It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and accordingly, music’s finest are out to warm your cockles (and bag the festive Number One spot) with this year’s array of seasonal singles. From pandemic references and cancellations to disturbing levels of horniness, this year’s offerings span the lot. Pour yourself an eggnog and settle in.
Kelly Clarkson, ‘Christmas Isn’t Cancelled, Just You’
When I read the title of Kelly Clarkson’s latest festive jingle, I let out the sort of baying groan that might’ve emitted from the donkey that carried Mary up that gigantic hill to Bethlehem. If you ask me, it feels like we’ve spent a good portion of 2021 being loudly talked at by the same brutally “cancelled” public figures who claimed they’ve been “silenced by the woke brigade” while refusing to shut up– at which point the word has ceased to have any real meaning at all.
Unless it’s a JK Rowling diss track, I thought to myself, what’s the point? But as luck would have it, though, I greatly enjoyed the reality: a really salty dig at a miserable ex who recycles the same chat-up lines underneath the mistletoe. “You ruined all my favourite things,” she sings, “but you won’t take Christmas”. Get him, Kelly!
How many baubles out of five? Not Kelly’s finest Christmas work (‘Underneath the Tree’ sets the bar high) but a great level of festive contempt. Four baubles.
Ed Sheeran & Elton John, ‘Merry Christmas’
Fair play: this one’s actually quite wholesome in that it manages to conjure up a bit of much needed festive cheer while including a quick nod to “the ones who have gone” and the absolute shitter of a year everyone’s had. Predictably, Elton’s gravelling boom feels jaunty and supremely Christmassy. Much about the accompanying music video is upsetting, however – especially the bit where Ed sultrily claws at the wall and wiggles his bum while wearing tiny little Santa booty shorts. To be clear, the costuming isn’t the problem, it’s the slightly smug layer of irony smothered on top. Just enjoy being a sexy Santa, Ed – you’re surprisingly good at it.
How many baubles out of five? An almost inevitable Christmas Number One. Three.
ABBA, ‘Little Things’
Few could’ve predicted that ABBA’s first ever festive single would be about a couple of weary parents trying to sneak in a quick Christmas shag before the kids wake up, but here we are. Like stumbling across a half-empty bottle of your parents’ secret “tingling lube” from Ann Summers when you’re visiting over the holidays, ‘Little Things’ is charged with an unwelcome sense of horniness which is swiftly imposed upon everybody who listens to it. Weirdest of all is this strangely transactional proposition from Frida: “Little things like your naughty eyes / You’d consider bringing me a breakfast tray / But there’s a price.” Not even a choir of angelic children and a twinkling music box can bring it back from the deeply unsettling brink.
How many baubles out of five? We’re plunging below zero for this monstrosity – a sad, bare-looking Christmas tree with minus four decorations.
Leona Lewis, ‘Kiss Me It’s Christmas’ (ft. Ne-Yo)
Leona Lewis and Ne-Yo singing on a track together – is it still 2007? Aside from the fact that transporting back to another era when ‘Bleeding Love’ and ‘Miss Independent’ topped the charts sounds like an appealing escape from the current pandemic shits-cape, ‘Kiss Me It’s Christmas’ is also one of the more pleasant-sounding Christmas songs out this year. Silky smooth duet vocals, a fun little Spanish guitar solo and Ne-Yo prancing about in his trademark trilby – that’ll do quite nicely thanks.
How many baubles out of five? Four baubles – we’re only docking one because we wanted to see a bit more of Ne-Yo’s hat.
Mariah Carey, Khalid and Kirk Franklin, ‘Fall in Love at Christmas’
It seems that Mariah Carey also received this year’s Spanish guitar R&B memo – and much to nobody’s surprise, the undisputed queen of the Christmas single has nailed the brief. Though she’s flanked by the gospel singer Kirk Franklin and velvety-voiced chart star Khalid, both wisely decline the challenge of attempting to out-sing The Voice (it’d most likely end badly) and instead put on a sultry spread of harmonies to match her effortless vocal gymnastics and helium-fuelled high-notes. Whistle all the way!
How many baubles out of five? A full house. C’mon, you can’t argue with Mariah at Christmas time, she’s the queen of the festive single.
