Robbie releases COVID-inspired Christmas song
There's always something melancholic about a great Christmas song.
Just simmering underneath the happy sound of sleigh bells, is the sad lyric about being separated from the one you love or a world in chaos.
Robbie Williams' new addition to the seasonal playlist Can't Stop Christmas fits that bill with its COVID-19-inspired sentiments.
"Oh what a miserable year, But what a time to be alive, Sadly some friends disappeared, It's never been like this before, It feels like we're at war," he sings.
Williams didn't intend to write a new song for the 2020 reissue of last year's chart-topping The Christmas Present.
He wanted to release that naughty ode to office parties Bad Sharon but his television presenter wife Ayda Field, a self-confessed Christmas fan, wasn't letting him get away with polishing up last year's effort.
"My wife said 'You have to write a new one'," Williams says from his London office.
"I was really bothered by it because it was August and she said 'What are you going to do with the Christmas album?' I said I'm going to release Bad Sharon off the album. And she said it's already out there. But I thought it deserves a place, you know, deserves to be promoted. She said 'No, you're being lazy, write another one.' So she made me write a new one. And this is the new one she made me write. She's got really great pop sensibilities and she's not snobbish in any way, which is great because she's married to me."
Williams says he had to rewrite the first draft of the mostly jolly tune after he sent it to mates.
He says some of the original lyrics for Can't Stop Christmas were deemed so contentious he won't reveal them now.
Williams says there was concern he could get cancelled for writing a song sledging those who would cancel Christmas in the wake of the pandemic.
"It was real pointy finger stuff. I sent it to my good friend Chris Heath, who wrote the books about me, and he was adamant, sent me a very long email about why it shouldn't exist in its (original) state. He was very concerned for me," Williams says.
"So I rounded the lyrics off and made it less pointy-finger. In this day and age, some idiot's going to get offended by something. It's the idiot that gets offended by stuff that's the most militant and the most angry and they seem to be in charge of the conversation right now … and it's really scary stuff. They're in charge right now. Some things are changing for the better, but some things aren't. Any other time, like in 1999, you could write whatever you wanted."
Williams started 2020 in Australia for a concert alongside the Melbourne Grand Prix which was aborted at the last minute as the pandemic swept the world.
Bunkered down with Field and their four children Teddy, Charlie, Coco and Beau, Williams spent lockdown writing for his next solo album - due in 2021 - as well as developing television projects.
He also formed a band, with Australian musicians Flynn Francis and Tim Metcalfe, who he met in 2012 after hearing their songs and calling them to Los Angeles to co-write on his Take The Crown record.
"I've started a dance band with my friends Tim and Flynn from Melbourne," he says. "And we are going to rent a space in Berlin which will be a gallery during the day with my art and then in the evening, we are going to DJ and turn it into a nightclub. It's going to be f---ing great."
The Rock DJ pop superstar did pause for thought when it was suggested he could debut the show in Australia rather than Berlin under the current pandemic circumstances.
"I could do it in Australia too. I just want my bit of Berlin, you know like how (David) Bowie had his bit of Berlin and U2 had their bit of Berlin," he says. "And Flynn lives there."
Before the Berlin gallery meets nightclub happens, Williams has to contend with the race for seasonal chart supremacy with Christmas chart heroes including Mariah Carey, Michael Buble and in Australia, John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John.
One of the questionable demands on the pop kings and queens of Christmas is the costume.
Australians are amused by the Christmas jumper tradition of the wintry northern hemisphere but Williams isn't a fan of them.
His wife, however, is a fan so there he is sporting one in the promotional photos for his The Christmas Present album.
"The wife loves everything Christmas. I did pull out some nice, interesting, red, festive-looking jumpers for this promo," he says.
"I'm not into the Christmas jumper, they're normally all synthetic, they make you feel clammy and make you come out in a rash and the effect of them is over as soon as you've seen them. I just want to take it off because mine will start smelling of BO."
He does, however, adore the more recent Elf On A Shelf tradition. Williams says the presence of the elves in his home absolves him of playing the bad cop when his children misbehave in the weeks before Christmas.
"I actually do love them. Allow me to be soppy for a minute. Santa dies when you realise Santa isn't real. But when you have kids, Santa is saved and is in our hearts and our kinds and I know that's soppy but I'm not going to be embarrassed about saying it because it's true. And it's the same with the elves on the shelves. They move every night and they are the eyes and ears of Santa and report back to Santa when the kids have been naughty or nice. And it's sort of like having a school principal or a supergrass in your house. So they know they have to behave."
For decades, the Christmas standards have maintained their supremacy in the seasonal playlist but Williams leads a plethora of pop, rock, hip hop and indie artists adding something new to the song stocking.
Some are crackers, some are the gifts shoved in the back of the cupboard until next year. Carly Rae Jepsen joins Williams in the jaunty but nice silly song stakes with the 80s synths gem It's Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries with soon-to-be-classic lyrics like "My boyfriend is a vegan, so they fed him fish, my uncle made it worse by talking politics."
But if anyone was going to wrest the Mrs Claus chart title from Mariah Carey, it would have to be Dolly Parton.
The country legend has teamed with goddaughter Miley Cyrus for the more traditional-sounding track Christmas Is from her new record A Holly Dolly Christmas.
Originally published as Robbie releases COVID-inspired Christmas song