Music Features

A Very Merry-Go-Round: I Ranked Owl City’s Christmas Songs so You Don’t Have To


Tis the season! With A Very Merry-Go-Round, we’ll be offering the hottest holiday takes in town

Owl City: A name which 10 years ago was synonymous with “Fireflies.” A name which evokes a twee civilization in which owls live in sweet harmony with one another. But what is less apparent about Owl City, the bedroom electropop project of singer-songwriter Adam Young, is that it has been dropping Christmas singles like owl pellets consistently since 2008. If you’re looking for an alternative to the endless slump of traditional carols, look no further. Owl City has got some tracks that you’ve got to hear to believe. Below is a much stressed-over ranking of those songs.


“Humbug” (2016)

“Humbug” is all cheeky piano licks and jingle bells, plucky strings and smooth vocals wrapped up in a Michael Bublé-esque package, and lyrics that have the candid honesty of a third grader. Unlike the other songs on this list, “Humbug” isn’t brimming with wide-eyed optimism. Instead, we learn that our man really, really hates Christmas shopping. It’s unclear who he’s shopping for—a lover? His young niece? A work acquaintance he got stuck with for Secret Santa? There’s no way to tell, because most of the lyrics are focused on the all-encompassing, soul-eating dread he experiences every time he walks past a Macy’s in December. He spends the entire song stressing, “I could get her a gift card to Olive Garden, but what if Red Lobster is way more her thing?” before immediately spiraling into “How ‘bout I jump out the window?” He ruminates on this dilemma before resolving that the best (re: least expensive) gift he could give her is his heart. It feels a bit like a cop out. Gifts don’t have to be expensive or complicated, but anything is better than the metaphorical gift of one’s love. Shouldn’t love already be on the table? “Sorry for the Yankee candles,” he sings sincerely. Heck, a Frosty Gingerbread Yankee Candle runs for $29.50. There’s no need to apologize. Still, there’s something to be said for Young’s genuine wish to give the object of his affection something special. For his sake, I hope he went with the Olive Garden gift card. Unlimited breadsticks, yo.


“The Tip of the Iceberg” (2009)

The reason this song doesn’t gain a higher spot in Owl City’s repertoire is that it’s strictly about winter, not Christmas. Still, the snowy imagery and icy soundscape are enough to get into the holiday spirit. This is also the most classic Owl City song on this list, considering it’s a track off OCEAN EYES, the same album that graced the world with “Fireflies” and “Vanilla Twilight” a decade previously. There’s no sleigh bells, or twinkling piano keys, or any of the fluffy filler we’ve come to associate with the Christmas genre, making this a more mellow pick for your holiday playlist. Two minutes in there’s a dance breakdown that could lead to some action on the dance floor, if all parties involved have had enough eggnog.


“Light of Christmas (featuring TobyMac)” (2013)

This song was released on the soundtrack for Veggie Tales’ 2013 holiday special, MERRY LARRY AND THE TRUE LIGHT OF CHRISTMAS, and it features a collaboration with TobyMac, two facts which will mean either everything or nothing to you depending on the year you were born. It’s also got a very wholesome message going for it. For those tired of the relentless commercialism this holiday season, this could be the song that gets you back on track. Owl City and TobyMac are no strangers to the holiday duet (the two previously collaborated on TobyMac’s version of “The First Noel”), and on “Light Of Christmas,” Young puts in a noble effort, but TobyMac steals the song with the rhymes he spits out. The line “Shine on through / All the good that we do for the people that don’t have it so good” will have you pumping your fist in the air. This song would bump at a club if that club was rented out by YoungLife for their annual Christmas party. Still, it’s jam-packed with humanitarian themes and beats on par with any renowned EDM artist today. Chainsmokers who?


“Kiss Me Babe, It’s Christmas Time” (2014)

The mere suggestion of kissing in this song makes “Kiss Me Babe, It’s Christmas Time” the most mature of the bunch, but don’t worry, because it’s still entirely appropriate for anyone above the age of six! The acoustic guitars add some warmth to the electronic mix, while a catchy hook makes this a perfectly tame but really fun bop. It could have easily become cloying and cliched, but there’s something about it that keeps it from crossing the line. Maybe it’s the unconventional pairing of lines such as, “Let’s fly around the world tonight / Kiss me babe, it’s Christmas time.” To put it simply, this is the “Hey Soul Sister” of Christmas songs. It’s energetic and good natured, and could be in the running to replace the buzzy, problematic “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” or at least be featured in the soundtrack of a Hallmark Christmas movie.


“Peppermint Winter” (2010)

There is a genuine sparkle in Young’s eye as he sings with wonder, “There’s the snow, look out below / And bundle up, ‘cause here it comes.” It’s a perfect encapsulation of innocent youth and unaffected enthusiasm. Told through the perspective of a child (presumably Young himself), there’s no room for irony or cynicism—Young is simply having too good of a time having snowball fights and going on twilit sleigh rides. That is, until his mean older brother stuffs snow down his coat. Despite ending up with 45 new pairs of socks by the end of song, Young is completely content. This is the song I imagine plays in the head of a golden retriever when he takes his first steps in the snow on a crisp winter morning. Young belts, “This peppermint winter is so sugar sweet, I don’t need to taste to believe / What’s December without Christmas Eve?” Well, it’s a lot of things—Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Boxing Day. It’s a lot of people’s birthdays, too. It’s easy to forgive, because Young sounds so gosh darn earnest when he sings it. The synth solo at the end really goes off, completing the most impassioned ode to the Christmas season since Sufjan Stevens’ 2006 album SONGS FOR CHRISTMAS.

Claire Epting
Claire can be found at a coffee shop/craft fair/woodland forest near you. Follow her as she attempts to craft playlists to soundtrack every moment of her life as if it were an indie film.

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