With the holidays upon us and Christmas just around the corner, the sights, sounds, scents, and tastes that we will be experiencing can be expected to be just as festive. Nothing says Christmastime like children laughing and people passing, meeting smile after smile — or so a famous carol goes!
But if there’s any song that defines this time of year, then it’s got to be Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you’ve probably heard this song more than once. This bop gets played everywhere, from shopping malls to elevators and even during office Christmas party karaoke sessions.
Excuse the blasphemy, but as great as it is to stick with tradition, even the most beloved holiday tune can get a little old. If you’re looking for a little something to spice up your Christmas playlist, then maybe it’s high time to give Mariah Carey a little break for this year’s celebrations.
Although many have been eclipsed by her song’s iconic status, the fact is that there are dozens of underrated holiday albums that are waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. Some are from up-and-coming new artists, while others are nostalgic throwbacks to past classics. So without further fanfare, here are 12 underrated albums you should be playing this Christmas other than Ms. Carey’s “Merry Christmas.”
1. Christina Aguilera, “My Kind of Christmas”
While Mariah Carey is undoubtedly everybody’s undisputed queen of Christmas, another songstress released a great selection of tracks for the holidays back in 2000. That year, Christina Aguilera released an entire holiday LP that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves.
In it, she offers us a fantastic rendition of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire) with her signature and legendary vocal runs. Another track worthy of attention is These Are Special Times, a 2000s R&B/pop hit with a festive twist.
One could say that this LP was ahead of its time, but it is truly a gift from Ms. Aguilera and a perfect auditory gift I think we should all receive this wonderful season.
2. Norah Jones, “I Dream Of Christmas”
Who could forget Norah Jones’ warm, soothing vocals? She’s severely understated both as a singer and as a pianist, and her new album “I Dream of Christmas” is just waiting to be discovered.
Like many Christmas albums released by artists, this album is a combination of traditional carols with original tunes. You’ll find tracks like Blue Christmas, Christmas Time is Here, and Run Run Rudolph, which is borrowed from Chuck Berry and has a little rumba twist on it. Her own new songs also shine, particularly It’s Only Christmas Once a Year and You’re Not Alone, because they speak to everybody who has felt lonely and isolated during this pandemic.
While Norah may not come close to Mariah Carey’s whistle register, she certainly carries her own appeal on this Christmas album.
3. Kacey Musgraves, “A Very Kacey Christmas”
Even if you don’t work in retail during the holidays, you’ve probably experienced the pain of having to listen to Christmas music on repeat. This makes finding artists like Kacey Musgraves a true treasure.
Her album “A Very Kacey Christmas” is a mix of classic covers and original tracks, but it is in the originals where Kacey’s artistry really shines. Present Without a Bow was done in collaboration with Leon Bridges. This, along with her other tracks like Christmas Makes Me Cry might just have you listening to the album even after you’ve packed up the Christmas ornaments for next year.
Overall, the album possesses the quintessential qualities of being just campy and nostalgic enough to make it a classic in the years to come.
4. Ariana Grande, “Christmas Kisses”
Of all the artists on this list, perhaps none will be compared to Mariah Carey more than Ariana Grande. Critically acclaimed in her own right, it was only a matter of time before she released a Christmas album of her own. And so, she released an EP in 2013 called “Christmas Kisses,” consisting of two covers and two original songs that are heartwarming listens during this chilly period.
While it isn’t part of the 2013 EP, it is worth mentioning that the Christmas single released the following year entitled Santa Tell Me has also become wildly popular. Though it might not have reached the iconic status of Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, it’s certainly on its way to becoming a classic for this generation of listeners.
5. The Carpenters, “Christmas Portrait”
An oldie but a goodie, The Carpenters’ “Christmas Portrait” never fails to really make it feel like the Christmas season is truly here. Full of nostalgia, the album follows a narrative structure, starting with an acapella rendition of O Come, O Come Immanuel and ending with Ave Maria.
Arguably one of the best tracks on the album was penned by Richard Carpenter himself, called Merry Christmas Darling. As a whole, the album evokes the rosy glow of comfort typically associated with the holiday season. You get a rather traditional sound with horns, strings, bells, and backup singers that sound positively heavenly.
If you’re looking for a classic this Christmas while you put Mariah Carey’s album to rest, then this is the one to listen to.
6. Kelly Clarkson, “Wrapped in Red”
Another pop diva, Kelly Clarkson has proven that she can carry almost any tune — even Christmas ones. Her take on traditional holiday songs plus some newer festive tracks allow her to carry the music through her album, “Wrapped in Red.”
