Upon hearing the news of Olivia Newton-John’s passing on Monday afternoon, my heart sank like a brick. Here was another Hollywood icon, taken from the world too soon after a lifetime of doing nothing but giving.
Newton-John strutted her way into the hearts of the world as Sandy in Grease, skated into our subconscious in Xanadu, and thrust her way up to pop-culture phenomenon with “Physical.” All of these things made Olivia Newton-John not just a household name, but a gay icon. A symbol to queer people everywhere of strength, resilience, and unabashed camp.
But none of those career milestones are what really twisted the knife for me after Monday’s sad news. I watched Grease once in the eighth grade and immediately knew that it was not for me. The concept of a 1970s film about the 1950s with a bunch of 40-year-olds playing singing high schoolers doesn’t sit right with me and my God. I like “Physical” and “Twist of Fate” as much as any other synth-addicted gay man, but they’re not in heavy rotation.
For me, the most impactful Olivia Newton-John performance will always be the music video for her and John Travolta’s 2012 Christmas song, “I Think You Might Like It.” Simply put, the video redefined Christmas—and possibly humanity—as we know it. I’ll never be able to properly synthesize what makes it so remarkable. It’s one of those things you just have to watch to understand—but I owe Dame Olivia Newton-John an attempt to try.
The video opens with the shot of a private jet cascading through the air above northern Florida. The words “I Think You Might Like” appear above the wing of the plane in a serif-heavy font dripped in an absurd amount of drop shadow. It’s bold of them to be so coy—based on what I’ve seen already, I think I might love it!
Suddenly, as if we’ve fallen out of the plane, we’re on the ground. The grass is bright green, which does not fit the mood of the glistening jingle bells that are playing in the song, but any great piece of arthouse cinema often requires the suspense of disbelief. Then, in come the good ol’ fashioned country guitars, and there they are: Sandy and Danny, together again, two-stepping on the tarmac!
A moment later, Travolta lands the private plate, the patch of hair on his chin hanging on for dear life. Elsewhere, Newton-John is driving a baby blue Thunderbird (with a passenger seat filled with gifts she had wrapped at the mall), on her way to see her bestie John. You can tell that she’s excited to see him because she’s driving at approximately two miles per hour.
When they’ve parked their respective modes of transportation, they make their way around the bleak concrete outsides of the private airport, searching desperately for one another. In the background, an employee can be seen vacuuming through a window. There are no Christmas decorations, but that’s okay, Christmas is in our hearts. Upon seeing each other, Travolta and Newton-John break into a light jog and embrace, her chunky metal necklace perfectly complimenting the wallet chain on his jeans.
Things take a turn for the surreal when we’re thrust inside the airport and introduced to a new cast of characters: three young women, two senior citizens, a police officer, and two active duty servicemen coming home for the holidays. Suddenly, in a moment that has since grown somber but is no less thrilling, Kelly Preston enters. The group of girls jump up to hug her. I’ve never bothered to see if these are John and Kelly’s children because I feel it would remove some of the video’s mystique. I believe whatever “I Think You Might Like It” wants me to believe.
Where are Travolta and N-J you might ask? Well, they’re going for a joy ride! They’ve abandoned all who are waiting for them in the airport in favor of heading back home to curl up in cozy red sweaters and watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Even though they never make it to see their loved ones, their two-step has caught on. The soldiers are doing it, the girls are doing it, and even grandpa and grandma are doing it! This dance is sweeping the nation, and everyone looks as if they’ve just emerged from 100 years of cryofreeze trying to do it.
Like any great film, Travolta and Newton-John do not spoon-feed us its meaning. Instead, the video simply ends with the both of them in the Thunderbird, looking back at the camera, and waving as they drive away. It’s an obvious tribute to Grease, but Travolta looking Newton-John in the eye, one inch from her face, and poorly lip-syncing the words, “I like it!” spin it into something much more sinister.
Why did they drive off together? Why did they abandon their families at a private airport in Florida? What the hell was in those presents that Olivia had wrapped for them? “I Think You Might Like It” elicits more questions than answers, and that’s exactly why I do, indeed, like it.
No holiday season is complete without this video. The energy that emanates from this work of holiday haunt is equal parts chaotic and campy. “I Think You Might Like It” dares to explore the far reaches of gonzo holiday content. Nothing about it makes any sense, and yet it makes perfect sense to me.
I’ll forever carry a deep affinity for “I Think You Might Like It”—the video, not the song. The song is nearly unintelligible due to some bad mixing and perhaps a little too much peppermint schnapps in the studio. I don’t know a single lyric, and I never want to. I think it’s better that way, in the end.
As wacky as the whole thing is, it was my entry point into loving Olivia Newton-John and familiarizing myself with her back catalog. She had a whopping 26 studio albums under her bedazzled belt, and 30 years into her career, all she wanted to do was have a good time with her old friend and record a Christmas album. Beyond all of its kitschiness, I genuinely love “I Think You Might Like It” for all of the things it was (poorly) trying to explore: family, friendship, festivity, and Florida. What’s a holiday without ’em?