Poppin’ Around The Christmas Tree: A Guide To This Year’s New Holiday Songs

Poppin’ Around The Christmas Tree: A Guide To This Year’s New Holiday Songs

Is it weird that a Jewish person who wasn’t allowed to listen to Christmas music growing up is now getting paid to write about Christmas music? As the Cure say, I don’t care if you don’t — life is full of delicious ironies. Just don’t tell my parents.

Anyway, it’s that time of year again: As you no doubt know by now, we are now well past the point where artists have started to release new holiday songs, even if we are still weeks away from December. And as my colleague/former pop columnist Chris DeVille used to do for the past few Xmas seasons, I’m listing out this year’s bumper crop of new holiday pop songs. If there’s an album attached, I’ll be sure to mention it.

Let’s get into it!

Alicia Keys – “December Back 2 June”
On her first-ever Christmas album, Alicia Keys goes into ’70s Soul Train mode on the record’s lead single, “December Back 2 June,” which is co-written by Tayla Parx. The layered (but not overloaded) track has jingles, scooby-doo-bops, and a feel-good rhythm that honestly shows way more effort than you’d think Keys would care to put in at this comfortable stage in her career. Good for her!

Andrea, Matteo And Virginia Bocelli – “The Greatest Gift”
Classical singer Andrea Bocelli is no stranger to the holiday album — his first one of those, My Christmas came out in 2009. This year, Bocelli teams up with his kids, Matteo (24) and Virginia (10), for a collaborative Christmas album titled A Family Christmas. Piano-led lead single “The Greatest Gift” is a nice bit of schmaltz.

Backstreet Boys – “Last Christmas”
There’s something oddly comforting about Backstreet Boys still being together after all this time. While their Y2K counterparts *NSYNC recorded their first Xmas album in 1998(!), 2022 marks BSB’s first Yuletide-themed record: A Very Backstreet Christmas, which features a serviceable cover of Wham!’s 1984 classic “Last Christmas.” (Note: This list is technically meant to focus on original Christmas songs as opposed to covers, but I figure BSB merits a mention. Mostly because I was shocked to learn they had never released any holiday music before this.)

Chris Isaak – “Almost Christmas”
On his second Christmas album (following 2004’s Christmas), crooner Chris Isaak has thrown together 13 tracks of yuletide covers as well as originals. One of those Everybody Knows It’s Christmas originals is “Almost Christmas,” which rolls out in a snappy, vintage rockabilly style.

Chris Ruggiero – “Grown-Up Christmas List” (Feat. Darlene Love)
Well, if this isn’t sweeter than a gingerbread house covered in gumdrops. Sixties girl-group icon and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” singer Darlene Love, now 81, has teamed up with 23-year-old ’50s pop/rock singer Chris Ruggiero to duet on “Grown-Up Christmas List.” It’s the first time Love has recorded a Christmas song (save for her 2005 SNL song “Christmastime For The Jews“) since 1995’s “I Listen To The Bells” with Luther Vandross. Look for “Grown-Up Christmas List” on Ruggiero’s new holiday LP Christmas With Chris Ruggiero.

Crowder – “The Elf Song”
Contemporary Christian artist Crowder released a holiday album, Milk & Cookies: A Merry Crowder Christmas, last month. One of the originals is an “elf awareness” song called “The Elf Song,” which, upon further inspection, is all about worker’s rights??! “Santa only pay ’em cookies when they working that overtime/ Gotta make that quota, can’t do it in a 9 to 5/ That ain’t right/ Let’s talk about fairness.” There’s also a line in there about how Santa pays elves paltry “M&M wages.” Which… OK! Get those elves on a Polar Pension Plan!

Debbie Gibson – “Christmas Star”
It’s equally wild to think that, after all this time, ’80s pop titan Debbie Gibson has never released a Christmas album. That changed in October, though, with Winterlicious, which features Gibson’s second duet with New Kids On The Block member Joey McIntyre (“Heartbreak Holiday”) and the “Jingle Bell Rock”-interpolating lead single, “Christmas Star.”

Good NEWZ Girls – “Every Christmas”
Last year, Nickelodeon (in collaboration with Tyran ‘Ty Ty’ Smith and Jay Brown Productions) formulated a new pop/R&B group called Good NEWZ Girls. The “NEWZ” doesn’t appear to have traveled that far, as the group only has a few thousand or so followers on Instagram. Whatever the case, the teen quartet has released an original holiday jam called “Every Christmas” that’s cute but also sounds like it could’ve been performed by pretty much anybody.

