Best new holiday songs for 2020: Jenn Grant, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lil Nas X, more
Featuring covers and originals by more than 20 artists including Dolly Parton and Michael Bublé
CBC Music knows that when it comes to holiday music, most fall into one of two Grinch camps: Before Cindy Lou Hoo or After Cindy Lou Hoo.
While it has mostly been a Grinch of a year, 2020 got one thing right: it's a fantastic time for new, festive songs. There are new instant classics from Jenn Grant ("Downtown Christmas Eve"), Arkells ("Pub Crawl") and Tegan and Sara ("Make you Mine This Season"). For pop misanthropes, there's Carly Rae Jepsen's "It's not Christmas 'til Somebody Cries." Stage and screen lovers can bask in the grandeur of Leslie Odom Jr. and Cynthia Erivo's majestic "Winter Song." Lil Nas X returns with naughty banger "Holiday," while Dolly Parton and Michael Bublé breeze through a flirty new ditty, "Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas."
That's just a taste of the 22 new songs you'll find below. We hope this list helps your heart grow three sizes, too.
Song: "Downtown Christmas Eve"
Artist: Jenn Grant
This sparkling original from Jenn Grant's upcoming holiday album, Forever on Christmas Eve (out Nov. 27), situates itself beautifully, haunting the space between timeless love song and kicky, vintage heartbreaker.
Song: "It's not Christmas 'til Somebody Cries"
Artist: Carly Rae Jepsen
Deeply relatable Christmas content from pop master CRJ:
My boyfriend is a vegan, so they fed him fish
My uncle made it worse by talking politics
I had a few opinions might have started a fight
Well, it's not Christmas 'til somebody cries.
Song: "Make you Mine This Season"
Artist: Tegan and Sara
Shimmering synth-pop that sparkles harder than a thousand tinsel-trimmed trees, "Make you Mine This Season" is a three-minute dance party in a raucous snow globe celebrating ecstatic, joyful, queer love.
Song: "Cuddle up, Cozy Down Christmas"
Artist: Dolly Parton feat. Michael Bublé
Living legend Dolly Parton offers up a brilliant and contemporary instant classic that demonstrates just how sexy enthusiastic consent can be. Canada's own king of croon joins in the fun, and together the two deliver up a sweet and swingin' good time.
Song: "Winter Song"
Artist: Leslie Odom Jr. feat. Cynthia Erivo
This chilly romantic stunner opens with percussion like a pounding heartbeat against sombre piano chords, and heats up whenever Leslie Odom Jr. and Cynthia Erivo's voices layer and intertwine, breaking each other's hearts and ours with every call and answer.
Song: "Let it Snow"
Artist: Terri Clark feat. Dierks Bentley
The upbeat fiddle, guitar and piano-focused arrangement will have everyone two-stepping up a storm, and Terri Clark and Dierks Bentley's voices blend beautifully.
Song: "You and I at Christmas Time"
Artist: The Bird and the Bee
An irresistibly dreamy, '70s-style R&B/pop fusion that will have single folks reaching for their phones to text their exes, and everybody else cozying up together in front of the fire.
Song: "Under the Mistletoe"
Artist: Kelly Clarkson and Brett Eldredge
Kelly Clarkson is gunning for new Christmas standard status with this relentlessly fun, brass-flourished Yuletide anthem, which works fine as a duet with Brett Eldredge, though it's just as easy to imagine as a solo vehicle for Clarkson's considerable charms.
Song: "I Need You Christmas"
Artist: Jonas Brothers
An orchestral-pop Christmas ballad that takes as many cues from Bing Crosby as it does from Michael Bublé and John Legend. Dreamy, nostalgic, and wistful — a Christmas song triple threat from one of the all-time boy band sibling triple threats.
Artist: Carrie Underwood and John Legend
Thankfully this is not a Leonard Cohen cover, but a wholly and holy different "Hallelujah." Carrie Underwood's powerful voice rings true, but she and her producers wisely make John Legend's commanding pipes the star of this show.
