Everyone dreads the two full months of Christmas music that start as soon as the last kid drags home his huge bag of Halloween candy. The same 50 or so songs play on repeat, jingle bells that fill every store, and forced joy placates the voice of every FM DJ as they press play on that infamous Mariah Carey single.
The music market is overwhelmed with attempts at crowd-gathering holiday music around this most festive time of year, but if you’re a girl from the ’90s, it all comes down to a damn near impossible choice between *NSYNC’s Home for Christmas and Hanson’s Snowed In. Let’s assess.
Hanson’s Christmas album came out a year before *NSYNC’s did in 1997, just when the boy band craze was just starting to gain serious momentum. It sold over 863,000 copies and became the biggest selling holiday album of the year. It was the brothers’ fourth full-length release and only had three original tracks, but was still a huge success.
On the other hand, *NSYNC released Home for Christmas in 1998, shortly after their wildly popular debut. It was not an instant hit but has since gone double platinum in the U.S. and sold four million copies worldwide. This album features a few more tracks than Hanson’s, coming in with 14, including five original tunes. On numbers alone, *NSYNC takes the win, but breaking down the comparison on a subjective, song-by-song basis and there might be a different outcome.
Hanson opens Snowed In with a classic banger, “Merry Christmas Baby”, featuring the loveable Taylor Hanson on lead vocals and a rock ‘n’ roll guitar. *NSYNC chose a slower, more thematic first track followed by a similarly mellow, seductive song about laying under a tree all night. It’s not until “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” (which is credited in part to JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake) that *NSYNC breaks out their high-energy, bumble-gum pop that just tickles the teen inside.
Hanson keeps the mood light and upbeat until the original track “At Christmas”. It’s beautiful but definitely written by young, swooning musicians and doesn’t fit in with the rest of their more traditional selections. Unfortunately, the same applies to their other two originals, “Christmas Time”, and “Everybody Knows the Claus”; but these songs are fun and there was something to be said for them in 1997 when their writers were teenagers.
The three Hanson boys take the other classic tunes and make them their own by adding a level of musical integrity that *NSYNC completely lacks. Granted, *NSYNC had the magic of pitch-perfect five-part harmonies that they saturate their album with. They also included better original tracks, however it’s widely known that the guys singing these songs didn’t write them. Timberlake and Chasez are credited in a few instances but for the most part, an outside team wrote their songs. It’s fairly discomforting that the performers didn’t come up with their own music, and perhaps one of the reasons that led to the decline of factory-produced pop. Artists who wrote their own material always got a little more credit than those who didn’t, and even in something that could be as sugar coated as holiday music, Hanson’s originality is still a very apparent between the two albums.
Official Home For Christmas cover art.
To not consider the glaring fact of CD design would be careless of me; on the *NSYNC Home for Christmas album, the five 20-somethings of the group huddle together and smile brightly. The good-looking ones are interspersed with the… not good looking ones to distract from Chris Kirpatrick’s hair (yes, I had to look up his name again too). The overall tone of the album was also more sexually leaning, obviously aiming for a slightly older audience of teens.
Official Snowed In cover art.
Hanson’s good ol’ family record features the siblings standing in a snowy night wrapped in multi-colored lights. They are wholesome, bright songwriters (with only one unattractive member) who turned classic melodies into high-energy, teeny-bop beats that fill the house with Christmas spirit.
If these albums were in a boxing match, I think Snowed In would put up a good fight, dodge all Home for Christmas’s left hooks and uppercuts, ultimately left to stand victorious over the reigning ’90s boy band’s holiday release. There’s just a level of genuineness that *NSYNC seems to be lacking, and the three little blond angels of Hanson are little more Christmas-oriented than the sex-driven, ’90s centric pop group.