Christmas Country Style–2023 version

Christmas Country Style–2023 version December 15, 2023

Image: CMT

Once again CMT is hosting its “Christmas in the Country” thing (broadcast on 12/13/23 on ABC, the next day on streaming platforms–last year’s special reviewed here).

This year’s special is hosted by Amy Grant and Trisha Yearwood. This is good news, and reflects the good direction that Country music has been going in the past couple years (very much against the wishes of the Nashville industry, but so much the better for that). Why is this good news? Because unlike previous years there’s some tradition baked into the event. This is not a shot at Carly Pearce’s hosting last year; she did a great job at it! Just that the tone is automatically going to be backward looking, and that’s important in a genre that always has at least one foot in the past. (Of course, Amy Grant is not a Country performer, but she obviously is Country adjacent–and certainly there’s a lot of overlap between her fans and Country fans. And she’s married to Vince Gill, so there’s that too.)

A few thoughts on the event:

  • This year’s show was a combination of high-energy dance numbers and stripped-down simple performances. Certainly watching at home on TV (because I’m an old person) the stripped-down and simple songs landed better. I think the best song of the night might have been Jon Pardi’s borderline acapella version of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” But I can absolutely imagine that for the live audience the big dance numbers landed better.
  • The intentional blending of styles this year was more focused exclusively on Country and Christian (with CCM artists heavily represented–perhaps the influence of Amy Grant’s presence?) rather than on genres like jazz and bluegrass.
  • The set was simple and used well. I don’t mean “simple” in the sense of “spartan”–there were at least as many wreaths and Christmas trees as there were big-name performers. But it was just wreaths and Christmas trees, and the effects were limited to scenes on a big screen in the background and shifting the colors of the lights on the trees. This was an effective idea–again, with Country music, simpler is better.
  • In the commercials there are lot of celebrities advertising perfume or cologne, which is something I have never understood. I mean, I understand that they drove a dump truck full of money up to Julia Roberts and she said “sure, I’ll be a five second face in your commercial.” But where do those perfume companies get all that money? Are they paying in gallon jugs of perfume or something? I do not understand that dynamic.
  • Speaking of commercials, there’s a hair dye called “Schwarzkopf”? Is that Stormin’ Norman’s legacy? I assume it’s not related to the General, but still that threw me as much as anything that went on during the hour…
  • Again, I’m glad to see the nod to the past. There were still plenty of terrible modern songs (all performed highly competently), but far more Christmas classics (also all performed highly competently). But this year’s Christmas special was much more in tune with Country music as a whole past and present, and as a result it is a better show.

Overall, this is another year’s show that is worth your time. Country music is a window into rural America–and the TV aspect of this just reinforces that, since TV is still watched in rural America in a way that isn’t quite as true in the cities (and certainly not in the suburbs). I suppose the same is true for CCM, but I know much less about that world. So you’ll have to watch and find out for yourself on that one.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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