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Culture Shock

"Santa, Buddy": Michael Bublé, Bad Lyric Changes, and Gendered Expectations

I think most everyone can agree that as soon as an artist attempts to cover a well-known song, no matter what that song is, they take on a great deal of responsibility to the original artist and song to create a faithful tribute. This has gone well really only a handful of times, often due to missteps in instrumentation, weird genre changes that don't make sense, or just a lack of musical talent as compared to the original. But I think one of the easiest ways to curse a cover is to change the lyrics.

This often occurs when a singer attempts to make a song written by someone of another gender "comfortable" (i.e.: “straight”) for their own gender, and it can create some... awkward results. One such example is Michael Bublé's cover of "Santa Baby". It's a truly puzzling and hilarious example of lyrical changes, and it also says a lot about the strange and often ridiculous world of gendered norms and expectations.

Orignally recorded by Eartha Kitt in 1953, "Santa Baby" has been a staple holiday classic for all sorts of singers. Madonna's cover is probably the most well-known, but Kylie Minogue, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Gwen Stefani, and even more artists have had a crack at this song. However, you might notice that most of the artists who choose to cover this song are women. After all, the character presented in this song is hoping to cheat Santa Claus out of his most expensive gifts in a quite... shall I say, lascivious manner. While there's no requirement, technically, for this character to be female, the gold-digger who uses sexuality for gain is almost always a woman.

So Michael Bublé faced an interesting societal challenge when covering this song. Does he simply sing the original lyrics and not worry that other people will think him less of a manly man for singing a song in the perspective of a character traditionally seen as female? Or does he try and adapt this pretty unadaptable song to make it manlier?

(I'm sure you can guess what he chose).

So, in the spirit of the holiday season, let's take a look at some of these lyrical changes, and what they say about the difference between masculinity and femininity.

Original (Kitt) Bublé
Santa baby, just slip a sable under the tree, For me.
Been an awful good girl,Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.
Santa baby, slip a Rolex under the tree, for me.
I've been an awful good guy,
Santa buddy, and hurry down the chimney tonight.

For anyone unaware, and don’t worry, I’m sure that’s most everyone, a sable is a species of marten, which is a weasel-like creature that lives in Russia. The original song is probably referencing a coat made of sable fur, which is something that, today, sells for upwards of $250,000. On the other hand Bublé opts for the far less expensive Rolex watch, which still fetches around $9,000. I think of all the changes made from the original to Bublé’s version, this one probably makes the most sense, logically. I still think lyric changes are usually unnecessary, but in this case most people probably don’t even know what a “sable” is, and even if they did would probably object due to the animal cruelty factor.

But ah, never fear, because we also get the first truly hilarious change in the last part of this verse. The change from “baby” to “buddy” brings up the very reason why this lyric rewrite was doomed to fail from the start. “Santa Baby” is definitely one of the more controversial Christmas songs due to its sexual connotations. Bublé’s attempt to sidestep this issue by simply changing “baby” to “buddy” does absolutely nothing to address any other part of what makes this song so inherently sexual. The slow, sensual delivery in front of jazzy instruments – Bublé still does that. And he expects his lyric changes to turn this song from sexual to just friendly. You know, just guys being dudes!

Instead, due to the connotation and already existing knowledge of the meaning of the song, his attempts to change it falls flat. This is why changes to existing material in covers so often fail, as it’s usually the original’s meaning that trump any changes.

Original (Kitt) Bublé
Santa baby, a 54 convertible too,
Light blue.
I'll wait up for you dear,
Santa buddy, a 65 convertible too, steel blue.
I'll wait up for you dude,

I’m not entirely clear on why Bublé chooses to change the year of the convertible. I’d be willing to guess that it may be because of simple preference on Bublé’s part. However, it may be worth noting that since the original was written in ’53, this makes the car Kitt desired the newest model at the time. In his version, Bublé wishes for something a little more vintage.

What I do want to call attention to is the color change of the car. In the original, Kitt’s assertion of exactly what color convertible she wants is meant to convey that she is incredibly specific about her wishes. However, Bublé’s change seems a lot more to do with handwringing over the perceived masculinity of certain colors of car. Kitt’s wish for a light blue convertible, I guess, was a little too froufrou and girly for Bublé, so he wants to make sure everyone listening knows that he wants his car to be masculine. Steel blue, not light blue.