Song: "Frosty the Snowman"
Artist: Brett Kissel
The country singer-songwriter's cover of this kids Christmas classic is a rollicking good time and the fiddle-forward backing band is so vivid and joyful, it's like being inside the 1969 animated special without turning on the TV.
Song: "Christmas Must be Tonight"
Artist: Luke McMaster
Luke McMaster's high-octane cover could be Santa's hype song. Gloriously soulful and celebratory, this puts the shimmy in the sacred in the best way possible.
Artist: Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X rode into our hearts on "Old Town Road," and this electro-country hip-hop bop is like a subversive dirge for the clubs. Robotic and repetitive, but also wildly compelling, risqué and fun, "Holiday" rewards repeated listening.
Editor's note: strong language.
Song: "The Banister Bough"
Artist: Chilly Gonzales feat. Feist
Chilly Gonzales' A Very Chilly Christmas is gorgeous, and it's no surprise that the standout track is the album's sole original featuring a beautiful performance from Feist. These two make a lot of magic together, and that's what they've poured into "The Banister Bough," a twinkling environmental anthem for the holidays that's as delicate as it is devastating.
Artist: Art of Time Ensemble feat. Jessica Mitchell
Jessica Mitchell's stunning cover of Joni Mitchell's classic comes courtesy of Art of Time Ensemble's newest release, Ain't Got Long: an Album of Popular Song Arrangements by Jonathan Goldsmith. This version digs into the disquiet of Mitchell's composition, casting longer shadows to create something more akin to noir, a more dangerous and intense longing than the wistful regret of Mitchell's youthful performance.
Song: "Pub Crawl"
Most of us can't leave our houses, but when we eventually do, Arkells have the home-for-the-holidays anthem to carry us from bar to bar with our best childhood frenemies and former teenage crushes. "Pub Crawl" could be the great rock 'n' roll sing-along of a post-COVID generation. Fingers crossed.
Song: "It Can't be Christmas Without you Here"
Artist: Hayley Sales
Crying is cathartic, even at Christmas, right? Get ready then, because this heartbreaker from Hayley Sales dances us through the shattering loneliness of a Christmas without the one you love.
Song: "The Christmas Song"
Artist: Shirley Collins
Legendary English folk singer Shirley Collins' interpretation of this Copper Family folk classic is as hearty as it is comforting, a warm fire and a spiked hot tea on a cold, crisp afternoon.
Song: "Song for a Winter's Night"
Artist: Glass Tiger feat. Natalie MacMaster
Gordon Lightfoot's classic gets a loving cover from Glass Tiger with a traditional twist from Natalie MacMaster and her trusty fiddle. It's an unexpected treatment, which not only makes the cover that much more fun, but it also makes it one of the standout tracks from the band's new Christmas record, the aptly titled Songs for a Winter's Night.
Song: "Hard Candy Christmas"
Ralph provides a decades-spanning framework for her dreamy, gleaming take on Dolly Parton's country-pop classic. Fifties-style orchestral pop meets '70s-era light R&B with contemporary synth flourishes; this is a cover that demands to be listened to on repeat so as to catch every reference point in Ralph's 21st-century reimagining.
Song: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
Artist: The Offspring
The Offspring love Darlene Love's brilliant song, and honestly, who doesn't? The punk band stays true to its Christmas Queen's vision, and it's a winner.
Song: "Thank God it's Christmas"
Artist: Max Parker
If there was any time to cover Queen's yuletide gem, 2020 is it. Thanks, Max Parker.
Oh my love
We've had our share of tears
Oh my friends
We've had our hopes and fears
Oh my friends
It's been a long hard year
But now it's Christmas
Yes, it's Christmas
Thank God it's Christmas
Song: "Auld Lang Syne"
Artist: Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird's cover is a warm, folksy bit of bluegrass that takes some of the steely sorrow off the original. His deliberate emphasis on the song's "cup of kindness" is a vibe that would be great to carry into 2021.
Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner