Justin Tranter’s favorite line on the new soundtrack he’s just produced goes, “I’m not trying to rewrite your history, but write me in,” a clear statement on equality and visibility for women, people of color and queer people.
Where it gets interesting is that the line is from a song called “Mrs. Claus,” not traditionally portrayed as a queer woman of color in history. So yes, we’re talking progressive Christmas music.
Tranter, who prefers they/them pronouns, is responsible for the collection of both covers and 10 original holiday songs that score “Happiest Season,” the new queer holiday rom-com out on Hulu today. Tranter tapped all queer artists for the soundtrack, bringing a modern, inclusive take to an old-fashioned genre.
“It’s crazy to think that any holiday rom-com can be revolutionary, but it is, and it’s crazy to think that a song called ‘Mrs. Claus’ can be revolutionary, but it f–king is,” Tranter says over Zoom from their home in Los Angeles. “I also think, too, that animated musicals and holiday movies have the best chance of changing hearts and minds because those types of movies, in a good way, have been trained to open our hearts, open our minds. These are the movies that you allow yourself to not be pretentious. You allow yourself to not be nitpicky. You allow yourself to just feel, and so to be a part of that with the soundtrack and be part of this movie is a complete dream project.”
Tranter calls the movie “activism by simply existing,” saying that putting queer characters front and center in a “classic f–king feel good holiday movie” is revolutionary.
“Yes, it’s a coming out story. But everybody, I think, no matter how you identify, we all have different versions of coming out. People have always had to tell their families something they were afraid to tell them,” Tranter says. “And so, to me, when I was seeing the movie, I was like, ‘Well, this is just a classic Christmas movie.’ But for the first time ever, queer people are front and center in this story, in this love story, in this family story. And so, for the music, I was really dead set on creating something that just sounded like a classic Christmas album. I just wanted to give you that nostalgia. This sounds and feels like a Christmas we know before, but we’re just putting queer people front and center.”
Tranter is one of the most prolific songwriters in Hollywood. The Grammy nominee has more than 40 million single sales, seven billion streams and is behind the likes of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” Selena Gomez’s “Good for You,” Halsey’s “Bad at Love,” Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries,” DNCE’S “Cake by the Ocean” and Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself,” as well as writing credits on Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” The Jonas Brothers’ “Happiness Begins,” Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica,” The Chicks’ “Gaslighter” and Selena Gomez’s “Rare,” to name some.
Through their label partnership with Warner Records, Tranter was connected to the film’s director Clea DuVall and set about calling queer artists across the pop spectrum to pitch the project. Artists on the soundtrack include Tegan and Sara, Bebe Rexha, Shea Diamond, Anne-Marie, LP, Sia, Kennedi, Carlie Hanson and more.
Directed by Clea Duvall, the film stars Kristen Stewart as Abby, who is excited to go home for the holidays with her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis), only to learn on the drive there that Harper isn’t out to her family. Alison Brie, Dan Levy, Aubrey Plaza and more costar in the film, which has received positive critical reviews and is equal parts feel good, fun and heartwarming (just what the doctor ordered right about now, no?).
As the film is a tale of queer women’s love, Tranter specifically wanted to work with as many queer women as they could when it came to writing the original songs, working on the writing with Kennedi, who sings one, “Christmas Morning,” as well.
“She’s a young queer woman, which is what this movie is about,” Tranter says. “And the other two I cowrote with Shea Diamond, who is a trans woman. I wanted to make sure that queer women, whether they’re lesbian, bisexual or trans, that queer women were at the heart of this. That’s what the movie stands for.”