Casual Cadenza: Ranking retail radio (Christmas edition)


Nov. 1 is a particularly solemn day for retail workers. Halloween-themed merchandise fails to exist a day after its expiration date, as Santa gnomes fill the former spaces of witch dolls and candles go from smelling like pumpkin to fresh pine. While the last thing I want to say about my first retail job is that I miss it, sometimes the thrill of being surrounded by holiday shoppers and jamming out to Christmas songs from behind the counter is enough to bring warm nostalgia. In the spirit of the holiday season approaching and in an attempt to reminisce about the nostalgic aspects of a former part-time job, I’d like to offer a personal ranking of songs that seem to take over every retail store during Christmastime. 

1. Wham! – “Last Christmas” 

The proof of its inherent goodness lies in the fact that it’s one of the most overplayed Christmas songs of all time. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever gone a year without hearing the lyrics, “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart,” at least once. Somber words of unrequited love don’t seem to prevent stores from blasting Wham!’s 1984 holiday hit, nor do they keep me from enjoying its retro-sounding tune. No other song succeeds in manifesting feelings of festivity as much as “Last Christmas,” which is why I’m giving my heart to Wham! this year. 

2. Justin Bieber – “Mistletoe” 

In my defense, this one is more of a guilty pleasure. Nine years ago, I didn’t expect to experience such a revelation after hearing Bieber’s maturing voice paired with acoustic guitar and a cutesy sleigh bell beat. But I did, and for a year, 9-year-old me deemed “Mistletoe” by Justin Bieber the best Christmas song of all time. Subsequently, the song has become somewhat of a holiday essential for retail stores. There’s now pure sentimentality that comes out of hearing it; a cozy reminder of simpler times. 

3. Ariana Grande – “Santa Tell Me” 

Is it a crime to put “Mistletoe” before “Santa Tell Me?” Perhaps, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Grande’s contemporary Christmas hit is an ample addition to any festive playlist through a combination of sweet-sounding vocals, a catchy chorus and a similar sleigh bell beat. I don’t mind its designation as a retail holiday anthem, since I generally agree with that notion. However, it just feels like more of a modern bop than a Christmas song. While I would gladly listen to the song while shopping for gifts, I don’t find myself listening to it that often otherwise. 

4. Mariah Carey – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” 

Even I couldn’t ignore the dulcet tones of proclaimed retail radio queen, Mariah Carey. I distinctly remember hearing this song play at least five times per shift and getting tired of it by the third listen. While the song isn’t explicitly bad, it’s what I consider to be a staple retail pick: fun and energetic, but nothing special. Not that it matters to Carey, who is likely getting her annual holiday bank with every listen. I’d probably just go with her very underground single, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of @heidifin on

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