The best (and worst) new Christmas songs of 2020

Indie tunes! Pop tunes! Whatever you might call the lump of coal Liam Payne has gifted us with! We sort the crackers from the musical turkeys this yuletide

Music’s finest have been decking the halls and jingling all the way: as one our entrants puts it: you can’t stop Christmas. Settle in with a glass of Baileys and get festive with some of the greatest, weirdest and horniest festive singles of 2020.

Words: El Hunt, Rhian Daly, Jordan Bassett

Girl in Red, ‘Two Queens in a King Sized Bed’

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Cosy up with an eggnog, everyone and gather round – Girl In Red’s got her honky-tonk out especially for the sapphic season of goodwill, and she’s going to tell us all a heartwarming story about ‘Two Queens in a King-Sized Bed’ snogging it up on Christmas morning. “There’s no mistletoe above our heads, but I’ll kiss you anyway on Christmas day,” she sings, backed by fuzzy, vintage sounds. Oh, and to make matters even more weep-worthy, the Norwegian musician told NME it’s a song inspired by happier times with an ex. Not crying – just my unseasonal hayfever.

How many baubles out of five? Four – I’m docking a bauble for the sad ending where “forever disappears”. EH

Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries’

For obvious reasons (see: these unprecedented times) Christmas this year is going to be a bit weird – but if there’s one semblance of normality to count on, it’s the likelihood of a good old fashioned festive feud. As with its close relative ‘organised fun’, the annual ‘season of goodwill’ has a tendency to crack in dramatic fashion – meaning that even in 2020 we can depend upon somebody in the family support bubble getting far too sloshed on mulled wine and pulling out the plug mid-Eastenders Christmas special, prompting a blazing row. And Carly Rae Jepsen knows this all too well. My boyfriend is a vegan, so they fed him fish,” she sings atop jaunty ‘80s synths, “my uncle made it worse by talking politics.” Besides being an absolute bop, ‘It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries’ wins extra points for realism – even if some of the barnies this year might need to take place over Zoom.

How many baubles out of five? Five kitschy disco-ball decorations for Carly ‘Sleigh’ Jepsen. EH

Lil Nas X, ‘Holiday’

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One of the biggest pitfalls with it comes to the Art of the Yuletide Single is the lack of usable vocab on offer – there are only so many words that a) rhyme with Christmas b) make sense when rhymed with Christmas. Perhaps it’s a blessed gift, then, that Lil Nas X’s festive effort has virtually nothing to do with Christmas at all, lyrically speaking. Instead, ‘Holiday’ is a heady blend of bottoming innuendos (“I might bottom on the low, but I top shit”) and a wholesome retelling of everybody’s festive fable: the heartwarming story of how ‘Old Town Road’ took over the charts.

How many baubles out of five? It would’ve been a full house for Lil Nas, but we’re docking a bauble for underusing that “hoe-hoe” pun. So much more potential! EH

Robbie Williams, ‘Can’t Stop Christmas’

We were in needs of a pandemic Christmas tune, and like a motivational speaker declaring war on The Grinch, Robbie Williams does his very best to rise to the occasion on ‘Can’t Stop Christmas’. A pounding indie-lite number with plenty of “wooo-eee-woooo” backing vocals, this one ticks off every cliché on the COVID-19 bingo sheet: Zoom, FaceTime, two-metre social distancing, wartime metaphors and hand sanitiser all get a look-in. “You can’t take away our season / Like you can’t take away the wine,” he sings, speaking to the resilient spirit of everybody who clung for dear life onto a bottle of Savy B and binge-watched Marriage At First Sight: Australia back in the first lockdown. Granted, absolutely nothing about this song is going to age very well: but if there’s one thing that can bring a nation together, it’s a prime helping of cheese from our Rob.

How many baubles out of five? The magic number of Christmas 2020, of course: three wise men, three tiers of national restrictions, and a maximum of THREE households to mingle indoors, thank you. #stayalert. EH

Tegan and Sara, “Make You Mine This Season’

At Christmas time the straights are spoiled for choice – but aside from Carol (which isn’t exactly a cosy feel-good film), there’s a pitiful amount of queer-leaning festive flicks to pick from. Thank God, then, for Clea DuVall (But I’m A Cheerleader; Girl, Interrupted) kindly stepping up. The actor-turned-director is at the helm of possibly the first LGBTQ+ Christmas rom-com with a hefty Hollywood budget. She’s spent it well on Happiest Season: hiring the likes of Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, and Aubrey Plaza for lead roles, and enlisting Tegan and Sara to do a song for the soundtrack. Propelled by jangly synths, it’s swooningly wholesome in the way that only a Christmas song can get away with. “You’re the only girl I’ve got on my list,” they sing, “I write your name; I know it’s foolish”. Exactly what’s needed to nourish us all during a particularly tough year.

