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HO HO WHO: Today’s heir to Christina Aguilera‘s power-belting sweet-tart legacy: Ariana Grande. Grande’s bouncing off the Billboard momentum of “Bang Bang,” her life-affirming (uh, for me, anyway) dancefloor collab with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, making appearances on just about every televised music (and lingerie) spectacle this season.
SAME AS IT EVER CLAUS: This sugary, plummy ditty isn’t exactly a special snowflake. Like thousands of Christmas songs that came before, “Santa Tell Me” opens with soft strings and a few twinkle bells, leading into merry jingling and imagery heavy on the mistletoe, fireplaces, and “snow blasting.” But with a snappy chorus and a clap-backed, multi-voiced climax, along with an easy, scale-climbing melody, this is an ideal cover for a caroling crew or a cappella group with popstar ambitions.
SLIGHTLY CUPID: Something tells me Grande mixed up her mythic figures in red. “Santa tell me, if you’re really there/Don’t make me fall in love again if he won’t be here next year,” she pleads. Last I checked (two years ago, when I ran into a mall Santa on his coffee break), Santa’s main gig is gift-bringing, not matchmaking—-that’s Cupid‘s game. Grande goes on: “Santa tell me if he really cares/’Cause I can’t give it all away if he won’t be here next year.” Again, nice and naughty lists aside, Santa’s not in the business of doling out advice on whether a dude’s love is true enough to warrant giving “it all away.” Mr. Claus isn’t the slut-shaming type, anyhow.
CHEER FACTOR: 6/10. I expected better from Grande, who barely gives us one diva run in the final chorus and deserves a much richer production. “Santa Tell Me” sounds like it was recorded in a hurry to bank on her popularity surge before the holiday season. But in a Grinch pinch or a Mean Girls Christmas lip-sync contest, it’ll do.