Looking for a playlist for your holiday gathering? Need something fresher than “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to listen to while sipping eggnog and wondering if it really is a wonderful life?
The 31-song Spotify playlist annotated below is a best-of collection of holiday music released in 2021. The accompanying Spotify playlist highlights standout Christmas music by big-name and not-so-big-name artists who put their own spin on holiday music in 2021.
Artists that put out entire albums of holiday tunes — including Norah Jones, Kelly Clarkson, Bryson Tiller, Pistol Annies, and Amanda Shires — are represented, along with acts likes ABBA, Mickey Guyton, Spoon, and Allison Russell, who got into the swing of things by releasing individual songs.
Starting and ending with selections from Jones’ I Dream of Christmas, this is the best new holiday music of 2021. And yes — never fear — there is a new Mariah Carey song.
Norah Jones, “Christmas Calling (Jolly Jones).” Norah Jones’ becalmed, subtly swinging, and sweetly nostalgic jazz-pop is so well suited to the season that it’s a surprise it took her 20 years to make a Christmas album. I Dream of Christmas features cozy remakes of standards mixed with high-quality originals like this one, which yearns to reconnect. “I want to be a Jolly Jones, instead of feeling all alone,” she sings. Don’t we all?
Kelly Clarkson, “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You).” Original American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson’s When Christmas Comes Around is made up mostly of holiday standards. This original pretends to proffer a political perspective but is really about dumping a humbug boyfriend.
Amanda Shires feat. The McCrary Sisters, “Gone for Christmas.” Nashville songwriter and fiddle player Amanda Shires’ album For Christmas features eight new original songs, including this one with gospel quartet The McCrary Sisters, in which the greatest Christmas gift would be a man saying goodbye.
Kat Edmonson, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” Texas jazz-pop singer Edmonson’s charming Holiday Swingin’! (A Kat Edmonson Christmas Vol. 1) includes this 1937 Irving Berlin song about snuggling up.
Ed Sheeran & Elton John, “Merry Christmas.” Bells are ringing and intergenerational Brit pop stars are singing on this agreeable-enough collaboration which acknowledges COVID-19: “I know there’s been pain this year, but it’s time to let it go.”
Bryson Tiller feat. Justin Bieber and Poo Bear, “Lonely Christmas.” The R&B singer who made his name with the 2015′s Trapsoul commiserates with Bieber and singer Poo Bear on this cut from Tiller’s seven-song EP A Different Christmas. Bieber remembers buying Christmas lights at Walmart; Tiller gets anxious “stressin’ about impressin’ ” his family.
Mariah Carey feat. Khalid and Kirk Franklin, “Fall in Love at Christmas.” Yes, America, there is a new Mariah Carey Christmas song. While the 27-year-old “All I Want for Christmas Is You” again tops the global pop charts, the Christmas diva is back with this super-smooth collab with pop singer Khalid and hip-hop gospel bandleader Franklin.
Michael Bublé, “The Christmas Sweater.” Bublé is Carey’s chief competitor as Christmas brand ambassador. His 2011 album, Christmas, once again tops the Billboard Holiday album chart. This year, the good-natured crooner is singing about Christmas sweaters: “The uglier the better, hon.”
Nat King Cole feat. John Legend, “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).” Is it preferable to listen to Nat King Cole by himself, rather than with his voice spliced with the stars of today, as it is on the new A Sentimental Christmas with Nat King Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined. Of course. But John Legend does his best to be unobtrusive on this remake.
Ella Fitzgerald, “Sleigh Ride.” This Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish standard originally appeared on the 1960 album Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, but Verve has issued a Sleigh Ride EP this year. And besides: Ella is forever.
She & Him, “Holiday.” The retro-pop duo have a deluxe edition of their 2011 A Very She & Him Christmas, which includes three new songs, including this clever makeover of Madonna’s “Holiday.”
ABBA, “Little Things.” Voyager, the first album in 40 years by the Swedish quartet, includes this sweet, folkie reflection on the joys of the holiday.
