In December 1984, British pop duo Wham! released a sleigh bell-augmented song that lamented a failed relationship called “Last Christmas.” The song has since become an ubiquitous holiday favorite—eventually spawning a game known to the world as Whamageddon.
It’s important to note, for starters, that people are divided about “Last Christmas.”
In 2017, Vice’s Josh Baines declared it “the only truly great Christmas song.” His praise included a declaration that “even without the words, without George Michael’s utterly extraordinary vocal performance—and rarely has a singer demonstrated such understated mastery of phrasing, intonation, and delivery—’Last Christmas’ drips with feeling.”
But, dig back to 2011, and you’ll find The Awl’s Tom Keiser declaring it “the most horrible holiday song ever made.” In his scathing review, he labels it “a wallowing mess of a song,” saying, “It mistakes self-indulgence for closure” and “it contains a synthy falseness that would make even Paul McCartney and Wings wince.”
It’s a member of the latter camp who created the game now known as Whamageddon.
How did Whamageddon start?
The game’s origin story is surprising: On a forum for sim racing community site GTPlanet, on Nov. 3, 2010, user RouWa wrote, “As you may know, Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ is the most evil song on earth. It causes wars, ‘ear cancer’ and other mean things. Once the Christmas time begins, there is no escape. The song will be everywhere. But resistance is not futile. Not this time. The members of this forum will fight. And win!”
By 2016, when a Facebook page appeared, the game acquired the Whamageddon name. In 2018, thanks to a now-deleted tweet from British actor, radio host, and comedian Romesh Ranganathan, more people became aware of the game. Publications like The Guide Liverpool signal boosted Ranganathan’s post warning people that another Whamageddon was upon the people of the world.
The game wouldn’t be possible without the 1984 song, of course. According to the Guardian in a 2017 article, Michael played all the instruments on the recording, hinting at the solo career that would be coming (and that, arguably, Wham! already was).
That article noted, “Having gradually rid the recording process of interfering producers, managers, record company executives, and even his bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, the only people admitted into the ‘Last Christmas’ studio were Michael’s engineer, Chris Porter, and two assistants—not that they had much input. Porter remembers ‘desperately wanting to play sleigh bells,’ but like everything else, they were jangled only by Michael himself.”
How do you play Whamageddon?
Whamageddon can be a personal challenge or a pact you make with friends. The original rules in the GTPlanet post noted, “Only the original ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham with George Michael singing counts. Covers (are there any?) do not count.” The post warns against watching TV, going to public places where the song might be played, and Rickroll-style links you might be tricked into clicking.
While some might set a start time at any point in the holiday season, increasingly encroaching upon pre-Thanksgiving November, the Whamageddon Facebook page sets the start at Dec. 1. The goal is to avoid hearing any snippet of Wham!’s version of “Last Christmas” until either Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.
The Facebook page advises players, “Pack your noise-canceling headphones, get your gift shopping in before the stores become a sonic minefield, and prepare yourselves.”
And, thanks to social media, the now-established Whamageddon equivalent of acknowledging checkmate is by making a post with the #Whamageddon hashtag.
So, while you’re looking to avoid Michael crooning about giving his heart to someone special (special), covers won’t affect your journey—unless, of course, you agree to that rule with whoever you’re playing with.
Wait, there are covers of ‘Last Christmas?’
Oh, there are covers. Billboard released a top 10 list in 2018 that rated creators of the song’s best versions, including Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Jimmy Eat World, and the cast of Glee.
The GMForever site, dedicated to the memory of Michael (who passed away on Christmas Day in 2016), maintains a list of “Last Christmas” covers.
And what do you win if you win?
That’s up to you, of course. The game is predicated on the honor system, and for some, making it through a holiday season without hearing the ubiquitous song might be an indication you’re shutting out the world around you. Or, alternately, it might mean you’re insulating yourself from Christmas’s rampant consumerism, avoiding the malls where “Last Christmas” might be played.
But Whamageddon players on the Facebook page warn of pitfalls in unexpected places. One teacher warns others in that profession to keep their game-playing from students, as letting them know you’re avoiding “Last Christmas” just invites them to play it.
And for some, the “joy” of the game might be in getting ensnared and having a story to relay—maybe, say, being diligent up until Christmas Eve before being “whammed” with a last-minute run to Target for wrapping paper. Whamageddon allows for an annual holiday season journey that is like the holiday itself: Comforting in its familiarity, but different and potentially memorable with each passing year.