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Touched by music: a Christmas playlist with a tactile spin

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 15 December 2020

The In-Touch team, UCL Knowledge Lab

Music is a part of our everyday lives: many song lyrics both ‘touch’ us and tell stories of our tactile relationships with one another.

The interdisciplinary InTouch Project at UCL explores the social implications of digital technology for touch communication. As a fun side-project the team has compiled a Touch Playlist – and it seems every music genre loves a bit of touch!

This winter season, lit up by Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and Hogmanay, heralds its own set of songs packed with tactile metaphors, invitations to touch, and felt memories. Here, we share a few thoughts on ‘touchy’ Christmas lyrics. Indeed, in the words of Queen (not The Queen), ‘it’s been a long hard year’ for many of us, in shared and different ways. How might the usual medley of Christmas songs (we all have our favourites) play out against the background of newly configured Covid-times?

Will we heed Dolly and ‘cuddle up and cozy down’?

Christmas songs are full of references to warm fires, getting cosy and snuggling… while the cold winter rages outside. In ‘Cuddle up and Cozy Down Christmas’, Dolly Parton sings:

I want to cuddle up and cozy down with you / Wrap myself around you / And do what lovers do / Ah, the snow is fallin’ / Passion’s callin’ / A glass of wine or two / I want a cuddle up, cozy down Christmas with you

Dolly’s ‘cuddling up’ sentiments are echoed by the Ronettes in ‘Sleigh Ride’:

Our cheeks are nice and rosy and comfy and cozy are we (ring-a-ling-a ding-dong-ding!) / We’re snuggled up together like two birds of a feather would be (ring-a-ling-a ding-dong-ding!) 

Though we may not be able to snuggle, cuddle or nestle in the same way, will we find different ways to do so remotely?

Anyone for mistletoe with Santa or a nip with Jack Frost?

The mistletoe kiss, loathed and loved by so many, is a Christmas song staple: It’s under the mistletoe that Mariah Carey is ‘gonna keep on waiting’ in ‘All I Want For Christmas’, and where Shakin Stevens is ‘gonna find that girl’ in ‘Merry Christmas Everyone. Meanwhile, Leona Lewis waits impatiently with ‘dreams of you and mistletoe’ in ‘One More Sleep’ and Kanye West points out the ‘mistletoe’s right here’ in ‘Christmas in Harlem’.

But perhaps the safest person to kiss under the mistletoe this year might be Santa Claus, as Jimmy Boyd’s mother did in ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’. (Though you might just want to have a mince pie instead.)

Ariana Grande takes this one step further and promises to ‘avoid every mistletoe I know’ until she’s assured Santa will be hers.

It may also be safe (though a little cold!) to allow tactile interactions with other Christmas characters. How about Jack Frost ‘nipping at your nose’ in ‘The Christmas Song’ by Nat King Cole?

Driving Home for Christmas?

The longing for being together comes through Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, driving an extensive distance to feel his loved one near (permitted under UK relaxed restrictions 23-27th Dec):

So I sing for you / Though you can’t hear me / When I get through / And feel you near me / Driving in my car / I’m driving home for Christmas […] Oh, I got red lights on the run / But soon there’ll be a freeway yeah / Get my feet on holy ground

The Winter season with its many religious and cultural celebrations is often a time of hope as well as a time peppered with loss and remembrance for the loved ones we miss. Music can keep us going over the holidays and coming months, making us laugh as well as cry, evoking memories of distant friends and conjuring up happier times. We might share songs or listen to them as motivating soundtracks for our promised New Year exercise regimes. And if it all gets too much, we can follow Kanye West’s advice in ‘Christmas In Harlem’ and ‘go hit the mall’.

But it may be best, at least for now, not to sing along too loudly!

We will reflect more generally on touch in music, its significance and themes in a follow-up blog post in Spring 2021.

Photos: Dolly Parton at Christmas by Kristopher Harris and Kanye West at Christmas by ajrauch via Creative Commons


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