Phoebe Bridgers, “Day After Tomorrow.” Sad-song specialist Phoebe Bridgers releases a charity Christmas song every year. “Day After Tomorrow” is an exquisitely-turned 2004 Tom Waits song that gives voice to a soldier coming home.
Cosmic Guilt, “Urge for Going.” I’m cheating because this Joni Mitchell cover from one of the breakout Philly bands of 2021 actually came out in 2020 on the Philly Holiday Album compilation on Bandcamp, which isn’t available on Spotify. A number of PHA artists will celebrate its release a year late at MilkBoy Philly on Wednesday.
Rosi Golan, “Eight Nights.” “All my friends hang mistletoe on Christmas Eve,” Israeli singer-songwriter sings on her lovely Hanukkah song. “But I’ve got eight nights in December.”
Mickey Guyton, “O Holy Night.” The singer who is up for three Grammys for her album Remember Her Name take on the 19th-century French carol without stinting on bombast.
Pistol Annies, “Hell of a Holiday.” The spirited title song to one of the strongest holiday releases of the year from the country trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley.
Paul Kelly, “Christmas.” The Australian songwriter’s Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train is an impressive holiday album with a range of moods. “Tapu Te Po,” a version of “O Holy Night” is particularly beautiful. This song, on the other hand, rocks.
Spoon, “Christmas Time (Is Here Again).” The Austin, Texas, indie band Spoon turn in a gritty take on the Beatles’ 1967 blues holiday release.
L.A. Exes, “Favorite Time of Year.” A winning bop from the self-described “refreshingly clever Queer quartet” of Jenny Owen Youngs, Sam Barbera, Steph Barker and Rachel White.
Black Pumas, “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas.” Speaking of Austin, psychedelic-soul duo Black Pumas dig into this Lou Rawls groove, from his 1967 Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho!
Beach Bunny, “Christmas Caller.” Jangly indie Christmas pop from Chicago quartet fronted by Lil Trifilo.
Tall Poppy Syndrome, “Come Some Christmas Eve.” A power-pop holiday from an indie supergroup that includes Vince Melouney, a former member of the Bee Gees, and the great Blondie drummer Clem Burke.
Jawny, “Christmas Wrapping.” A cover of the Waitresses’ 1981 alt-Christmas classic by the artist formerly of Philadelphia who used to be known as Johnny Utah and is now based in Los Angeles.
Don McCloskey, “O Holy Night.” The Bristol, Pa.-raised singer — who now lives in Chester County — reimagines the carol as a bold soul-R&B rave up with an eight-piece band with horns and a backup chorale.
Jimmy Fallon feat. Ariana Grande & Megan Thee Stallion, “It Was a … (Masked Christmas).” Silly song with an important message. “It was a masked Christmas,” the unlikely trio sing and rap, promoting COVID-19 booster shots.
Brian Fallon, “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Moving rendition of 19th-century hymn by British poet Sarah Flower Adams on New Jersey’s former Gaslight Anthem leader’s heartfelt Night Divine solo album. No relation to Jimmy.
Allison Russell, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Gorgeous version of the melancholy standard recorded by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis sung in French and English by roots music singer Russell, who topped my Inquirer Top 10 albums of 2021 list.
Hiss Golden Messenger, “Hanukkah Dance.” A playful Woody Guthrie cover on O Come All Ye Faithful, songwriter M.C. Taylor’s tender new holiday album.
Tenille Townes, “Pretty Paper.” Sweet, sad-eyed take on Willie Nelson’s 1963 song by rising Canadian country singer.
Joe Robinson, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Fabulous fingerpicking guitar from the virtuoso Australian’s album Christmas au Chalet.
Norah Jones, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Let’s bring it full circle, shall we? “Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?” Jones’ languorous take on Frank Loesser’s 1947 song is hopeful but poignant at the end of another pandemic calendar year.