She puts just the right amount of soul into Blue Christmas, and her original tracks, such as Underneath the Tree and Wrapped in Red, are uplifting and catchy. She wasn’t the first American Idol winner for nothing; Ms. Clarkson knows exactly how to ring in the yuletide cheer.
7. Sia, “Everyday Is Christmas”
The secret to creating an effective and catchy festive jingle is to make them sound like they aren’t trying to be festive jingles in the first place. Sia might be considered an unconventional artist for traditional Christmas tunes, but the result is a quirky spin on what may otherwise sound like a tired holiday song formula.
Eccentric as her music might be, “Everyday is Christmas” is an album that finds balance in its uniqueness while still being recognized as traditional enough for the season. In it, you’ll find a selection of original songs with other festive tunes thrown in. Even the cutesy tracks like Snowflake are cleverly done, giving any listener a refreshing take on holiday tunes while Mariah Carey goes on a break.
8. James Brown, “James Brown’s Funky Christmas”
Known as The Godfather of Soul, James Brown released not just one but three Christmas albums during his career. A compilation of selected tracks from those three albums can be listened to on “James Brown’s Funky Christmas,” which invigorates the Christmas spirit with some soul power and a reinvention of rock and roll.
You can listen to R&B ballads like Please Come Home for Christmas, and even use hits like Go Power at Christmas Time for groove workouts. This album even includes songs that follow themes of social consciousness, with Santa Claus Goes to the Ghetto and Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas.
While the songs are from the 1960s and 1970s, they fit in nicely in today’s holiday scene for anybody wishing to celebrate Christmas with a fresh new spin.
9. Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, “A She & Him Christmas”
Zooey Deschanel isn’t just our resident manic pixie dream girl in movies; she can also croon to any tune, especially during the holiday season.
Together with M. Ward, Deschanel released “A She & Him Christmas” in 2011 to create some unfussy, elegant cheer. If you’re in the mood for simple holiday tunes with guitar, piano, ukulele, and vocals inspired by a melancholic-retro quality, then this is the album for you.
Listeners might particularly enjoy their crystal clear take on the Beach Boys’ Christmas Day. Like many Christmas albums, there’s also a rendition of Blue Christmas and I’ll Be Home for Christmas here. This peculiar mix of quirky magic may just surprise you this holiday season.
10. Whitney Houston, One Wish: The Holiday Album
“One Wish: The Holiday Album” is certainly a gift to us from pop diva Whitney Houston. Like Ariana Grande, Whitney was also often compared to Mariah Carey, not because of the similarities in the sounds of their voices, but due to their impressive vocal prowess.
True enough, this album features Houston’s soaring belts and expert vocal runs. Two songs of note are her renditions of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and The Christmas Song. These traditional songs have a beautifully embellished spin on them that only Whitney Houston can provide.
Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for another pop diva to listen to that isn’t Mariah or Ariana, the legendary Whitney is always an excellent choice with this album.
11. Hilary Duff, Santa Claus Lane
Hilary Duff may not be considered a diva, but she gives us a very charming take on Christmas songs that is truly unique to her artistry. “Santa Clause Lane” was released before her famous album “Metamorphosis,” so any word that she did a holiday album might’ve fallen under the radar.
However, it’s definitely worth a listen after all these years. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to find this on Duff’s discography on Spotify, but they are on YouTube. You can enjoy lyrics like, “I went for a walk as the snow came down / And when it stopped I was in a different town / And the sign said have no fear; you’re not lost you’re here!”
Bubbly, innocent, pure, and down to earth in true Hilary Duff fashion.
12. Britney Spears, My Only Wish (This Year)
Britney Spears is the undisputed princess of pop (and, more importantly, a free woman), and no Christmas season would be complete without her holiday classic, My Only Wish (This Year). Unfortunately, she didn’t release this track as part of a dedicated Christmas album, so I’m cheating a little with this one. Instead, it was part of a Jive Records Christmas compilation called “Platinum Christmas.”
If you loved her holiday single, then it’s also worth checking the album for Christmas songs from Christina Aguilera and N*SYNC. Britney’s song is often compared to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, and it’s easy to see why. They both follow an upbeat tempo and have earned their status as signature holiday hits from artists with massive pop appeal in the music industry.
We may not have been blessed with a full Christmas album from Britney, but we are lucky enough to have this timeless tune during the season.
P.S. If you’re looking for more music recommendations for the season — less festive, more sad and angry, which are also perfectly valid Yuletide emotions — then this list might be for you.