Destiny’s Child’s 8 Days of Christmas deserved better

The trio’s 2001 Christmas album missed out on commercial success, but it nailed the fun, clever representation of Black stories.

Culture

It started with an instrumental intro to the tune of “Jingle Bells” and a thumping horn line. Then Kelly Rowland chimed in: “You know Christmas? Was made for the children — Destiny’s children.” I was 12 when Destiny’s Child dropped their 8 Days of Christmas album and was hooked after my first listen to the title track, an instant holiday anthem.

Destiny’s Child’s Christmas album came just five months after the release of their highly successful third studio LP, Survivor — a chart-topping project that solidified the group’s three-person lineup (following the departure of original members LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson in 1999 and Farrah Franklin in 2000) and proved their staying power and pop culture influence. 

The drama surrounding the roster shakeup had somewhat settled in the media — and among the legions of Destiny’s Child’s mostly young fans who had made peace with the changes. And the group — now made up of Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams — made the most of the tone shift, offering a Christmas project that built on the Survivor buzz.

8 Days of Christmas was released on October 30, 2001 to minimal chart success, debuting on the Billboard 200 at number 59 and reaching a peak spot of number 34. But while it lacked in commercial success — at least compared to Destiny’s Child’s previous studio albums — 8 Days of Christmas was a sonic victory with its infectious reimaginings of holiday classics. 

Christmas albums are pretty standard for popular artists, with a long list of music acts across genres having recorded their own takes on well-known holiday tunes. In most cases, the songs are loosely reworked from their original versions. But Destiny’s Child took full creative control when defining their Christmas sound, crafting a holiday album that resembled nothing I’d heard before.

The title track, “8 Days of Christmas,” bounced along as Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle listed off gifts from their boos — Chloe shades, diamond belly rings, and a candle-lit dinner — all of which my preteen self noted as future Christmas gift exchange goals for my future boo and me. “Platinum Bells” injected some serious sonic gleam to the holiday go-to “Silver Bells.” In one memorable line, the women reference becoming the dolls they once asked for as kids, which was a nod to their Hasbro dolls released that fall. The album also included versions of holiday staples like “Little Drummer Boy” (featuring Solange Knowles), “White Christmas,” Williams’s stirring version of “O’ Holy Night,” and Rowland’s delicately sweet take on “Do You Hear What I Hear.” There were also DC3 holiday originals like “Winter Paradise” and “Spread A Little Love on Christmas Day.”

The project featured work from producers like Damon Elliot, Focus, Rob Fusari, and Bama Boyz that seamlessly blended hip hop, dance pop, and R&B. Those productions paired with cheeky twists to Christmas classics perfectly matched the attitude of the new millennium.

But it was this same creative license that found the album panned by several critics — including an extremely biting review from Slant writer Alexa Camp, who described the album as failing to meet her standards for a quality holiday project. 

“‘Doesn’t it feel like Christmas?’ the trio asks on the title track of their new holiday collection, 8 Days of Christmas. Well, it doesn’t feel like any Christmas I can recall,” Camp wrote, adding, “it sounds more like ‘Survivor II: Winter Ghetto-chic’” — a reference to Destiny’s Child’s Survivor album.

Indeed, 8 Days of Christmas likely didn’t sound like anything Camp may have heard before. But that didn’t mean it had no impact for the listeners who connected with the genres it pulled from and the holiday experience represented by the young Black women singing their stories. Camp’s criticism also erased the group’s musical craft, including the precise harmonies, vocal delivery, and catchy hooks. 
That same year, Camp wrote a similar critique of Toni Braxton’s holiday album, Snowflakes; and in 2003, she criticized Ashanti’s album, Ashanti’s Christmas, as being an uninspiring take on the holiday album genre.