How many baubles out of five? The maximum festooning of five for vital services to the LGBTQ+ community. EH

Shaggy, ‘Holiday in Jamaica’ feat. Ne-Yo and Ding Dong

Many years on from releasing ‘Miss Independent’ and ‘Sexy Love’, you’ll be pleased to know that the early ’00s suavest pop star Ne-Yo has hung onto his trilby over the years – and in 2020 he’s returned with a very Santa-esque crimson number. Naturally, Ne-YO sings vocals on Shaggy’s new Christmas track ‘Holiday in Jamaica’, also featuring the dancehall artist Ding Dong. “In Jamaica, Christmas is all about the parties,” Shaggy recently told NME, “the day party, night party, white party, weed party, rum party – it’s about going out with your friends, hopping from parties then topping it off with great food and culture. It’s not about sleigh bells and snow. But who wouldn’t want to be on the beach at Christmas with rum?” Sold!

How many baubles out of five? Three – one for each pina colada ingredient. EH

The Cribs, ‘Christmas (All Year Long)’

After a bit of a rough patch, Wakefield brothers Gary, Ryan and Ross have crash-landed back onto fertile musical ground like Santa ploughing into a mince pie. ‘Christmas (All Year Long)’ sounds like every Christmas song you’ve ever heard – and friends, that’s a good thing. “This is a big fuzzy stomper, with cheesy lyrics and some over the top guitar solo-ing,” they’ve said. If you’re going to do a Christmas song, you might as well go the whole hog (and then roast the hog).

How many baubles out of five? Five, of course. Merry Cribsmas! EH

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, ‘Christmas (And Dad Wants Her Back)’

Formerly bandmates in The Beautiful South, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott unite again for ‘Christmas (And Dad Wants Her Back)’. It’s both resoundingly jolly, and slightly bitter – cut from a similar cloth to ‘Don’t Marry Her’ and ‘Happy Hour’ by Heaton’s other band The Housemartins. On the agenda this time: a tense Christmas with a hint of uncomfortable sexual tension between two separated parents trying not to fall out over putting up the tree – in the background, all three kids are sobbing because the dinner’s “dried up and it’s black” and Dad’s getting berated for going down the pub. ‘Tis the season! EH

How many baubles out of five? Three. The song’s good, but they ruined the Christmas dinner. EH

Blossoms, ‘It’s Going to be a Cold Winter’

Jangling with an upbeat jauntiness that masks lyrical grumbles – the elusive end of the sellotape roll, gift receipts and rapidly shedding pine needles – Blossoms’ ‘It’s Going to be a Cold Winter’ sets out to be indie-pop’s answer to The Waitress’ ‘Christmas Wrapping’. They even chuck in a helping of seasonal drama for good measure. “You’ll find me by the fire with your sister,” sings Tom Ogden, “’Cause it’s gonna be a cold, cold winter”. It’s a festive romance, and we’re here for it – but please exercise caution. If it all goes tits up on the 24th, you’ll be stuck together in the same family bubble for another four days.

How many baubles out of five? It’s a respectable four baubles for the Stockport lads. EH

Liam Payne, ‘Naughty List’ feat. Dixie D’Amelio

A story from former One Directioner Liam Payne: Santa accidentally witnesses a bit of festive rumpy-pumpy while dropping off some presents. But then the tale takes a strange turn: the sultry couple apparently spend a large portion of their Christmas eve… doing laundry. “Next thing you know it we were drying our clothes,” Liam says, with a wink. What on earth were they doing on the way home, rolling in reindeer droppings?

How many baubles out of five? One bauble – and maybe ask for a tumble-dryer next year. EH

Circa Waves, ‘Miss Christmas’

 

There’s been a will-it-or-won’t-it-happen suspense around Christmas this year, what with our current situation, and it seems like it’s been getting to Circa Waves. “I dreamt that I missed Christmas,” sings Kieran Shudall. It’s not because of any bubble restrictions, he just “slept right through”. Luckily, it was all just a dream, and he’s able to share all the festivities over a jaunty piano melody and zipping guitar. The big message, though, is one of gratitude and appreciating the little and important things.

