HO HO WHO: Jon Batiste, the New Orleans native who leads The Late Show‘s band, and Danielle Brooks, best remembered for her roles in Orange is the New Black and the most recent stage revival of The Color Purple, singing the purist tribute to the holiday season, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It’s a task many have attempted and few have mastered, but Batiste and Brooks have just the right amount of name recognition to take a shot at the song Judy Garland made famous without making total fools of themselves.
LET THE BEAT BE LIGHT: Garland and those that followed her tended to stretch the words and lean into the song’s solemnity, but Batiste and Brooks take a lighter touch, filling the space between notes with finger snaps and riffs. It gives their version a bit more energy, and their quieter, less forceful vocals make the rendition seem casual, like a conversation between friends as opposed to a grand pronouncement about everything being awful.
HANG NO SHINING STARS: Frank Sinatra famously insisted that the song’s lyrics be rewritten to seem more upbeat, and many contemporary artists who choose to cover “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” stick with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ inane line about hanging “a shining star upon the highest bough.” Brooks and Batiste make the bold—and CORRECT, in this reviewer’s opinion—choice to use the song’s original lyrics, about muddling through and believing that things will be better next year, as heard in the 1944 movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The lines perfectly capture the feelings of ambivalence and reflection that come up during this time of year. It’s a good thing Jon and Dani chose to sing the right lyrics, because they nearly destroy their take during the outro, filling it with random comments about favorite holiday snacks and decorations.
CHEER FACTOR: 7.5/10. Let’s be clear: There is only one version of this song that matters, and that is the one sung by Judy Garland, wearing a sparkly head scarf that also looks like a barrister’s wig. But for the runners up, this lighter beat pairs quite well with the somber lyrics. Our troubles, and they are many, may not be miles away next year, but it’s nice to reflect on that thought for three minutes.