Why bother with new music this time of year when the classics of yore (and recent-yore) are right there? Surely some people have released new music two weeks out before the end of this year, but there’s time to listen to that later. Here are some bangers that go perfectly with the Yule log and a hot toddy, from our black hearts to yours.
Well, yes, because I do, too: Gayla Peevey, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” - Of the two old-timey Christmas songs that haunt my dreams, Gayla Peevey’s peevish request for a hippopotamus dressed in a too-tight cardigan is the one that always wins out. (The other, Lou Monte’s “Dominick the Donkey” scores all of my persistent anxiety attacks, and so does not qualify.) The tune shares the same jaunty quality as Monte’s Italian-American Christmas classic, which brings to mind a child marching down the stairs of their home, high-stepping and screaming this tune at the top of their lungs at about 6:45 A.M. on Christmas morning—a beautiful vision, and one that Peevey elucidates in the song. Coincidence! Really, though, that the vision of a hippopotamus with a bow on its head sitting under a Christmas tree is so wonderful to me that this song makes me smile. One minor quibble—the narrator’s mother says that hippos are vegetarian, and I think we all know that they are not. Aside from that, this song still slaps. Give me a hippo, you old troll, and leave me alone! —Megan Reynolds
Merry Yesmas: Toni Braxton, “The Christmas Song” - Basically nobody should be remaking the Nat King Cole classic “The Christmas Song” (especially not Xtina!). But remaking Christmas songs is what people do and for my money, covers of this song don’t get better than Toni Braxton’s smoky jazz-club riff on “The Christmas Song.” This first appeared on the 1993 compilation A LaFace Family Christmas (which had the distinction of spotlighting an early Usher recording of “This Christmas” as well as the first-ever OutKast release, “Player’s Ball”), which means that Braxton recorded this at the beginning of her career. Her voice is sumptuous, her control is superhuman, the arrangement is classy, the emotion is palpable. I never got why this didn’t become more of a radio staple, but it’s a hit all over again every year on my playlist. —Rich Juzwiak
WHEWWW, yup: Ariana Grande, “December” - There’s the sexy slink of “Santa Baby,” and then there’s Ariana Grande’s Christmas + Chill, which lives on a whole other planet of sex appeal. Though it was released in 2015, “December” sounds as modern as ever—almost as if someone remixed the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” handed Ari her bunny ears, and said, “Do your thing, honey.” Best line of the whole song? “Merry Christmas, here I am boy/I’m a present and you know it, here I am boy.” God love that little siren. Thanks for making Santa sexy again. —Emily Leibert
Nope: Justin Bieber, “Mistletoe” - Despite screaming bloody murder at a Justin Bieber concert in 2016, I am recommending you skip this little ditty, in which a pre-Mr. Hailey Baldwin says he wants to be under the mistletoe “shawty, with you.” It’s a little Jason Mraz and in the video, he’s clean-cut and looking like a Disney heartthrob with a bowl cut, pre-tats. Well, maybe you can listen to this under one condition: only play this in the presence of middle schoolers. Otherwise, find something better, you’ve got taste, I know it. —EL
She knew for sure: Pentatonix, “Mary Did You Know?” - Whilst this song is more Christian than it is Christmas, it still slaps harder than the donkey that delivered baby Jesus in the manger. PTX delivers my favorite rendition of this classic because, as ever, they have the tightest harmonies that merge together to give us modern-day Gregorian chanting vibes and that is absolutely my thing. - Shannon Melero