How many baubles out of five? A twinkling four for getting the Christmas spirit in the age of corona bang on. RD

Porridge Radio, ‘The Last Time I Saw You (O Christmas)’

Merry Christmas, again,” mutters Dana Margolin on Porridge Radio’s festive offering. There’s sleigh bells and synths that sound like blue lights twinkling under the frosty night, but if you’re looking for something to liven up your Zoom Christmas party, this isn’t it. Instead, the band add to the canon of sad Yuletide tunes, detailing being stuck in a cycle of heartbreak and depression while everyone else is cramming their faces with turkey and trimmings.

How many baubles out of five? Four – it might not be the happiest Christmas song in the world, but it is damn good. RD

Twenty One Pilots, ‘Christmas Saves The Year’

 

To Twenty One Pilots, Christmas is a superhero saving the world from misery and fear – even if just a few days. ‘Christmas Saves The Year’ isn’t a blockbuster of a song, though, taking a rather more sombre approach. Despite that, they still find space for a handclap section that would sound rousing if we were allowed back in a jam-packed arena to see them perform this.

How many baubles out of five? A solid three – it’s not bad but it’s not all that memorable either. RD

Julia Jacklin, ‘Baby Jesus Is Nobody’s Baby Now’

 

The title might sound like something the big JC might yell as a teenager during a fight with Mary and Joseph before slamming the stable door, but Julia Jacklin’s song finds him picking “the bag out of smokes out of the bin”. Unfortunately, we don’t find out much more about Jesus’ situation than that, the focus switching to a relatable scene of family arguments over Christmas dinner, set to a simple acoustic strum.

How many baubles out of five? A very festive four. RD

100 gecs, ‘Sympathy 4 The Grinch’

 

If you really want to confuse your nan this Christmas, whack this chipmunk ska oddity on the speakers and turn it up loud. But warning: their frequent swearing at Santa and lyrics about stealing all his presents probably won’t go down that well with the olds.

How many baubles out of five? Sorry, Santa – it’s a five from us. RD

Bad Boy Chiller Crew, ‘White White Christmas’

One listen to this absolute banger and you’ll be ready to turn your parents’ front room into Ministry Of Sound. It also begs the question why aren’t there more club tunes about Christmas? It’s an underused combo but, in Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s hands, is a brilliantly potent one.

How many baubles out of five? How could we give this infectious banger anything less than full marks? Five of the biggest baubles you can get your hands on! RD

Finneas, ‘Another Year’

I don’t believe Jesus Christ was born to save me / That’s an awful lot of pressure for a baby,” sings Finneas on this piano-led track and he’s got a point. As well as offering up some sympathy for perhaps the most burdened child in history, this song acts as a tribute to love and longing for that special person.

How many baubles out of five? For that Jesus observation alone, it’s getting a four. RD

Sam Smith, ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’

If you’re unequipped with a press release quote from Sam Smith about how Christmas represents “yearning to be around our friends and family” to them, you might be confused how ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’ has ended up in this list. It just sounds like a wintry, solemn song about the guiding light of love, with one mere mention of “Christmastime”.  That’s lovely, but would it have them to sprinkle a little more festiveness into the mix?

How many baubles out of five? It’s a two – we’re going to need things to be a bit more festive to dish out any more baubles, Sam. RD

Sabrina Claudio and The Weeknd, ‘Christmas Blues’

 

The year’s various lockdowns have been hard on everyone and, on this pretty, soft twinkle of a song, Sabrina Claudio is feeling their effect. She might come to be grateful for social distancing restrictions when The Weeknd drops by though. “If I had one wish / I’d take you down by the tree,” he whimpers with all the sexiness of your grandad slurping out his false teeth before tucking into the Christmas chocolates.

How many baubles out of five? Apologies to Sabrina, but The Weeknd’s gone and spoilt the mood – it’s a two. RD

U.S. Girls, ‘Santa Stay Home’

Meghan Remy is back doing her darkweb indie Kylie thing. Wait, no – that’s just Kylie, isn’t it? Anyway, she’s taken the Robbie route of a timely bit of musical tinsel, but she’s done it much, much better than Robbie. Perhaps it’s because Remy’s tune is less on the nose than big Willie’s – despite the title, it’s not actually that COVID-y. She’s focused instead on the general decline of the planet, advising Mr. Claus to give travel a miss because “landfills overflow”, “both poles” are “melting” and, in the face of such environmental calamity, “presents don’t mean shit”. It’s got sleigh bells on it too. Merry Christmas!

How many baubles out of five? Five. It’s basically an Eastenders Christmas special set to music. JB

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