People are pretty divided about Christmas music. The second it starts playing in grocery stores and making its way into seasonal commercials, Scrooges everywhere groan and roll their eyes. While I am a self-proclaimed Christmas music enthusiast with no fewer than eight festive playlists on Spotify that each suit a different vibe, I concede that repeat hearings of “Jingle Bell Rock” can grate on the nerves. Sometimes, I need something more than Michael Bublé.
So I’m here to suggest some new holiday jams, creative covers of old standards and hidden gems of the festive music world. Hopefully these help you change your tune about the music of the season.
Holiday-ish, The Regrettes ft. Dylan Minnette
Kicking off our playlist is a song that’s just, as the title suggests, holiday-ish. There’s a distinct lack of jingle bells or sentimental violins, and the lyrics are more about making the most of your circumstances than chestnuts and open fires. Let this charming pop tune ease you into the Christmas state of mind.
Wonderful Christmastime, The Shins
I know this is one of the most divisive Christmas songs, but hear me out. In the original Paul McCartney version, the incessant hook is an earworm of the worst order and the never ending synth loop is enough to drive anyone crazy. But this minimal arrangement from indie faves The Shins is a welcome change to the busy landscape of Christmas music.
Christmas Makes Me Cry, Kacey Musgraves
Musgraves’ holiday album, A Very Kacey Christmas, contains plenty of covers and even a few bouncy original tunes. But this pensive original song about the underlying sadness often felt during the holiday season takes things down a notch. Between Musgrave’s smooth voice, the bittersweet lyrics and the melancholy steel guitar, you’ll be grabbing the phone to call your loved ones in no time.
All I Want For Christmas Is You, Charly Bliss
Do you love Mariah Carey’s Christmas behemoth but wish it had a bit more guitar? Look no further than this cover from power pop group Charly Bliss. Frontwoman Eva Hendricks’ vocals lend the song a bit more sweetness, which is balanced by rock guitars and drums on backup. This bubblegum rock version is sure to be an unexpected but fun addition to any Christmas playlist.
Like It’s Christmas, Jonas Brothers
The Jonas Brothers released this fresh Christmas song immediately following their big 2019 comeback. The bouncy beat and infectious hook found here would be perfectly appropriate playing over a baking montage in a Hallmark movie. And I’d watch it a dozen times just to hear this song!
I Wish It Was Christmas Today, Julian Casablancas
This funny little song was originally performed in an SNL skit back in 2000, but has since become a Christmas classic. Casablancas wrote the song for the show and has gone on to cover it himself several times. This 2009 rendition trades goofy Casio keyboard beats for classic Strokes sounds, but still supplies tons of fun (even without Jimmy Fallon’s “jogging in place” dance moves).
Santa Tell Me, Ariana Grande
I’m sure this absolute bop isn’t news to anyone, but it simply had to be included in this list. If there was a competitive league for modern Christmas classics, this song would be in the Hall of Fame.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Phoebe Bridgers
Bridgers offers a cover of perhaps the most contemplative Christmas tune. The original Judy Garland standard is a melancholy tune about muddling through the tough times and hoping to see your loved ones again “if the fates allow”– and if that isn’t the perfect sentiment for 2020, I don’t know what is. This distorted and dreamlike cover by Bridgers adds just a touch more depth to the tune. Leave it to 2020’s reigning sad girl to give us the anthem of a holiday season unlike any other.
Be sure to check out the songs listed here (and a few bonus tracks!) on the Spotify playlist below, and let us know if you have any lesser-known Christmas jams in your holiday soundtrack.
Olivia is a theater education major who stumbled into journalism. She’s a little too into movies, pop culture, and Oxford commas (against the desires of her editors). She is also very online. ([email protected])