that French Nativity scenes often include figures like bakers, butchers, and policemen, as well as the usual sheep and Baby Jesus? Or that Christmas dinner in Bulgaria traditionally includes an odd number of dishes? Well, now you do. Something you should also know is that on the nasty little island otherwise known as the UK, our tradition is "Christmas adverts." As in, brands make adverts especially for Christmas, and people get excited about them. I have watched my own mother cry at a Christmas advert.
This 'tradition' was arguably started by the department store chain John Lewis, which is where middle class people go to fill their existential voids with extremely nice kitchenware. Every year, since 2007, John Lewis have produced a seasonal advert, and every year since 2008, that advert has been soundtracked by a horrible cover version of an offensively innocuous song, which inevitably then goes to number one because of mums getting choked up during The X Factor.
The John Lewis Christmas Advert tradition has stoked the UK's taste for songs that are interpreted as 'deep' because they're slow and sung by a woman over a piano and/or guitar with a fragile-sounding voice. While yes, obviously people can like whatever they want and that's fine (really it is!), you do have to admit that is is also terribly, terribly boring: mediocrity of this manner is a problem which has leaked into the veins of the collective music taste of Britain – lest we forget, the country that invented punk rock – the year round. It will not do. And it's the John Lewis' Christmas Advert's fault. Here is a brief history of how the John Lewis Christmas Advert ruined music:
2008: The Beatles covered by a lad from John Lewis' IT department
It started innocuously enough. Just a nice guy called Matt Spinner who liked playing music and got given a chance to cover The Beatles for the telly. Nothing wrong with that. The cover, obviously, is horrendous though. Twee shite. But it's only Matt Spinner, who is probably very nice, in a "Happy Friday!" sort of way. See that here, if you want.
2009: Taken by Trees doing Sweet Child o' Mine, fucking hell here we go
You know from that jarring-as-fuck piano riff that this is going to be insufferable, and then she starts singing and it's absolutely game over. For some reason there's nothing the British public loves more than kids soundtracked by a woman pretending she can't actually sing, because she's quirky and does yoga. This was the beginning of the end.
2010: *ELLIE GOULDING KLAXON*
Ah yes, Ellie Goulding, a person whose songs sound like they were recorded by someone doing the sixth form talent show because their friends said "no really, you're actually so good" once. 2010 was the year the John Lewis Christmas advert became a true cultural behemoth, all because Ellie bloody Goulding did a simpering version of Elton John.
2011: Please, Please, Please Let Me Smash Up the Television
The irony of the artist covering The Smiths in over the top of this advert being called 'Slow Moving Millie' is not lost on me – she does what she says on the tin, really. Following the success of Goulding, John Lewis' ad agency obviously thought sticking to the 'very bland woman singing a bare bones version of an actually quite good song' formula was a good idea. Nice how they've used a song ostensibly about spiralling depression to hawk last minute Christmas presents init?
2012: As if we're only at 2012. Gabrielle Aplin's take on Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
By 2012, they'd got their system down and they knew exactly what they were doing. This one is almost clinical. Couple of snowmen falling in love? Brilliant. Whack a piano cover (again, a great song made extremely boring) on it and hey presto, crying nans for weeks.
2013: Lily Allen covering KEANE of all people
You know the drill. We've almost peaked.
2014: big Tom Odell
Remember when Tom Odell's dad rang up the NME to complain about a bad review they'd given his album? That was the moment he was doomed to soundtrack CGI penguins for the remainder of his days. John Lewis did change it up slightly in 2014, by bringing in a male vocalist, but the eye-rolling lack of creativity (music-wise, that is), is ever-present – don't you worry about that!
2015: "Half the World Away" (getting near the end now don't worry)
I will admit that the 2015 John Lewis Christmas Advert did thaw my icy heart slightly, but only because anything with old people and the thought of them being lonely makes me really upset. It is arguably a bit cynical of John Lewis to exploit this but hey, capitalism baby (*wolf howl*) – although if it made people think about how they might be kinder to the elderly people they know, that is obviously a very nice thing. However, what I will not stand for is one of the lowkey best Oasis songs, and one of the highkey best TV soundtracks of all time (love you The Royle Family) being implicated. Sad sounding Norwegian singer Aurora lent her vocals. Liam Gallagher probably called her a potato. The Earth spins on its axis.
2016: the one with the dog
After the moon one this was shit, just shit. Credit where credit's due to Vaults, the trio responsible for the cover of Randy Newman's "One Day I'll Fly Away" here, for forcing John Lewis to pivot to synths, however.
2017: ELBOW? FUCKING ELBOW?
Which brings us here. Elbow doing The Beatles. A monument to inoffensiveness. And yes, I know that Christmas is, at its heart, inoffensive, but... isn't it also meant to be fun? Would it kill them to have a laugh?
I think that is what I hate most about the John Lewis Christmas Advert-ification of music, you know. It's boring and lazy. It takes 'slowed down' and 'stripped back' as shorthand for meaning, and in the process elevates music that is unoriginal and mediocre, because it's a tried and tested sales tool. And yes, obviously Christmas is for buying things – that's what we do – but this is a problem that has infected music in this country at large, and that just makes me a bit sad. There is my scorching hot take. Merry Christmas.
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