A Christmas Gift for You by Jared Free

Whenever the holiday season comes around, I find myself—like many others—revisiting the music that created the quintessential holiday mood as a child. Now that I’m older, however, I’m no longer bound to the musical choices that my mother and father made for me, and I’ve become recently enamored with what many consider to be the quintessential Christmas album— “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.”

The title is somehow understatedly audacious—Spector is simply giving a gift, but his ability to meld Christmas festivity seamlessly with his aggressive, ever innovative and ever growing famed wall of sound approach to musical production is what makes this album perfect. However, by emphasizing Spector’s visionary work, I don’t mean to underplay the contributions of the vocalists. Spector always had an eye for talent, and “A Christmas Gift for You” affords the perfect occasion to see just how talented his vocalists were (are), as they consistently reinvent the wheel on seasonal classics like White Christmas, Sleigh Ride, Frosty the Snowman and Marshmallow World. And of course, the sole original piece on the album, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is a shining showcase for Darlene Love’s ever impeccable voice—full of longing, hope, and romance.

Being in South Korea this season has also opened me up to a plethora of new Christmas songs, as the major pop acts gear up for the season by releasing mini-albums (or EPs) of original Christmas music. Last year, k-pop mega-group EXO released the solid and confident “Sing For You” an album that skips back and forth between Star Wars promotional music (I’m not kidding), lonely acoustic ballads, and uptempo pop songs. For me, the EP shows its strengths best on tracks in the latter style, and Unfair and Girl X Friend are great examples of EXO doing what they do best, making their fans helplessly fall for them. The raps are cheesy, but loveable, the hooks are insistent and ear-wormy, and the vocal performance is impeccable as always.

Last year also saw several other major Christmas music projects from EXO’s company—SM Entertainment—the most notable of which were two singles from their one of their experimental girl groups, Red Velvet. Red Velvet traded in their typical sonic audacity for an understand lyrical ballad, Wish Tree. The song is sweet, and nice enough, but what makes it truly notable is the fan made video. SM held a contest for fans to make videos to their Christmas singles project, and the winning entry was for Wish Tree. It depicts two female friends, spending Christmas day together—eating candy, ice skating, and taking in the Seoul sights. The heartbreak comes at the end, however, when one friend asks the other what her Christmas wish is. The answer is to spend next Christmas with a boyfriend. The questioner is dejected, and says her wish is to spend Christmas without her friend. The friend laughs it off, but the first girl’s expression reveals the reality of her emotion. For a music video with queer undertones to get so much traction in conservative South Korea is a feat in and of itself, and that the music video is of such high quality in dealing with queer topics is another success.

For me, the holiday season is created through music—singing carols in choir and in church, and dancing in the kitchen while baking cookies are what I most associate with Christmas time. I feel thankful to be able to live in a time when holiday songs new and old are available to bring the festivities.

Jared Free is a student at NYU, where he studies acting and cinema studies.

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