It’s a pointless change, but it certainly shows off the weird anxieties that come along with aligning to gender roles. I guess the ’65 convertible isn’t good enough for him if it’s a “girly” color.

In addition, there’s a change from “dear” to “dude”, which is basically the same, contextually, as the change from “baby” to “buddy”. Doesn’t do anything to sidestep the connotations of the original. You’ll see a few more similar changes throughout the song, and they all sound just as silly, I promise.

Original (Kitt) Bublé
Think of all the fun I've missed,
Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed,
Think of all the fun I've missed,
I think of all the hotties that I never kissed,

I bring this line up because I think there’s a huge, huge difference between the word Kitt chooses to use and the word Bublé chooses to use to refer to their prospective admirers. While “fellas” is definitely slang, it doesn’t carry quite the objectification of “hotties”. Instead of whittling her male admirers down to one trait, Kitt simply calls them as they are. Contrary to this, Bublé calls the women he likes “hotties” because all he cares about in them in that they’re hot. “Fellas” are people, “hotties” are one-dimensional images of conventionally-attractive women. Bublé could have easily changed this lyric to “ladies” if he wanted to at least refer to the women he likes as, you know, people. But he didn’t, which sure does show one huge difference between traditional femininity and traditional masculinity.

Original (Kitt) Bublé
Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex, and checks.
Sign your 'X' on the line,
Santa buddy, fill my stocking with Canucks tix, for kicks.
Throw me on the first line,

Here’s another weird change. The original asks for a duplex, as well as the checks to fund a lavish lifestyle, two very expensive wishes. But Bublé asks for… hockey tickets? If Santa is truly willing to give the singer of this song anything they want, isn’t it kind of a copout on Bublé’s part to request just… hockey tickets? Boy, masculinity sure is puzzling. But I guess choosing sports over a living space probably worth a few million dollars, generously, as well as the promise of more wealth in the future is just par for the course for a red-blooded man like Bublé.

Okay, okay, I will say that this line’s change probably has more to do with trying not to imply that he wants Santa to leave him an “X” (a kiss, as in XOXO), since he’s been trying so hard this entire song to imply his freeloading on Santa is entirely platonic. But still, the sport thing is pretty ridiculous, right? Just me? Alright.

Original (Kitt) Bublé
Come and trim my Christmas tree,
With some decorations bought at Tiffany's,
Come and trim my Christmas tree,
With some decorations bought at Mercedes,

While the original song references Tiffany’s, a luxury jewelry brand, I am still completely in the dark on what Bublé meant by decorations bought at Mercedes. I feel like he’s referencing Mercedes-Benz, like the car, but I have no idea what trimming a Christmas tree with decorations from a car dealership, even a luxury one, would entail. Still, Bublé makes another odd choice to dodge the $175-per-ornament cost for Tiffany Christmas ornaments in favor of something much manlier. Cars, I guess? Even when the line makes no sense, at least he’s not implying he wants Santa to buy him ornaments from a girly place like Tiffany’s. Right? Right?

Original (Kitt) Bublé
Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing,
A ring.
I don't mean on the phone,
Santa poppy, forgot to mention one little thing, cha-ching,
No, I don't mean as a loan.

And here, I suppose, we find where Bublé is making up for all the expensive girly things he avoided earlier in the song, while also implying that he doesn’t want any jewelry, at all. This one is particularly silly though, since rings are not only for women. Lots of men wear rings, and not just wedding ones either. Perhaps Bublé didn’t want to imply he wanted Santa to propose to him as the original might be doing, you know, because this song is super platonic.

And, beyond a few other small changes, that’s it. A tour of some of the oddest lyrical changes from Eartha Kitt’s original “Santa Baby” to Bublé’s super manly version. I think it goes to show how impossible it is to disregard the original context of a song you’re covering. I’m sorry, Bublé, but no matter how hard you try, you still sound like you want Santa to be your Sugar Daddy. No amount of hockey tickets, steel blue convertibles, or objectification of women will change that fact.

I will say that I do admire this rewrite of the song only as an example of just how ridiculous gendered expectations are. Logically, expensive gifts are expensive gifts, but in Bublé’s world it doesn’t matter how expensive the gift is – if it’s jewelry or from a jewelry store or even in a color our society has deemed “not masculine enough”, he doesn’t want it. Funny how songs about excessive greed point out just how excessive our cultural anxieties about gender roles truly are.

Happy Holidays!


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