Joss Stone – “What Christmas Means To Me”
UK soul-pop staple Joss Stone also released her first-ever Xmas album this fall, and it looks like she’ll promote it by lip-synching aboard a float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which I’ve heard is actually really difficult (the lip-synching, not the float-traveling). Merry Christmas, Love features a lively cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1967 holiday anthem “What Christmas Means To Me.”

Lindsay Lohan – “Jingle Bell Rock”
Netflix is obviously cashing in on Lindsay Lohan’s iconic connection to “Jingle Bell Rock” via Mean Girls by making her sing it again to accompany her new holiday movie Falling For Christmas. And you know what? I don’t care. If you grew up with Lohan, Mean Girls, and Lohan singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” a reimagined context doesn’t really matter. All I want for Christmas is this.

Lindsey Stirling – “Ice Storm”
Pop-goes-classical violinist Lindsey Stirling recently put out a Christmas album, Snow Waltz, which is a wintry mix of covers and originals. One of those originals is a head-banging instrumental track appropriately titled “Ice Storm.” Come for the furious violin (seriously, wow), stay for the chugging metal guitars and bashing drum-work.

Lizzo – “Someday At Christmas” (Stevie Wonder Cover)
Technically a cover, but we can’t ignore a holiday entry from Lizzo. For Amazon Music, Lizzo covered Stevie Wonder’s 1967 classic “Someday At Christmas,” adding in a statement that “it’s a reminder to us that almost 60 years later, we are still fighting for peace, compassion, and equality. A friendly reminder to spread love and kindness this holiday season.”

Lola Kirke – “Christmas Alone”
Another song celebrating a solitary Christmas! My favorite. Lola Kirke (daughter to Simon Kirke, sister to Domino and Jemima Kirke) has a banjo-strummed ditty here about having yourself an introverted little Christmas. It shows up on Kirke’s Christmas Alone – Live From The Blue Room EP, out now via Third Man Records.

Patrick Stump – “Merry Spidey Christmas”
If you have little kids, and those kids like Spider-Man and Fall Out Boy, I guess you can’t go wrong with Patrick Stump’s “Merry Spidey Christmas” for Disney Junior’s animated Spidey And His Amazing Friends series. TBH, most holiday music sounds like kids’ music to me. But look, whatever gives parents a break from CoComelon.

Pentatonix – “Kid On Christmas” (Feat. Meghan Trainor)
In late October, the a cappella quintet released their sixth(!) holiday album, Holidays Around The World, a benign, Home Goods-y way of acknowledging that not everyone celebrates Christmas. The album features five original songs, plus a stacked guest list, including Chinese pianist Lang Lang, Congolese gospel singer Grace Lokwa, Lebanese singer Hiba Tawaji, Filipina artist Lea Salonga, Latin band La Santa Cecilia, Indian vocalist Shreya Ghoshal, Japanese artists HIKAKIN & SEIKIN, British a cappella ensemble The King Singers, and… Meghan Trainor, who sings on “Kid On Christmas.” Whatever gets “Made You Look” out of my head!

Rachael & Vilray – “Just Me This Year”
On the jaunty “Just Me This Year,” Lake Street Dive singer/songwriter Rachael Price and the guitarist/singer/songwriter Vilray sing about spending the holidays alone after a romantic breakup. Whether you’re splitting up with someone or not, opting out of the holiday hustle-bustle is hella underrated; so I’m already a big believer in what this song is selling.

Switchfoot – “California Christmas”
I suppose it makes sense that Switchfoot, largely embraced by the Christian-rock community, would at some point put out a proper Christmas album: bluntly titled this is our Christmas album. Original single “California Christmas” pays an obvious homage to The Beach Boys, with its plunky piano and “ba ba ba” harmonies.

Salem Ilese – “Secret Santa”
How do you like this for range? Salem Ilese, who co-wrote sneering pop anthems like Bella Poarch’s “Build A Bitch” and Demi Lovato’s “Holy Fvck,” has an original holiday anthem out this year, and it straight-up sounds like an overly plucky, faux big-band Meghan Trainor song. Except the lyrics are more Gen Z-specific: “Is it crypto, is it cash?/ Or a Fortnite battlepass/ Honey tell me what you’re hoping that you’ll open up this year.”

