From rap to K-pop to punk rock, Document offers the best festive records from across the musical continuum
If you’re a struggling artist, you might consider a Christmas album. Each year, come December, the holiday genre gives regular music a run for its money—perhaps part of the reason labels tend to delay their clients’ releases until the new year is well behind us.
Covers are typically foolproof. Most Christmas carols’ copyrights are expired or nonexistent or public domain. And this is the stuff that people listen to on repeat, for weeks and weeks on end, because of its lack of innovation. “Generally, popular music is about putting yourself out there, new relationships, new beginnings, being young and single and dancing,” explained musicology professor Joe Bennett to the Washington Post. “Christmas music is almost the reverse of that, conceptually and lyrically. It is about homecoming, nostalgia, looking back to a more innocent time in one’s life or cultural history.”
It is, of course, possible to make a new mark on the holiday music canon, if you have a knack for songwriting or a blindly-supportive following. Mariah Carey is the prime example; “All I Want for Christmas is You” earns her at least a couple million each year. There’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, another veritable classic. And in more recent history, we have Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me,” and maybe even Azealia Banks’s “Icy Colors Change.” The common denominator is that all of these artists were very-well-established upon releasing their hits, and largely situated within the pop universe. Perhaps you’d rather rack up the streams of slightly more niche acts, in the spirit of giving, or satisfy your own tastes while simultaneously celebrating tradition. If that sounds like you, you might peruse this list of albums—some covers, some originals, arranged conveniently by genre—which invariably offers an unorthodox take on the soundtrack to the holiday season.
5150, Home 4 tha Sick (1992), Eazy-E
For fans of old-school hip-hop. This five-song EP was produced by two Danish guys, Nick Coldhands and Rasmus Berg, who were surprised to be recruited for the task, as “Christmas music is the most white thing you can do.” Its standout track is “Merry Muthafuckin’ Xmas,” which, strangely enough, is will.i.am’s very first recorded rap.
All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan (2003), Kenny Chesney
This album’s eponymous track actually seems to be somewhat of a hit; it reached the Top 10 on country charts. Altogether, a very soothing listen, comprising both covers and original songwriting, with the general idea being escaping the cold—by way of nice fire, or running away with your lover on a tropical vacation.
Dear Santa (2015), Girls’ Generation-TTS
I can guarantee that one of your cousins will love this EP. The vocals and production are upbeat and pristine, in the K-pop tradition. My personal favorite is its title track, conveniently recorded both in Korean and in English—though the music really speaks for itself, in an emotional sense, regardless of which language you opt for.
“It is, of course, possible to make a new mark on the holiday music canon, if you have a knack for songwriting or a blindly-supportive following.”
A Twisted Christmas (2006), Twisted Sister
This is actually the sixth and final studio album of Twisted Sister, the band most-famous for “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I like their rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which starts out sweet—in a tongue-in-cheek way—before evolving into something of the classic hard rock spirit. It’ll add intensity to any holiday dinner, if that’s what you’re going for.
Natty Christmas (1978), Jacob Miller and Ray I
Jacob Miller and Ray I were beloved in the ’70s Jamaican music scene. This album is the epitome of reggae sound, featuring original tracks like “Ahameric Temple” and classic carols reimagined with off-kilter beats and plenty of weed references.
Kaskade Christmas (2017), Kaskade
Perfect for those missing the club scene while home for the holidays. This album has a bit of a cult following, particularly present on Reddit. “So good when family want Christmas music but you hate it,” wrote one EDM devotee.
Songs for Christmas (2006), Sufjan Stevens
If the holidays make you feel soft and ephemeral, try Sufjan Stevens’s Songs for Christmas. Granted, he’s fairly mainstream, especially since he did the soundtrack for Call Me by Your Name—but I’ll allow it, since it was released back in 2006, and I think he put his heart into it. The physical version of this record included five CDs, 42 tracks in total, for hours of deep reflection and reminiscing.
Christmas Songs (2013), Bad Religion
For atheists who like Christmas. Bad Religion’s take on holiday music is certainly satirical, but not too snarky, so you can perhaps still enjoy it around your devout aunt. “A good song is a good song, regardless of its meaning,” lead vocalist Greg Graffin explained. “The metaphors and stories in the Bible are some of the best stories that have been constructed by mankind. Even though we don’t have to celebrate them as a religious ceremony, they make for pretty darn good subject matter in terms of songs.”