Jimmy Fallon, Ariana Grande and Megan Thee Stallion, ‘It Was A… (Masked Christmas)’
Though the multiple COVID-19 references sprinkled through this parody track will (hopefully) date like a poorly-aged port one day, there’s no denying that the sound of Megan Thee Stallion reminding everyone to get in line for their booster shots is the most convincing argument yet against the anti-vaxxers: “This Christmas I’ma make it count,” she raps, “no more quarantine on the couch”. Ariana Grande, veteran of modern Christmas classics such as ‘Santa Tell Me’, is on searing form, and it turns out Fallon has the kind of pipes that would easily win him a casting spot in Mamma Mia! 3. It really shouldn’t work, and yet here we are.
How many baubles out of five? Despite all expectations… five
Gary Barlow and Sheridan Smith, ‘How Christmas is Supposed to Be’
‘How Christmas is Supposed to Be’ is the musical equivalent of Keir Starmer, sitting on the fence so aggressively that all those splinters will surely require a festive trip to A&E. After hearing this insipid love-in about respecting each other despite our differences and calmly agreeing to disagree, one must assume that neither Gary or Sheridan have fought their way through an incredibly frosty Christmas dinner listening to a pissed relative ranting on about how Bill Gates has hidden microchips in the turkey crown. A deeply flawed song from start to finish.
How many baubles out of five? Gaz and Shaz can have one bauble for having their hearts in the right place – just don’t fight over it, lads! It’s Christmas!
George Ezra, ‘Come on Home For Christmas’
Jaunty and shoulder-shimmying, this cover of Charles Brown’s ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ might sucks all the vintage swing and mellow Blues influences out of the original, but it’s still impossible to resist the charm of G’Ezra shoulder-shimmying away in his well-pressed suit, and singing away in his lovely deep voice. What a kind, smartly-dressed young man, with excellent manners! I just can’t bring myself to be mean about this one.
How many baubles out of five? Three. He hired out a suit and everything.
The Lathums, ‘Krampus’
Christmas hits don’t necessarily need to be all jolly and bright – from the frantic seasonal scuffle of The Waitress’ ‘Christmas Wrapping’ to Brenda Lee’s surprisingly savage ‘Christmas Will Be Just Another Day’, there’s a solid tradition of artists saying bah humbug to the season of goodwill. And with their vaguely Smiths-flavoured ditty ‘Krampus’, Wigan’s The Lathums have given the anti-Christmas banger their best shot. It has very little to do with Krampus, a horned beast who goes around hitting badly behaved children with a birch stick, and – for at least half of the time- sees the band repeatedly shout “constitutions!” with as much theatre as possible. Thoroughly nonsensical stuff, but quite catchy nonetheless.
How many baubles out of five? Two. A great idea, but needed to be far more spiteful to join the bah-humbug big leagues.
Sigrid, ‘Home To You (This Christmas)’
Transforming her own 2019 track ‘Home To You’ into a Christmas special (complete with a hint of ‘Jingle Bells’ in its slightly altered new piano melody) Sigrid’s festive effort twinkles with seasonal charm, lightly sprinkling in the odd new reference to snow, and letting the music conjure up most of the cosiness. It feels made for the John Lewis Christmas advert –in other words, a resounding success.
How many baubles out of five? A very warm, sizzling, and toasty four.
Will Joseph Cook, ‘No Time To Be Alone’
“Couldn’t care for lights, without you here by my side, acting such a sentimental fool,” Tunbridge Wells singer-songwriter Will Joseph Cook croons on this number about yearning after his festive soulmate. Like roasting chestnuts on an open fire, ‘No Time To Be Alone’ has a warming kind of familiarity about it and draws off classic singer-songwriter tradition – it might be unapologetically mushy, but if you can’t get soppy at Christmas, then when can you, eh?
How many baubles out of five? Three baubles and a boxset of Christmas rom-coms on DVD.
McFly, ‘Walking in the Air’
If it wasn’t fronted by a cherubic Aled Jones, ‘Walking in the Air’ has always had the potential to be a bit punk – something that everybody’s favourite ’00s pop-punkers McFly seem to know all too well. From the glammy guitars to the angsty snarl of this fairly compelling cover’s vocal delivery, the boys do a cracking job of injecting some excellently cheesy rock’n’roll spirit into a wholesome festival classic.
How many baubles out of five? Five, obviously!