Check out a playlist of all the new songs below.

Other new holiday albums of the reissue/compilation/not-pop variety include Louis Armstrong’s Louis Wishes You A Cool Yul, Neil Diamond’s A Neil Diamond Christmas, Sia’s Everyday Is Christmas (Deluxe), Reba McEntire’s Reba: The Ultimate Christmas Collection, Los Bitchos’ Let The Festivities Begin (Los Chrismos Edition), Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (Expanded Deluxe Edition), Scott Weiland’s The Most Wondeful Time Of The Year (Deluxe Edition), Norah Jones’ I Dream Of Christmas (Deluxe Edition), Steve Perry’s The Season (Deluxe Edition), Anne Wilson’s The Manger EP, the Philadelphia Eagles’ (!) A Philly Special Christmas, and the Spirited Original Motion Picture Soundtrack featuring Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, and Octavia Spencer.

Now for our monthly roundup of notable secular pop tracks.

POP TEN

SG Lewis – “Lifetime”
Apparently, British singer/songwriter/DJ/producer SG Lewis wrote “Lifetime” for Ed Sheeran and his wife. However you feel about that premise, the fact remains, “Lifetime” is an effortlessly buoyant, disco-inspired jam that floats along on a cloud of synths, strings, and aerated vocals singing about forever love. Wedding DJs, take note and add this to your playlists immediately.

Selena Gomez – “My Mind & Me”
If you haven’t seen Selena Gomez’s new documentary My Mind & Me, I highly recommend watching — it’s startlingly unpolished, considering how famous its subject is, and you feel as though you’re right next to Gomez as she (over a six-year period) grapples with a potentially toxic combination of mental illness, lupus, and A-list fame. Gomez’s song of the same name is equally stark, with the singer comparing her own existence to “an accident” that “people look at while they’re passing/ And never check on the passenger.”

Dove Cameron – “Bad Idea”
Against her better judgment, Dove Cameron embraces a love interest’s chaotic evil on her equally addictive new single. Fortunately for us, a sonic love affair with Cameron is toxicity-free.

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie – “Ballin”
Featured on the NBA2K soundtrack, the laid-back “Ballin’’ will go down smoothly whether you care about basketball or not. Over a skittering beat, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie gets hyped for the court: “Got my hoodie on like / Melo in the garden / Got my money up / I’m ballin’ like LeBron son / They want me to lose my breath / So I got to watch my step / Two 30s on my hip / I call ’em Steph and Seth.”

ITZY – “Boys Like You”
K-pop breakouts ITZY’s “Boys Like You” is a hella-catchy bop that thematically follows in the wisened footsteps of TLC’s classic “No Scrubs.”

Jason Derulo & Shouse – “Never Let You Go”
Derulo. In my eyes, Jason Derulo has always been a little underrated as a pop mastermind. He’s in great company with the DJ duo Shouse, and together the trio create a thumping dance anthem for the ages with “Never Let You Go.”

Sabrina Carpenter – “Nonsense”
Sabrina Carpenter’s “Nonsense” may not be about her Disney Channel ex, but it is a bouncy-twangy tune about your brain turning to mush any time a certain somebody walks in the room.

Sadie Jean – “Locksmith”
Sadie Jean trades pop pomp for a more stripped-down approach on “Locksmith,” which escalates gradually with poignant synths and tight guitar and drums. The real centerpiece is Jean’s fragile vocals, which beautifully communicate “Locksmith”’s yearning.

Lee Chanhyuk – “Panorama”
The central headline around “Panorama” is the fact that its singer recently had his hair shaved off while singing it on a South Korean TV show. Awesome. Also, “Panorama” is a synth-splashed, er, cut that sounds very much in line with the Weeknd’s After Hours-era dream-pop.

Avril Lavigne – “I’m A Mess” (Feat. YUNGBLUD)
When Avril Lavigne released Love Sux this year, a lot was made about the singer’s return to her Y2K pop-punk roots. Except as a whole, Love Sux sounded more aggressive than Lavigne’s early work, which really found its groove in angsty ballads. On that note, “I’m A Mess” is right in line with classic Lavigne, who has a worthy vocal collaborator in YUNGBLUD.

CLOSING TIME

more from Chained To The Rhythm: The Month In Pop

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