I am of the (perhaps Grinch-like) opinion that there is a time and a place for blasting “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and it’s usually while I’m literally rocking around the Christmas tree, stringing lights and hanging ornaments or whatever. When I need a soundtrack for decorating sugar cookies, please hit me with Wham. In those festive moments, I crave all that cheesy, classic holiday music. But soundtracking day-to-day mundanities with Christmas songs from Halloween through December? That’s when my inner music Scrooge emerges.
This year, however, I keep coming across holiday music that (dare I say it?) rocks. I’m not entirely sure when or how Christmas got cool, but when you’ve got Lil Nas X putting out a sexy Santa song and Phoebe Bridgers covering Merle Haggard and Tyler, the Creator rapping like he’s the Grinch, you know something has shifted in our culture. And we’re totally here for it.
This holiday season is, no doubt, one of the loneliest on record for a lot of folks. But whether you’re home alone for the holidays or sheltering with your quarantine pod, it seems like an appropriate moment to lean into some surprisingly great Christmas tunes that also perfectly capture the vibe of 2020. Because when everything’s sort of weird and bad, why not dance about it, right?
Lil Nas X, “HOLIDAY” (2020)
He’s the reigning king of country-rap, and with the rollout of his first festive single, “HOLIDAY,” Lil Nas X proved (once again) that he’s a singularly 2020 type of artist. The “Lil Nas X Concert Experience” in Roblox this November was partly promo for his holiday track — the massively popular virtual concert drew 33 million viewers. A trailer for the song depicts Lil Nas X assuming the identity of Santa Claus, not unlike Tim Allen in the 1994 holiday film The Santa Clause, and the rapper subsequently did press as both a cyberpunk Santa and a naughty Elf on a Shelf. It’s the delightfully unhinged sort of cosplay we need in 2020.
Phoebe Bridgers, “If We Make It Through December,” (2020)
She’s been serving up chilly, festive cover tracks for the last few years, and this year Phoebe Bridgers delivered a moody take on the 1974 Merle Haggard song “If We Make It Through December.” Since folks have been yearning for 2020 to end, like, practically since it started, this feels like an apt song for pandemic Christmas.
Akim & Teddy Vann, “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” (1974)
This incredible, funky tune is actually really old, but its themes couldn’t feel more timely. Back in the early 1970s, musician and producer Teddy Vann made it his mission to provide young Black people with an alternative to the eurocentric imagery they were barraged with — especially around the holidays. So he enlisted his 5-year-old daughter Akim to collaborate on a version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
Tyler, the Creator, “Big Bag” (2018)
Two years ago, Tyler, the Creator tweeted that his song "Big Bag" is written from the perspective of the Grinch whilst stealing Christmas — a truly magical gift to humanity. We didn't know Dr. Seuss rap was a thing we needed in our lives until Tyler delivered, and for that we sincerely thank him.
Aloe Blacc, "Mi Burrito Sabanero" (2019)
This Venezuelan Christmas tune, about a little donkey presumably present for the birth of Jesus, is super popular throughout Latin America. The original was recorded in 1972 by Simón Díaz. Aloe Blacc brought the song to my attention with this funky cover last year.
Ariana Grande, “Wit It This Christmas” (2015)
For some reason, Ariana’s 2014 Christmas single, “Santa Tell Me,” has been everywhere this year. (It climbed back up the Billboard Hot 100, reaching an all-time high this December.) But the far superior Grande holiday offering is her 2015 EP Christmas & Chill. Inadvertently, the pop star was ahead of her time: 2020 is actually the ultimate year to “Christmas and chill.” Stay home and healthy, guys.
We found far more incredible holiday tunes than we could blurb in this brief article, so we've compiled them into a Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure. Happy holidays, everyone.