Why people love (and hate) 'Last Christmas'

Sunday, 17 December 2023 (17:44 IST)
It hits us without mercy every year, nearly impossible to avoid: It's on the radio, it's at the top of the singles charts, it's blaring from the loudspeakers at Christmas markets or supermarkets and department stores. No Yuletide playlist is complete without "Last Christmas."
Along with the original recording by British pop duo Wham!, there are endless cover versions to choose from, sung in Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Portuguese and numerous language dialects. The musical styles of those covers range from salsa to metal, folk to R & B.  
New ones are being recorded all the time, most recently by Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette.
The story of 'Last Christmas'
The video for the original version tells a sentimental story: A group of friends gather for Christmas at a cozy chalet in the snowy mountains. There's an obvious tension and longing between one of the men (Wham! vocalist George Michael) and one of the women, both of whom have arrived with different people.
Through a flashback, we learn that the sparkly brooch worn by the woman's boyfriend (played by the other half of Wham!, Andrew Ridgeley), was given to her the previous Christmas by Michael. He, wounded by her careless handling of his heart, vows to only give it to someone special, hoping to spare himself further tears. 
This short-format drama is the height of 1980s kitsch — not just because of the main characters' yearning gazes, but also thanks to its lavish use of soft focus and the blow-dried hairstyles that were all the rage at the time.
Fun fact: The video was shot in the Swiss winter sports resort of Saas-Fee. But the chalet where the action is set is only seen in exterior shots. The cast and crew couldn't get in, because no one in the village had the key. So the interior shots were filmed in Saas-Fee's cultural center. 
Turning heartbreak into a hit
According to pop music legend, in the summer of 1984, the then 21-year-old George Michael jotted down a few lines in a notebook as he and bandmate Ridgeley were on a bus on their way to visit Michael's parents. As Wham!, the duo were already in the pop charts, with their single "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" having reached No. 1 in both the UK and the US.
But even pop stars can be lovelorn, and Michael decided to write a song inspired by his own heartbreak. As Ridgeley recalled in a November 2023 interview with Smooth Radio, Michael disappeared into his old room at his parents' house and emerged later as excited as if he'd discovered gold. Which he had: He played Ridgeley a melody that would become one of the best-known pop songs in the world. 
"George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music," recounted Ridgeley. "Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts." The song was released on November 30, 1984, just in time for Christmas.
It quickly became clear that the song touched a nerve, expressing the pain of countless people spending the holiday season alone, mourning a lost love. The melody Michael wrote is so ingeniously catchy you can easily miss the fact that it consists of only four chords. 
Fleeing 'Whamageddon'
That makes it an almost instant earworm, which has made the track not only one of the most-played Christmas songs of all time, but also — along with Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" — among the most annoying. It can hardly be avoided at this time of year, but that doesn't stop some people from trying.
In 2016, the comedy page "Whamageddon" on Facebook launched a challenge that has since spread far beyond the realm of that social media platform. To play, people do everything they can to avoid listening to the original Wham! version of the song (cover versions don't count) between December 1 and 24. If you make it to Christmas Eve without hearing it, you can say you survived "Whamageddon." Losers are sent to "Whamhalla." 
The rules state that deliberately playing the song to knock people out is frowned upon — as a DJ at a UK sports stadium learned recently when he played the song as a joke at a soccer game attended by some 7,000 people. He apologized after coming under fire, saying he hadn't realized people took the challenge so seriously.
It doesn't take a prankster to send you to "Whamhalla," since the chances of hearing "Last Christmas" unintentionally are huge. In the first decades since its release it never quite made it to the very top spot in the charts, but that changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The song went to No. 1 in the UK on January 1, 2021, followed by Germany at the end of that year.
This year, too, it's in hot rotation on numerous radio stations — not to mention being used in countless social media reels. It's become harder than ever to avoid "Last Christmas."
Help comes in the form of radio stations like Germany's Radio Bob, which has declared itself a "'Last Christmas'-free zone."
Next year will mark 40 years since Wham! released "Last Christmas," and its longevity and ubiquitousness are surely also due in part to the universal nature of its subject. Heartbreak on the holidays will exist for as long as people fall in love and celebrate Christmas.
George Michael's success went on long after that song. He was a talented and beloved musician, songwriter and performer, whose career survived the end of Wham! in 1986 and continued until his death. He died at the age of just 53, on Christmas Day, 2016.

Read on Webdunia

Related Article