Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is firmly back in the Billboard Hot 100, and we can at last turn our attention to the Christmas season—and all the merry entertaining that’s sure to come with it. Parties of all sorts are sure to dot your calendar, and we’ll even venture to say that you’ll probably be hosting a shindig of your own. Whether it’s a swanky dinner, a round of gift-giving, or the office holiday party, you’ll need a soundtrack to accompany all the carousing. And with every new holiday season comes a new crop of holiday music albums. This year, six musicians—from John Legend to Jessie J to Gwen Stefani—have given us their take on The Celebrity Christmas Album, singing their way through classics, cult hits, and (ugh) their own original holiday singles. There’s definitely something for everyone in this year’s offerings, and we’re here to break down the perfect occasions at which to add (or not) these festive song collections to your own very-merry playlists.
John Legend, A Legendary Christmas
The sound: Legend’s vocals are just as velvety as any of the standard Christmas crooners—Sinatra, Martin, Cole—but there’s a fair amount of funk in his arrangements that gives A Legendary Christmas a retro R&B feel.
Play it at: Your open house. Legend’s throwback sounds almost feel modern, and his cool-cat carols are perfect for a night of casual drop-ins from family and friends. Plus, who doesn’t want to get hip to the guy who just played The Reason for the Season, Jesus Christ, on TV?
Best take on a classic: “Silver Bells.” If Soul Train had a Christmas special, this would have kicked it off.
Keep in the holiday rotation? Absolutely. His last name isn’t Legend for nothing.
Jessie J, This Christmas Day
The sound: Jessie J has a big voice, so she opted for, what else, a big band. While she’s running and riffing all over tracks, she enlisted all the brass instruments she could find to try and keep up. The result is a fun, sassy collection that finds Jessie J’s vocals right where they need to be.
Play it at: A formal dinner party. This album just begs for bow ties and sparkly dresses. What’s more, Jessie J kicks off with lively versions of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” “Man with the Bag,” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” that will keep guests peppy and chatty through cocktail hour. By the time dinner is served, more mellow tracks promise a lively meal during which you can still converse.
What’s missing: Jessie giving Mariah a run for her money, which, if Jessie’s recent IG post is any indication, would have been a sight (song?) to behold.
Keep in the holiday rotation? Jessie J doesn’t stray too far in her interpretations of holiday favorites, so she’ll fit right in with previous big belters (Whitney, Mariah, Celine) who have Christmas albums in their oeuvre.
Eric Clapton, *Happy Xmas*
The sound: A blues/rock, guitar-heavy holiday jam session.
Play it at: The office Christmas party. It is very hard to combat just how uncool an office Christmas party can be. So why risk compounding that with saccharine songs that are the equivalent of bad Christmas sweaters? It sounds like Clapton recorded this album late one night at the House of Blues, and that’s a good thing. Play it at any gathering where awkward interaction is risk-level-high and it’ll add a comfortable, casual vibe even while Carl from accounting is talking about his LARP-ing.
Best take on a classic: “Jingle Bells,” which Clapton inflects with a slight reggae vibe.
Keep in the holiday rotation? In moderation. It doesn’t exactly set the mood while, say, opening presents with the family, but it’s good for breaking up the monotony of songs that all sound the same.
Gwen Stefani, You Make It Feel Like Christmas
The sound: Stefani reverts to her No Doubt pop-ska days with a vibrant, spirited medley of tracks.
Play it at: The White Elephant gift exchange. If your Dirty Santa swap is anything like my family’s (of, like, 20), then you know this round of stealing and dealing can get intense. Stefani’s album (actually a rereleased deluxe version of her 2017 Christmas record) keeps things so light and airy—thanks to a mix of upbeat rockabilly jams—that when your brother steals your Google Chromecast and gives you the pack of pens he just opened, you won’t try to stab him with them!
Really? Yes! It’s impossible not to smile while Stefani sings “Feliz Navidad.”
Keep in the holiday rotation? For my brother’s sake, please!
Ingrid Michaelson, Songs for the Season
The sound: The cover album is a pretty good indicator of what you’re getting here: that classic, nostalgic feel from the sounds of the ’40s and ’50s.
Play it at: Your parents’ Christmas party. The throwback vibe, thanks to a 35-piece symphony, will transport baby boomers back to their childhood days and fill the younger generation with a whole lotta warm fuzzies.
One exception: “Happy, Happy Christmas.” While a lovely song, it’s a real heart-tugger, as it was written after Michaelson lost her mother during Christmas 2014. Play with caution.
Keep in the holiday rotation? Happily, yes. We could all use a little bit of good-feeling tunage in admittedly dark times.
William Shatner, Shatner Claus: The Christmas Album
The sound: Depending on the guest singer on a respective track—everyone from Henry Rollins to Judy Collins to Brad Paisley—this album, which sees Shatner mostly just talking through songs while his duet partner does the heavy lifting, has wild swings from jazz to bossa nova to country.
Play it at: The Ugly Christmas Sweater party. The sheer visual cacophony of what everyone will be wearing is the only thing that will offset just how truly bizarre it is to hear Shatner Claus (really?) speak-sing over Iggy Pop warbling through “Silent Night.” Best take on a classic: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It only works because the song is basically a story, and Shatner really narrates the tale with gusto.
Keep in the holiday rotation? Every other year or so, perhaps, just for a laugh.