DJ Matt Facer looked out at the thousands of football fans packed into the stadium in Northampton, England, on Dec. 2, smiled at the thought of what he was about to do and pressed play.
A bouncy synth-pop beat pumped through the stands of Sixfields Stadium, home of the Northampton Town Football Club, who at halftime were already losing 2-0 to the visiting team from Portsmouth. Then came a smooth, angelic voice disguising the story of holiday heartbreak it was about to tell.
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. But the very next day, you gave it away.
The British pop duo Wham!’s 1984 Christmas classic kept going, and just like that, Facer, who performs as DJ Mattyboy, knocked out more than 7,000 people from “Whamageddon,” a game in which people try every year to make it as far as possible into the holidays without hearing “Last Christmas.” Created nearly two decades ago by a group of friends in Denmark, Whamageddon has grown in popularity over the years, gaining traction across continental Europe, the United Kingdom and most recently in the United States as untold thousands risk turning on the radio or going to the mall, knowing that the next song could knock them out of this year’s game and banish them to “Whamhalla.”
“We want people to have fun,” said Thomas Mertz, a 42-year-old Danish IT consultant who helped create the game.
Facer, a 44-year-old decorative glass designer who also DJs for Northampton Town Football Club matches, said he decided to be a bit naughty and play the “pantomime villain” when he blasted the song to approximately 7,200 fans. Although some were miffed, he said that 99.9 percent of the responses he has received have been lighthearted and in good spirit. In an interview with BBC Radio, he offered the disgruntled 0.1 percent a “tongue-in-cheek” apology.
“I never knew people took it so seriously,” he said.
The British are the most serious about Whamageddon, said Mertz, who started the game some 18 years ago with four of his friends while living in Aarhus, Denmark. “Last Christmas” was playing “everywhere” in a seemingly endless loop, and instead of bemoaning that fact, they decided to make a game of it, Mertz told The Washington Post.
The game got the name “Whamageddon” around 2012, and in 2016, Mertz created a website and Facebook page for it.
Both lay out the rules: Every year, the game starts on Dec. 1 and ends at midnight on Dec. 24. People are eliminated as soon as they hear and recognize the song, whether they are in a grocery store, the car or a dentist’s chair. Only the original song counts, so people are free to listen to remixes or covers without being banished to “Whamhalla.” And, although it’s not an official rule, Whamageddon’s creators encourage people not to deliberately whack their friends, reminding folks that it’s more individual survival game, less battle royale.
Tragedy helped catapult the game into the public consciousness. The same year Mertz created the website and Facebook page, one of Wham!’s two members, pop superstar George Michael, died on Christmas Day, which created a “perfect viral moment” for Whamageddon, Mertz said.
Its popularity has endured. The Facebook page has 18,000 followers. The website gets about 550,000 hits annually, even though it gets almost no traffic 10½ months out of the year. On the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, players announce their elimination with the hashtag #whamageddon in posts that often bemoan getting “Whammed,” along with a description of how it happened.
People have gotten so into it that Fuller’s banned hundreds of its pubs from playing the song until Whamageddon was over. Radio DJs in Europe warn listeners when they are about to play it. Mertz said he heard of a British man who, upon hearing the song while driving, ripped the radio out of his car and threw it out the window.
That’s not exactly the spirit in which the game was intended, he added. It’s supposed to be a lighthearted way to enjoy the holiday season, not a reason for people to cloister themselves in their homes, lest they hear the wrong Christmas song.
“It’s meant to be something that’s fun and enjoyable … not something to stress you out,” Mertz said.
Facer’s mischief has already been outdone. On Sunday, a DJ performing at the Arsenal Football Club’s women’s match in Emirates Stadium played “Last Christmas,” eliminating nearly 60,000 fans from this year’s game, plus anyone who was watching the match on TV, the Daily Mail reported.
Mertz said both stunts are “very much in the spirit of the game.”
“The point of the game is that it’s sort of running the gantlet during the Christmas month,” he said. “So going out is the game, going out and seeing not if it will happen, but rather when it will happen.”
Mertz reiterated what he wants people to get out of Whamageddon.
“We want people to have fun.”