The best and worst Christmas songs of 2020, from Ball and Boe to Bieber and Mary J. Blige

Jochan Embley
·6-min read
 (ES Composite)
(ES Composite)

It’s not even December, but it’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas.

Noddy, Mariah and Bing Crosby are all here as per usual, but this year there are plenty of newbies too getting into the yuletide swing. Here, we’ve rounded up the fresh festive releases to blare out while you rock around the Christmas tree.

There are certifiable Christmas crackers and plenty of turkeys, while some songs are just downright peculiar — it is 2020, after all.

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe — Together At Home

<p>Ball and Boe are back together</p>Handout

Ball and Boe are back together

Handout

Ball and Boe. They go together like brussels and sprouts, these two. But much like the little green veggies, this album of classic festive covers will divide opinion. Their voices are so delicious and meaty that you might as well pour them over your dinner instead of the gravy, but my word is there a lot of schmaltz.

Verdict: Turkey

Dolly Parton — A Holly Dolly Christmas

Not content with donating $1m towards a vaccine to save humanity, Dolly Parton is here to save Christmas as well, with her first festive album in three decades. And we’re so glad she did — it’s a rootin’, tootin’ delight, with 43 minutes of yuletide goodness and a feature from Mr Xmas himself, Michael Bublé.

Verdict: Cracker

Beverly Knight — A Christmas Wish

<p>Bring on the sleigh bells</p>Handout

Bring on the sleigh bells

Handout

This one is just insanely Christmassy. It couldn’t be any more Christmassy if it put on a silly Santa hat, drank a bit too much at lunch and fell asleep on the sofa just before the Queen’s speech. It’s about as cliched as it comes (there are literal sleigh bells) but quite frankly, we’re fine with that.

Verdict: Cracker

Meghan Trainor — A Very Trainor Christmas

<p>Trainor’s effort is a success</p>Handout

Trainor’s effort is a success

Handout

Last Christmas is one of those sacred songs — if you’re going to cover it, it better be spectacular. Sadly, Meghan Trainor’s version here is pretty lacklustre, but it’s saved by the rest of the album, which is a pretty fun, poppy success. The song Holidays, featuring Earth, Wind and Fire, has a groove tastier than a plate of pigs in blankets.

Verdict: Cracker

Jamie Cullum — The Pianoman at Christmas

Going for a classy, sophisticated Christmas? Nothing will complement your organic recycled wrapping paper and artisan tinsel better than this smoother-than-brandy-butter album from J. Cullum Esq. Jazzy piano twinkles, restrained strings, and that timeless voice of his — we’re all for it. Crack open the Fortnum’s hamper!

Verdict: Cracker

Liam Payne — Naughty List

We’re well aware that it’s the season of goodwill and all that, but sweet baby Jesus, we feel like Scrooge on speed listening to this song. That reggae-lite instrumentation? And those lyrics about plans to “misbehave with kisses like snowflakes all over your body”? No thank you. A very big bah humbug to this one.

Verdict: Turkey

Carly Rae Jepsen — It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries

<p>A relatable Christmas banger from CRJ</p>

A relatable Christmas banger from CRJ

This is a slice of very relatable Christmas realness from Carly Rae Jepsen. “My boyfriend is a vegan, so they fed him fish/My uncle made it worse by talking politics,” she sings, as a nation of listeners nods along knowingly. The song itself is an absolute banger, so whack it on when the inevitable tears start rolling and see what happens.

Verdict: Cracker

Shaggy — Christmas in the Islands

<p>Shaggy serves up some festive reggae covers</p>Handout

Shaggy serves up some festive reggae covers

Handout

Can’t imagine what a reggae cover of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas would sound like? Well, Shaggy’s only gone and done it. Spoiler alert: it is absolutely superb. Festive escapism doesn’t get any better than this album, so if you’re dreaming of a warm Christmas somewhere away from these chilly isles, this is for you.

Verdict: Cracker

Justin Bieber — Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Ah, Biebz. Why do we get the feeling that your heart just isn’t quite in this one? It’s a cover released as part of a series of festive tracks commissioned by Amazon, and while the project has produced some real gems (more on that later) we can’t get behind Justin’s effort, which is about as vibrant as a Norway spruce in late January.

Verdict: Turkey

Blossoms — Christmas Eve (Soul Purpose)/It’s Going To Be A Cold Winter

These two songs are good. As in, actually good, not just good in the context of other Christmas songs. It’s something to get a resolutely anti-Slade family member into the swing of things, and for that, we have Blossoms to thank. Fun tidbit: the Stockport indie darlings actually wrote one of these tracks back in July on the hottest day of the year.

Verdict: Cracker

Chris Kamara — ...And a Happy New Year

<p>Kammy’s back with a new festive album</p>

Kammy’s back with a new festive album

What’s the only thing better than one Chris Kamara Christmas album? Two Chris Kamara Christmas albums, of course! The footballer-turned-pundit-turned-crooner released his first festive album last year and, lo and behold, he’s releasing another one in 2020 too. He’s got a lovely voice and he’s actually born on December 25, so it’d be rude not to. God bless you, Kammy.

Verdict: Cracker

Mary J. Blige — Last Christmas

Remember what we said earlier about Last Christmas covers? This is how it’s done. It’s another one of the Amazon tracks, and it transforms Wham!’s sensitive synth-pop into a deep-grinding R&B jam. Definitely one for when we’ve all had a few too many mulled wines and reckon we’re actually quite good at dancing.

Verdict: Cracker

Julien Baker — A Dreamer’s Holiday

This is one of the most un-Christmassy songs on our list, so if you can’t be dealing with the festive tropes, let US singer-songwriter Julien Baker provide the soundtrack. It’s a cover of the song popularised by Perry Como and Buddy Clark, and it’s actually very beautifully done. Something to listen to long after the decorations have come down.

Verdict: Cracker

Michael Bolton and Matoma — It’s Christmas Time

We do actually have quite a soft spot for Michael Bolton, but we’re not fully on board with this track. Recorded in collaboration with Norwegian DJ and producer Matoma, it does seem like it’s trying just a bit too hard to be all festive and uplifting. We’ll stick to his 1989 soft-rock opus Soul Provider, thank you very much.

Verdict: Turkey

Robbie Williams — Can’t Stop Christmas

Thought Christmas music would be Covid-free this year? Think again! While we initially recoiled in horror at the prospect of a singalong about how bloody dreadful the year’s been, there is a sort of surreal, morbid intrigue that arises when Robbie Williams sings the lyrics “Santa’s on his sleigh but now he’s two metres away”. It’s very 2020. Let’s leave it at that.

Verdict: Turkey