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Beyond “Jingle Bells”: Unorthodox holiday tunes worth a listen

During+the+holiday+season%2C+it+can+be+tiring+to+hear+the+same+Christmas+songs+all+the+time.+These+non-traditional+tunes+hope+to+cure+some+of+the+holiday+monotony.+%5BPhoto+Credit%3A+Mallory+Green%5D
During the holiday season, it can be tiring to hear the same Christmas songs all the time. These non-traditional tunes hope to cure some of the holiday monotony. [Photo Credit: Mallory Green]

We know it’s that time of year again. Colorful lights have been strung about, present shopping is underway, and Christmas music has been constantly playing in stores and homes since Thanksgiving. Whether you’re a strict, no-Christmas-music-until-December kind of person, or you had it blasting in early November, you’ve got to admit there’s a certain lack of variety in holiday songs that makes the genre get old, fast. It can be tiresome to hear radio stations playing the typical holiday “favorites” like “All I Want For Christmas Is You” again and again. In 2021, the song had over a thousand million streams on Spotify. Is that too much?

On the surface, there isn’t an easy solution to the repetitive melodies and classic tunes – they’re built into our culture. However, digging into lesser-known music reveals other options for those who still want to listen to festive songs without getting tired of Christmas a week before the 25th. I’ve taken a deep dive into recent music releases and have found some fresh EPs, albums, and singles for you to check out this holiday season.

 

EPs

EP refers to a release by an artist that is usually around 3-6 songs. Many artists will release these for the holidays instead of making a full album, as is the case in 2023.

 

fruitcake – Sabrina Carpenter (2023)

 

Rising pop artist Sabrina Carpenter, who is currently opening for the Latin America stretch of The Eras Tour, released fruitcake this year. The work’s five original holiday songs stay true to her pop feel and get you into the holiday mood. While the opening track, “A Nonsense Christmas,” is a remix perfect for fans who enjoyed her hit song “Nonsense,” the biggest hit on the album is undoubtedly “buy me presents.” Carpenter brings in witty holiday allusions and puns galore, as well as a solid jingle bell accompaniment. Her song “is it new years yet?” is also a catchy tune, sharing similarities to her song “Feather.” The song even tries to be relatable by addressing the monotony of the holiday season when she sings, “the songs are catchy but they’re overplayed.” To finish up the album, Carpenter includes her version of “White Christmas” (titled “white xmas”) which, although not original, does a great job of giving the old song a fresh, pop feel. 

 

Perfect Holiday – Fitz and the Tantrums (2023)

 

Best known for their hit song “HandClap,” Fitz and the Tantrums is an indie pop/alternative group that released Perfect Holiday in November. While all five songs are original, they’re fairly similar to each other. The opening track, “Give Love This Year” is the one exception. It aims to spread a message of peace and compassion, feeling similar to John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” The other tracks, including “Perfect Holiday” and “Caroling,” employ typical pop sounds to appear catchy and festive. 

 

ALBUMS

Original holiday albums are harder to come by. Many singers who put in the effort to record a full album don’t want to risk creating unpopular new tracks, so they end up trying their hand at the traditional songs everybody knows. This isn’t all bad, as many artists do a great job of infusing their personal style into things. While I was researching, two albums stood out as doing a great job with style as well as creating fun, original tunes. 

 

A Very Kacey Christmas – Kacey Musgraves (2016)

 

This 2016 Album from country singer Kacey Musgraves includes traditional songs like “Let it Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but also four originals. When making the album, Musgraves partnered up with some big names, including Leon Bridges, the Quebe Sisters, and Willie Nelson. These collaborations, like “Present Without a Bow” and “Mele Kalikimaka,” are enjoyable to listen to. In addition, the upbeat “Ribbons and Bows” and jazzy “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” are highlights of the album and make it worth checking out for fans of country, jazz, and pop.

 

Christmas Back to You – Chanté Moore (2017)

 

Chanté Moore is an R&B and Christian singer who first rose to fame in the ‘90s. Some of her songs aim to focus more on Jesus during Christmas, primarily “Birthday” and “Christmas Back to You.” However, the other songs in the album take a secular approach and bring R&B to the holiday season. Moore brings sunny descriptions of Christmas in “Christmas Time in L.A.,” and then switches to chilly weather in “Cover Me in Snow.” Gen Z might enjoy the catchy track “Santa Don’t Sleigh.” She also does covers of some R&B standards like “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Please Come Home For Christmas.” Overall, this album is great for a refreshing break from traditional holiday tunes. 

