Santa Baby is peak puritanical male chauvinist consumerist propaganda.
The song can be broken up into two distinct portions: begging and justification. In the former, the singer, Eartha Kitt, lists off luxury good after luxury good that she has been coveting and would like Santa to bring her. These requests are peppered with increasingly familiar and flirtatious pet names for the ancient gift-giver: “Santa baby”, “Santa honey”, “Santa cutie”. It’s all a little uncomfortable, given that Mr. Claus has a good few hundred years on Kitt, but who am I to judge? It’s really the justification sections that shift this tune into toxic territory.
Kitt begins her spiel about how she deserves all these fantastical gifts: a yacht, the deed to a platinum mine, a light-blue convertible, in a vague enough tone that suspicions aren’t aroused. “Been an awful good girl,” is all she says, at first. That’s in-line with the myth, Santa rewards the kind. Maybe Kitt has been volunteering at her local soup kitchen? Helping the elderly cross the street? Adopting strays? Not a chance.
“Think of all the fun I've missed / Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed”.
Therein lies the real message of the song: abstinence equals “good behaviour”. Refusing to kiss boys is the only “good” action Kitt specifically mentions having done. Now, in exchange for preserving her purity for another year, she wants material goods: “Next year I could be also good / If you'll check off my Christmas list,” she promises.
What kind of feudal, patriarchal virgin/slut dichotomy nonsense is this? At its core, this canonical Christmas classic is about a young woman begging a rich old man to shower her with gifts because she’s put a pause on her sexual development – for him. Kitt clearly enjoys kissing fellas, she refers to her avoidance of it as “fun I've missed”. But she’s willing to miss out on it – in exchange for wealth – and she’s convinced that this is something this geriatric polar patriarch will appreciate, especially if she calls him a cutie. Twice.
The Madonna version of Santa Baby, released 35 years later, is somehow even worse.
In it, Madonna employs a creepy baby-talk falsetto, as if imitating a child, which makes the Santa flirting all the weirder. Gone is the 26-year-old Kitt, twisted but mature enough, replaced by the aggressively infantilised Like A Virgin singer. Hearing someone raise their voice to the pitch of a child and demand luxury rewards for steering clear of sex is something that I believe should make everyone a whole lot more uncomfortable than they seem to be about it. I’d never want my daughter to grow up under the impression that the only way to live an elite life is to wait around for a rich old man to take note of her lack of sexual experience. If that’s true for you too, then I encourage you to turn down the dial next time Santa Baby comes on the radio.