Camp certainly wasn’t on an island. Predominantly white music critics at influential outlets regularly knocked popular artists’s projects for sport during the 80s, 90s, and well into the 2000s. R&B and hip hop acts were especially vulnerable to reviews that often diluted their creative and cultural impact — an unfortunate fact highlighted in a recent series of tweets by Christopher Santos in response to a bitter 1990 review of Mariah Carey’s debut album written by critic Andrew Mueller and re-shared by music journalist Craig Seymour. “​​The "music critic ironically loving pop music" thing only really happened in the last 10 years or so, when the formerly hipster publications like [Pitchfork] gravitated from rock elitism to hip hop, and then by default had to reevaluate the scorn with which they treated R&B and even pop music,” Santos wrote. “2010s-current stan culture probably also has a bit to do with it. But you'd be surprised how many successful, fan-fave albums got ravaged by 80s and 90s critics.”

But the larger issue with Camp’s 8 Days of Christmas critique was her framing of the project as “Winter Ghetto-chic.” Twenty years later, the phrase reads as glaringly coded. It’s exceptionally culturally insensitive when used to describe a Black girl group’s creative work — seeing that even now, the word “ghetto” continues to be used to devalue and stigmatize elements of Black culture that non-Black people deem unacceptable, unfamiliar, or undesirable when presented through the lens of Blackness.

Camp’s use of the word in particular highlights the cultural obtuseness that can come when music criticism is approached narrowly and by non-Black writers who may not fully understand the nuances, motivations, and history of the genres they’re writing about.

What Camp deemed a negative quality of the album was actually a key part of what made listeners — especially Destiny’s Child’s Black fans— see the album as such a fresh and exciting project. It presented a young, hip, and unapologetically Black holiday experience they could actually connect with.

The album dropped at a time when Black artists and Black culture had proudly reclaimed terms like “ghetto” and “baby girl” as markers of our community’s beauty and our culture’s nuance. In fact, the power of these terms had been celebrated for decades by that point — but the 90s marked a major moment when the term “ghetto fabulous” and its accompanying aesthetic was magnified by a host of pop culture figures, including musical artists like Lil’ Kim, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Mase, Cam'ron, and Foxy Brown, as fashion critic Robin Givhan noted in a 2000 piece for the International Herald Tribune. By the early 2000s, “ghetto fabulous” had transitioned into an omnipresent element of Black culture, taking on a variety of aesthetic and creative representations within the Black community.

So when Destiny’s Child sang about those platinum bells that matched their platinum albums, receiving gifts like a CLK Mercedes and a diamond belly ring, spending time with family and friends, and all the other trappings of their Christmas celebration as 20-something pop stars; young Black listeners like myself were singing right along and basking in the joy of a young, Black, and fabulous holiday celebration.

After I was already playing “8 Days of Christmas” on repeat, the song’s music video — featuring Kelly, Beyoncé, and Michelle passing out gifts to children; enjoying quality T-I-M-E with their cuffing season sweeties; and looking holiday fly in stylish takes on the Santa suit — only increased my pre-teen enamorment with the song. As a middle schooler whose Patti LaBelle-loving mother played the music legend’s iconic This Christmas album on loop every holiday, I was overjoyed to finally have a Christmas album to call my own. I listened to 8 Days of Christmas non-stop — on my bedroom boombox and in the car on the way to school, when my mom would temporarily relinquish her LaBelle listening time to DC3.

8 Days of Christmas was so much more than holiday window dressing. It was a new sound for the holiday season that young music lovers could really relate to. We already loved Christmas. But celebrating the holiday traditions and spirit of the season seemed so much cooler when put to track by Kelly, Beyoncé, and Michelle.

The project reimagined the Christmas album both sonically and aesthetically — especially for the young, R&B music-obsessed Black Millennials like myself who loved Destiny’s Child since their 1998 debut. 

To this day, it simply isn’t Christmas until I hear those echoing bells and unmistakable horn intro of “8 Days of Christmas.” . Because the holidays were made for the children, and Destiny’s Child gave us a timeless gift that keeps on giving 20 years later.