Though everyone knows that Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is the only recent pop Christmas song worthy of being include to the list of classic Christmas songs, every year, female pop stars try to create the new Great American Pop Christmas Song to spam Forever 21 with. This year, a few more tried and a few more failed.
Leona Lewis, Christmas, With Love
If Leona Lewis had been around when the soundtrack for Love Actually's was being put together, one of these songs would likely have bumped the many non-Christmas songs off that tracklist. Sadly, The X Factor didn't premiere until a year after Love Actually came out, which was a missed opportunity for this British pop star. But Simon Cowell to the rescue! He decided to help Lewis out by suggesting she do a Christmas album and yes, we can turn back time: the whole thing feels like it could have been released in the early oughts. Her new track "One More Sleep" is essentially a mashup of Cascada doing "Last Christmas" and "All I Want For Christmas Is You," while versions of "O Holy Night," "Ave Maria" and "Silent Night" are an obvious ploy to show off her pipes.
Clementines in the stocking: "White Christmas" and "Mr. Right" are serviceable, though the latter is incredibly depressing in plot ("Don't you know that I'm so lonely this Christmas?").
A lump of coal: "Winter Wonderland," featuring Lewis and a slew of backup singers basically screaming lyrics. "I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday" made me concerned about whether Lewis was getting enough oxygen into her lungs.
Rating: The drunk woman I saw sitting on the street in a pile of dog poop after her holiday party who would not accept help home
Ariana Grande, Christmas Kisses
On a continued mission to prove she is Mariah Carey reincarnated*, Ariana Grande had barely released her first album before she announced she'd be putting out a Christmas EP of four tracks, entitled Christmas Kisses. While Ariana has taken her sweet time releasing the full thing – WHAT ARE YOU DOING ARIANA, IT'S PAST THANKSGIVING – listening to it strikes one with a feeling similar to that which occurs when stepping into Dylan's Candy Store on the Upper East Side of New York on Christmas Eve: You could die from mere sugar inhalation. The worst offender is probably "Snow In California," a song about how Ariana wants it to snow in California, not because she doesn't understand how global warming works but because then she'll have "something to make him stay" (besides her cuddles, of course).
Clementines in the stocking: A blasphemously delightful "Last Christmas" that's part cover, part remix.
A lump of coal: The cover of "Santa Baby" performed with an artist named Elizabeth Gillies (who will soon probably be famous for sleeping with a member of One D but otherwise, no idea who she is); listening to Ariana and Elizabeth's dueling breathy whispers gives me the icks. And "Love Is Everything," a song that proclaims "All we need is love, love underneath the tree." If someone actually tries to give you a box of love this Christmas, feel free to respond the way you would if someone tried to give you sex coupons: with the jerk-off motion.
* For those obsessed with Ariana/Mariah, it'd be unfair not to point out that Ariana has also done a riff-for-riff cover of Mariah's "All I Want For Christmas Is You."
Rating: The tower of disgustingly sweet Christmas presents your high school-aged sister exchanged with her equally sickening boyfriend
Mary J Blige, A Mary Christmas
The Queen really pulled out all the stops on this album, if "stops" can be defined as "performances with Barbra Streisand, Jessie J and Marc Anthony." While Blige has smartly not tried to reinvent the wheel by trying to write a new Christmas hit, she's also weirdly included a cover of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. (The Sound of Music: So Hot Right Now.) She covers the lesser-known song "Mary Did You Know" (she has the same name as the Virgin Mary!), but bogs it down with more strings than Joni Mitchell has been forced to sing with in her advancing age. And while I am not a fan of "Little Drummer Boy" MAN Mary kills it with some Phil Collins-esque drums in there.
Clementines in the stocking: "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is a perfectly fine cover.
A lump of coal: "Do You Hear What I Hear?" featuring Jessie J includes the lyric "Let us bring him silver and gold" before the beat just DROPS. To recap: talk about Jesus, then drop the beat. Marc Anthony singing in Spanish on "Noche De Paz (Silent Night)" is about as boring as Marc Anthony singing anything.
* Side Note: When I was done listening to this album on Spotify, the next song to autoplay was the first track of off My Life II, "Intro," which consists of a phone conversation between Mary J Blige and P. Diddy. "Intro" off of My Life II: the first true Christmas song.
Rating: A bowl of slightly sticky candy canes
Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped in Red
As Kelly Clarkson managed to avoid adding the sound of sleigh bells to every single track on her album, she gets a few points more than some of her peers. She was also honest about how her inclusion on the Love Actually soundtrack inspired her to come out with a full-length holiday album of her own. We should all be that honest about how Love Actually has influenced our lives. While Wrapped in Red is all a little overproduced, I found myself weirdly rooting for Clarkson while listening to it. It's not her fault she couldn't avoid including three almost identically named songs, "Every Christmas," "Blue Christmas" and "White Christmas." But because I honestly love "Baby It's Cold Outside," it was upsetting to hear Clarkson (joined by country singer Ronnie Dunn) barrel through it with little to no nuance. And finally, like Mary J Blige before her, Clarkson decided to cover "My Favorite Things." Again: not a Christmas song.
Clementines in the stocking: "Run Run Rudolph" is a very aggressive Elvis-style romp that I would not suggest for opening presents. The duet of "Silent Night" with Reba McEntire was bizarrely tolerable.
A lump of coal: "4 Carats," a song about how all Clarkson wants is an engagement ring from Tiffany's for Christmas. Beautiful, beautiful capitalism. "Winter Dreams (Brandon's Song)" should be skipped mostly because I really dislike it when artists title songs "X's Song."
Rating: A constantly buffering Netflix stream of Fireplace for Your Home
Jewel, Let It Snow: A Holiday Collection
Jewel's got a pretty weird voice that pleases some people in non-Christmas contexts (me, some of the time. Judge away). But for Christmas songs her slightly twangy, slightly country renditions of mostly classics feels off: it's not truly country, but it's not sure what else it is. Her own additions to the Christmas music oeuvre include "It's Christmastime" (I should hope so; we're listening to this album) and the amazingly titled "Blue Crystal Glow." In the former song, she sings about snowflakes giving her kaleidoscope eyes (?), while in the latter, it sounds like she's harmonizing with herself and a flight of harps.
Clementines in the stocking: "Panis Angelicus" is some very pretty religious music! I thought I hated "Do You Hear What I Hear?" after hearing Mary J Blige and Jessie J cover it, but Jewel weirdly makes it sound like a dainty little lullaby. Which, come to think of it, is probably a sound quality leftover from her actual album of lullabies, or her Deluxe Christmas album of lullabies. Or her first Christmas album, Joy: A Holiday Collection.
A lump of coal: "Sleigh Ride" is so treacly it's like your Aunt made a treacle and shoved it into your ear. "White Christmas" includes a bizarrely placed electric guitar solo during the bridge by country musician Vince Gill. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" consists of some incredibly pitchy high notes and a little light singing in French.
Rating: A glass of room-temperature eggnog Santa didn't finish