Even as the self-proclaimed Prince of Christmas, Matt Rogers is still baffled by how much a single holiday has consumed his year.
“I went to a pool party on the Fourth of July this year, and people kept asking me, ‘What are you working on?’” Rogers tells Billboard over a Zoom call from a London hotel. “And I had to say, ‘Actually, a Christmas album.’ So it turns out, when you do a Christmas album, you actually better love Christmas because it becomes your whole year.”
But the comedian’s hard work certainly paid off with the release of Have You Heard of Christmas?, Rogers’ debut album of satirical holiday tracks (released on Nov. 6 via Capitol Records) designed to both celebrate the monolithic holiday and skewer its cultural oversaturation. Spanning every genre of holiday song he could over the course of 12 songs, Rogers expertly puts Christmas under the microscope, playing out every last seasonal scenario with wit, charm and plenty of holiday cheer.
The album’s origins date back to 2017, when Rogers began a one-man show in New York City, making fun of the very concept of the celebrity Christmas album. As he honed his act over the next few years, Rogers eventually got the show greenlit as a special for Showtime, debuting in Dec. 2022 — a record deal with Capitol followed shortly thereafter.
It’s become clear that audiences everywhere are also buying into Rogers’ Christmas vision — one week after its release, Have You Heard of Christmas? made Rogers a Billboard-charting artist, as the LP debuted at No. 4 on the Comedy Albums chart. Meanwhile, the comedian still can’t get over that audiences are singing his songs along with him during his live shows. “I now get to be in that club of people that have had that experience, which is really cool,” he says with a smile.
Below, Rogers chats with Billboard about the album’s origin as a joke, the “bald capitalism” of the holiday season, his favorite celebrity Christmas album and why he thinks pop music ought to be funnier.
It’s been a long road for you to release Have You Heard of Christmas? — what does it mean for you to actually have this album out that you’ve been talking about for years?
It’s pretty surreal, because it’s not just that thing where you work for a month or even a year on your album; I’ve had a lot of this for about six years. I started this in 2017 as a joke when I was doing it as a one man show in the West Village. The whole bit was, “Come see my show to hear a holiday album that is definitely, for sure, for real, absolutely, 100% coming out, no doubt about it. This is not a joke.” And of course it was a joke! Now, years later, these songs that I wrote half a decade ago are finally out, and people are actually singing them back to me, which is wild.
Let’s go back to the inception of that joke — what was it about the idea of a fake Christmas album that tickled you?
I think it was an interview I watched with Mariah Carey, where I feel like this interviewer kind of said the quiet part out loud: “Wow, so you get to make lots of money every year!” And I was like, “You just boldly called out the capitalism of it all. That is so funny.” I started to really think about Christmas as this last vestige of the monoculture, where if you have a Christmas album, you know it’s going to sell every year. It’s kind of a hack; if you create really good Christmas content, you then become part of that culture. I just thought it was so funny to say, “Let me sneak into the cultural consciousness by creating a fake Christmas album,” because I always think bald capitalism is so funny.
I love Christmas, and we all love Christmas because we are kind of forced to love Christmas. But it’s also something to drag for that reason; it is this thing that forces itself down our throat every year. Like, every pop girlie can’t love Christmas, but the record labels sure do, because it makes them lots of money. So it’s just funny to me that, in every young pop star’s life, there comes a time when you have to do two things: Go to Vegas, and do a Christmas album. I’m just starting a little early, that’s all.
Among the expansive list of celebrity Christmas albums, do you have a favorite?
I’m quite partial to Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red. Don’t get me wrong, When Christmas Comes Around… is also really good, but that first album is just fantastic. “Underneath the Tree,” I think, is the candidate to be the “All I Want For Christmas Is You” of our generation. Now, as a recording artist, I’m keeping my eye on the streams of it all, and the “Underneath the Tree” streams are very similar to Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” in that they seem to increase every year. It’s becoming this thing where you have these handful of songs that just sound like Christmas in the background.
I actually made one of those songs on my album, called “I Don’t Need It to Be Christmas at All.” There’s not a single joke in it, I thought it would be funny to have this whole album of hard comedy songs, and then go, “Hey, by the way, here’s an actual earnest effort on my part.” Lo and behold, it’s the one that’s doing the best now. Even in my attempt to satirize this whole thing, I ended up having an impact with the one genuine song.
Was it at all strange to go from making fun of the concept of recording a Christmas album to actually recording and releasing one of your own?
To be honest with you, everything I’ve ever gotten to do successfully is because I was making fun of doing that exact thing. Like, if I wanted to become a singer, I made fun of good singing, and all of a sudden people were like, “You’re a singer.” I just kind of faked my way into it. Now, I don’t want to say that this is a fake Christmas album, because it’s fully realized by great producers and great writers and an amazing label at Capitol Records. But I could not have dreamed that it would get here, because a certain point came where I was just used to making fun of myself and being like, “There’s no way.” When it became real, I was like, “Oh, I guess I have to find a different way to frame this.”
Another thing I’ve started thinking about now that I’ve gotten to this place is this idea of, “Who says that pop music can’t have funny lyrics?” I think that we have this idea of pop songs that are about love, or heartbreak, or partying. Who says that they can’t be about all sorts of different things?
