Hit Parade

Smells Like Christmas Spirit Edition

How Christmas brought about Nirvana’s chart victory over Michael Jackson—and invented a holiday sales strategy.


Episode Notes

When Nirvana’s Nevermind ousted Michael Jackson’s Dangerous from the top of the Billboard album chart, it made headlines in early 1992. Only it didn’t really happen in ’92. What gave Nirvana the win happened right after Christmas ’91. Teenagers who were home for the holidays voted with their gift cards, and they gave Kurt Cobain’s band the win over the King of Pop.

This month, Chris Molanphy examines the chart dynamics that not only ushered in the grunge era but also invented a new music sales strategy, the post-Christmas album: the CD your parents would never give you, that you’d buy for yourself. Before the ’90s were over, a new generation of hip-hop stars, led by barking rapper DMX, were using the post-Christmas gambit to defeat the Celine Dions of the world. And the charts were never the same.

Podcast production by Benjamin Frisch.


About the Show

Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.

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  • Chris Molanphy is a feature writer and critic who writes widely about music and the pop charts.