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It all starts with a beautiful, timeless song. But I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words how awful the so-called Elton John Lewis Christmas advert is this year.
With the month of December looming on the seasonal horizon, today, on November 15, John Lewis dropped its yearly Christmas advert, marking the beginning of the yuletide season.
Hankies at the ready, nearly 40,000 of us have watched the advert on YouTube in just over an hour, at the time of writing. But some members of the Internet Jury – this Elton John fan included – have been left cold as the winter snow.
You can watch the divisive advert below:
Sincerest congratulations to you all: You’re now guaranteed to have Your Song – the 1970 classic elegantly composed by Elton John with simplistic but everlasting lyrics by Bernie Taupin – on repeat inside your noggin for the rest of the day.
This is where the joy of the 11th John Lewis Christmas advert ends for this year, however, presumably leaving Elton himself wondering where the good times have gone.
The advert tells the story – backwards, creating an admittedly impressive narrative arc – of the 71-year-old icon’s lifelong musical career, which all began with a special gift.
Of course, it’s a piano from his mother, all wrapped up in the living room next to the tree, and given on Christmas day.
It’s easily the most commercially motivated offering the department store’s ad execs have produced. A cynic would say the subtext reads: Money = Gift = Success and Love and All The Trimmings of a Great Life.
For a store which only sells three pianos – electric, I might add – for nearly £872 a pop, it’s a pretty niche product they’re selling here.
Well I don’t know about you, but to me, nothing says Christmas like the story of a multi millionaire pop star and the humongous present that you’d have to give your toddler to mirror it. I wonder what happened to the kids who got tangerines. #eltonjohnlewis pic.twitter.com/39v9nc5OtD
— Charlotte (@tinycharlotte72) November 15, 2018
Don’t get it twisted; most of us get the sentiment. As they do every year, John Lewis, a multi-million pound business, explores the power of a gift; aptly soundtracked by Elton singing about his gift being his song.
The symbolism is nicely tied up with a little bow, right?
After all, gift giving is a huge part of Christmas festivities, and has been since the Wise Men gave Jesus some frankincense, gold and myrrh. No receipt, unfortunately.
It’s also one of the ways we can show we care at Christmas; traditionally a time reserved for family and friends when the daily grind slows to a halt.
Through gift-giving, you can tell someone you love you were paying attention when they fell in love with that little bear in the window; or not-so-subtly mentioned the new Smash Bros December release date.
Without speaking, gifts say: ‘I noticed you were running low on socks and I love you enough to buy you some more’.
But the John Lewis Christmas advert feels more like a gift to Elton, with a reported pay packet of £2 million, which arrives special delivery just in time to document the extra promotional boost to his record sales (over 300 million at last count) and the summer 2019 release of his eagerly-awaited biopic, Rocketman.
To save you the time of inevitably Googling the trailer – no doubt the desired effect – here it is:
For me, the John Lewis Christmas advert this year is more about one man, alienating everyone else just for the sake of what some appreciators are calling Elton’s ‘sprinkle of star quality’.
I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t touched by this version of Elton’s story; it shouldn’t come a surprise to anyone to hear young Elton – a maestro of the black and white keys from childhood – was given a piano which he played at Christmas time.
It just goes to show celebrity – talented or not – is now apparently completely unavoidable, even at Christmas, and I find this inherently sad.
The feeling is compounded by John Lewis’ choice to include an icon of musical nostalgia heading out on his farewell tour – the UK pre-sale ticket for which went on sale today not so incidentally – instead of a more contemporary class of artist, as they have done in the past to soundtrack adverts.
Take Lily Allen’s pared back version of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know. It was a moving, ego-less, simplistic addition to the already beautiful narrative of the hare and his friendship with the bear who’d never seen Christmas.