I’m so glad that you brought that up, because I’ve noticed that pop music has been getting progressively funnier over the last couple years, especially with artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Reneé Rapp and Chappell Roan bringing a lot of humor to their songs.
Yes, completely! The thing about all those girls —well, I don’t think we’ve seen this from Chappell yet, but certainly with Olivia and Reneé — is that they’re actresses. What they want to do is to embody their song, and they’re very good at that. I would be very surprised if Chappell couldn’t deliver on screen.
I come at this as a comedian and an actor myself. So what I think is so great about the record and one of the things I’m proudest of is that I can have a song like “Everything You Want,” which is like me doing this lovelorn, sad girl pop record, and then it goes right into “RUM PUM PUM,” which is my trappy, filthy club song. I really wanted the opportunity to play different characters, and I am in a unique position to bring my skills to this as a character performer. So yeah, I’m really happy that idea is coming back in pop music.
You got to work with a number of artists on this project, including Katie Gavin from MUNA, VINCINT, Bowen Yang and Leland, who both appears on and executive produced the album. What was it like to work with these very talented, and also very queer artists on a Christmas project?
I am just so proud that they all are queer artists, and I’m also really proud that they’re all queer artists who have had a major impact. You know, VINCINT’s songs were inescapable during Pride, and MUNA is just becoming more and more important to not just queer culture, but our generation. I genuinely do believe that Katie Gavin is one of the voices that we will still be listening to in 30 years — I believe she’s a Stevie Nicks-level singer.
Leland is such a great artist in his own right and such an amazing producer; the vibe that he creates creatively is so open and very collaborative. He’s also a real go-getter, because we wrote the song “Everything You Want” as a solo song for me, and he realized we were writing a MUNA song. He said, “We’re gonna call them right now,” and we just asked, and Katie said yes. Also, Leland is Troye Sivan’s [songwriting partner], and Troye was around the whole time I was recording. He would be listening to first cuts, and with “RUM PUM PUM,” he’s the one who called it “diabolical” and then asked if he could help vocal produce it. This was the week that “Rush” was coming out. He was about to have this nasty little pop boy moment, and here he was helping me with mine.
You’ve mentioned all of the different flavors of holiday song we get on this album — why was that an important step in making this a successful satire on the pop Christmas album format?
I came up through my 20’s doing sketch comedy, and the similarity between writing a good comedy sketch and writing a good pop song is way more synergistic than people think. Let’s take “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson as an example. In verse one, we get the premise; “I’m not with you anymore.” The game is now about this idea of “I don’t care, I’m better off without you.” In the second verse, we explore the reality; “Here’s the things in the relationship that happened, which were actually pathetic.” The bridge is this big f–king kiss off is where she comes to the conclusion that, “We will never ever, ever get back together,” to quote another artist. And then there is this little taste at the end with her vocal that maybe she isn’t super over it. All of this essentially is three beats of a sketch: introducing a comedic idea, exploring that idea, and then seeing the idea out to its fullest potential.
I feel like the best way to really heighten a specific comedic idea in song is to just match it to a genre that can help you do that. So, if I’m writing a sketch about being in the club, meeting someone and wanting to bring them home on Christmas, obviously that should be a club song. If I’m feeling a genre first, I think about what funny idea would fit.
It also helps that you are a naturally gifted singer — was singing something you always knew you were very good at?
I think I’ve started to be comfortable calling myself a singer since I started doing the show five years ago. What I didn’t know was how good of a recording artist I was going to be, because I really think those are two different things. To me, what sets recording artists apart is having that special tone and that ability to landscape your vocals. Like, Selena Gomez is a fantastic recording artist. I don’t know that she could go up there and sing the house down like Audra McDonald, and I also don’t know if Audra would consider herself a great recording artist, right? They’re both very, very good at what they do.
When they gave me this record deal, I knew I could sing, but I didn’t know if I was a recording artist. Luckily, Leland was very encouraging about me using this like part of my voice that recalls the origins of when I started listening to music — this very JC Chasez, R&B-pop tone. What really helped, it turns out, was podcasting for all these years. That has weirdly prepared me to use a mic in this way in the studio.
Was there anything you learned in this process that further differentiated being a singer from a being a recording artist?
Listen, as a gay guy who has had a podcast for years talking about pop culture, I’ve had certain opinions about who’s “a great singer” and who’s not. Now, I have so much more respect for anyone who creates a hit and has a distinct sound where, when you hear it, you’re like, “Oh, that is unquestionably Ariana Grande, or Rihanna, or Kesha, or Selena Gomez.”
Finding out what my sound is has ben one of the most fun parts of this. It’s something that I’m really interested in exploring going forward, because I do have a sound that I think if I were to pinpoint what sounds the most like me on this album, it probably is “Everything You Want.” I think that it’s where I’m the most myself. But being able to explore all these genres is exciting, where every single day I was recording was like going to Disney World.
Have you thought about what a follow-up to this album would look like?
I don’t want to give anything away. But what I’ll say is, if I can do another album, I will go in the exact opposite direction of this. I think I would present something that was … let’s call it “seasonally opposite.” Leland and I may have even already written down some stuff. So, who knows?