 

SINGLES

One of the most popular ways to release original Christmas music is through singles. From big-name stars to lesser-known artists, most singers usually try their hand at releasing a few during the holiday season. 

XMAS 01 – Lyn Lapid (2021)

 

Lyn Lapid first gained popularity when she started posting ukulele covers and songs on social media, but now releases pop and alternative songs with Republic Records. Her two-song release XMAS 01 starts with “Messed Up On Christmas,” a melancholy song where she debates telling her crush that she’s in love but doesn’t want to “mess up Christmas.” Lapid also brings back her hallmark ukulele accompaniment in the dreamy second track, “Candy Cane Kisses.” Both songs are subtly beautiful for a relaxing winter evening.

 

Dear Santa – OneRepublic (2023)

 

“Dear Santa” is an upbeat song poised to be the next Christmas hit. Released this year by OneRepublic, it’s sure to get you dancing and singing along in no time.

 

Snowglobe – salem ilese (2023)

 

Rising star salem ilese, known for her viral songs “Mad at Disney” and “PS5,” produces rock-influenced pop music. The 24-year-old singer-songwriter released her debut album High Concept in September and proved she can produce some pretty enjoyable holiday tunes as well. The two catchiest tracks are definitely “Snowglobe” and “Secret Santa,” but the more accusing “Thank You Note” and idealistic “Marry Christmas” are just as good. Whether describing that feeling of wanting to freeze time and live holiday memories forever, or being dissatisfied with a lover for never expressing enough gratitude, ilese’s single manages to go through enough different emotions and holiday stories to keep your ears entertained.

 

A Very Laufey Holiday! – Laufey (2023)

 

Bringing jazz back into the current generation, Laufey is an Icelandic singer-songwriter whose most popular song is currently “From The Start” from her 2023 album Bewitched. Her 2023 holiday single includes two jazz classics, “Christmas Dreaming” and “The Christmas Waltz.” Laufey also partnered with British singer Dodie for the third track: “Love to Keep Me Warm” (separate from “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”). Her smooth vocals are perfect for holiday music and can be slipped into your Frank Sinatra playlist for a slight change of pace.

 

Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses (1981)

 

The 80s bop “Christmas Wrapping” has been covered by many singers and groups, most notably the Spice Girls, and yet has remained relatively unknown. The Waitresses formed in Ohio, and their two hits included this song and “I Know What Boys Like”. Despite the forgotten nature of the band, this song is upbeat and fun to listen to. It’s perfect for bringing the 80s vibes back into your Christmas.

Even though Mariah Carey may dominate the charts yet again this season, so many other Christmas songs are out there for you to discover. Whether you’re a fan of pop, country, R&B, or jazz, there’s something for everyone. Even if you’re perfectly content with the traditional tunes, I encourage you to give some new ones a listen. You may find your new holiday favorite!

 

 

TL;DR:

Albums

A Very Kacey Christmas – Kacey Musgraves (2016)

Christmas Back To You – Chanté Moore (2017)

EPs

fruitcake – Sabrina Carpenter (2023)

Perfect Holiday – Fitz and The Tantrums (2023)

Singles

Dear Santa – OneRepublic (2023)

Snowglobe – salem ilese [4 songs] (2023)

XMAS 01 – Lyn Lapid [2 songs] (2021)

A Very Laufey Holiday! – Laufey [3 songs] (2023)

Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses (1981)

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About the Contributor
Having loved writing her whole life, Mallory is so excited to be on The Knight Times staff her junior year! She joined Journalism to share her passion for writing and be a part of storytelling at Kings. When she’s not in school, she loves obsessing over music by obscure artists, playing the piano and violin, reading, and hanging out with her sister and cats. Mallory also enjoys learning German and recently got to use her knowledge of the language on a trip to Europe. After high school, she is thinking about going to college for something writing-related.
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    Leslie G.Dec 19, 2023 at 9:22 am

    Great fresh holiday list! It was a lot of fun to click on the song samples and learn about some new artists and tunes!

    Reply