If there’s one sex-positive, sultry Christmas anthem, it’s Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby,” a capitalist ode to gift giving and gift receiving. Instantly recognizable from the opening “ba doom” chorus and usually delivered with a sly wink, it’s become a polarizing Christmas standard that is at turns too sleazy and cheesy for a regular holiday gathering and an unlikely standard that many chanteuses have embraced.
Leaving off Eartha Kitt’s purrrr-fect original “Santa Baby,” which is the far and above best version, how do all the other takes stack up? Here’s an assessment:
Though Minogue’s tiny voice doesn’t offer the brassy depth of Kitt, she may be the closest of any diva to Kitt’s wink-and-nod delivery.
Gray makes fantastic use of her unique vocal instrument on this cover, from the Mona Lisa Smile soundtrack. Gray brings more vocals to the table than any other singer on the list, though lacks the *wink* factor that would have catapulted her to number one.
Braxton’s velvety smooth delivery, and the unique orchestration behind her, separates her entry sonically from almost any other on the list. But, it might be *too* radical a reimagining to fairly compete with other, more adherent-to-the-text adaptations.
The trick to any good “Santa Baby” delivery is to sell the song’s innate corniness with your own personal style. “Queen of Percussion” Sheila E brings her own sensibility to the number in spades to the number and makes it a real bop.
Not since Nicki Minaj’s verse in “Monster” has the use of split personalities come off so effectively. On this version, Piggy plays the sweet Kermy-loving pig and the brazen feminist icon ready to karate chop Santa if he doesn’t get working on that Christmas list, both to excellent results.
Leaning much farther into the original’s R territory than any other cover, Evans puts an original spin on the number and delivers a silky, layered vocal.
How does the less well-known “Bubbly” singer earn such a high spot on this ranking? She commits. Caillat, known for her breathy guitar ballads, casts a sun-soaked California winter spell over the va-va-voom anthem and makes it her own.
Leaning just a little bit too far into the cutesy realm, Madonna’s saccharine version works solely because of her audacious commitment to form. While the version may come off grating to some, it’s actually some of the Material Girl’s best acting and she never breaks character.
K. Michelle never met a note she didn’t want to belt, which meant that any hopes of a breathy, subdued delivery went out the window. Regardless, Michelle more than delivers on her rendition and even laughs a few times on the track to remind the listener of the fun she and you are having.
Ariana Grande ft. Liz Gillies
A novelty on this list because it features two voices instead of one, Grande’s version doesn’t have quite the gravitas that some of the older women on the list bring to the number. And, while it’s fun to give the number a queer-lensed reading because of the two leading ladies, the track never stops feeling like you intruded on a pillow fight at a slumber party.
Stefani’s cover is flirty fun, but her delivery feels sluggish and tired.
Faring better than other country stars LeAnn Rimes, Taylor Swift Pickler’s version is still a bit too shouty for the task at hand.
Though a bit unfair to judge a live performance against other studio versions of the song, Shakira’s cover of “Santa Baby” unfortunately misuses the singer’s vocal tics. While they bring splashes of color to many of her own songs, they flop when brought to a song that requires a certain tone and vocal delivery.
This kind of corny and sexy number seems like the perfect globe for mid-2000s pop powerhouse group The Pussycat Dolls. But, while the Dolls’ lead singer Nicole Scherzinger brings some fun riffs to the number, she never makes her strays from the melody seem her own and just seems always one beat behind.
Though she has the voice to sell the song, Rimes sounds like a young girl wearing her mother’s heels. She never sounds comfortable delivering the lyrics and bellows words that are better whispered.
Why is she screaming?