Just take a look at the John Lewis tear-jerkers of the past decade:
Don’t even get me started on the cover of Morrisey’s Please Let Me Get What I Want, which played as a seemingly impatient, spoilt little boy awaited the presents which have become synonymous with Christmas Day, only to reveal he was really excited to give his parents the gifts he’d cobbled together for them in love and thanks.
The John Lewis advert in 2010 even saw Ellie Goulding cover Your Song, the soundtrack to a bunch of kids preparing the presents they were so excited to give on Christmas.
If music be the food of Christmas adverts, play on… But let’s not ham it up too much, eh?
While nostalgia seems to be the dish of the day in Hollywood – let’s be honest, Bohemian Rhapsody was a marvel – it’s a shame to see John Lewis let the past bleed over into the meaning of our Christmas present.
Apparently the partners know their audience – the white upper and middle classes – and they don’t seem interested in appealing to a wider net.
At a time like this, when so many young people – particularly more marginalised groups – feel disenfranchised, it seems tactless, dare I say it, insensitive of John Lewis to take their Christmas adverts, which have in the past bought unanimous joy to so many, seemingly backwards a few steps in terms of inclusivity.
It’s an inconvenient truth but people are struggling to make ends meet right now.
While other brands are advertising Christmas which won’t break the bank or pulling PR stunts in the name of sharing the love with those less fortunate, John Lewis are over here encouraging the nation to drop a grand on a grand piano.
I've just seen the #EltonJohnLewis advert criticised for "…avoiding the important political issues of our time". It's a shop, they sell stuff, get over yourself. A bit of light relief, switch yer head off, suspend belief for a couple of minutes. Since when it become political?
— Clint Walker (@ClintHWalker) November 15, 2018
Yes, Clint, commerce and politics don’t always have to mix, but it’s a missed opportunity for an important mainstay of British high streets to make a comment for inclusivity at best and a misguided omission at worst.
At a time when Iceland’s banned Christmas advert was dubbed ‘too political’ – perhaps a clever PR ploy but certainly a spotlight on a pressing issue facing – it makes Elton John Lewis makes the partners look cliche and insipid.
Apparently, like the bear, John Lewis have been hibernating through the tumultuous year we’ve had, and are in need of a little alarm clock to wake them up. Or at least woke them up.
Moreover, it’s a safe and predictable choice from John Lewis, because many of us – their customers included – shy away from a good old festive guilt trip, and that’s completely understandable.
Indeed, lots of people online are criticising the critics for being curmudgeonly and being unable to take pleasure in something which is so aesthetically appealing.
I don’t understand why people aren’t liking the #eltonjohnlewis advert this year! I’m not a huge Elton fan, but it’s a lovely homage to him and his story seeing as he is doing his farewell tour. It was beautiful and it was Christmassy to me. Well done #JohnLewis
— Kathryn Hull (@Kathhull93) November 15, 2018
But I would argue the joy of Christmas is a feeling of togetherness; peace and joy to all men (and women and kids) and all that.
The John Lewis adverts have, in previous years, functioned as great human equalisers.
Many of us – myself included – shed a tear as the conglomerate told stories of small gestures and big changes, childlike imaginations running wild, loneliness abolished, simple pleasures and pure festive fun.
Their very beauty was their ability to squash festive narrative, the likes of which would rival some of the greatest Christmas movies into a few minutes between the Queen’s Speech and Doctor Who.
This year, instead, John Lewis have chosen to focus on one very unique man whose unbridled talent and wealth is the stuff of mythological status to us mere mortals scrambling to stretch the shopping budget on Black Friday.
Forgive me if I sound like a petulant child who didn’t get what they wanted from Santa, but the John Lewis Christmas advert is supposed to be for all of us – even if we can’t afford department store prices.
The amazing thing John Lewis had achieved in the past – bringing a little bit of luxurious Christmas cheer with a moralising tale of togetherness – is lost with this Elton John Lewis small screen insincerity.
This year, like everything else it seems, the people in the boardroom have hit a bum note.
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A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.