Kelly Clarkson has had a whirlwind few years. In 2017, she released her eighth studio album Meaning of Life, and began her stint as a coach on NBC’s The Voice, where she has remained for seven seasons (14-21). In 2019, she embarked on a successful new venture: hosting her own talkshow on NBC. The Emmy-winning Kelly Clarkson Show has become a huge success, and rightfully so. Kelly’s natural gift for gab and her “Kellyoke” segment to open each show are a breath of fresh air. In 2020, she sadly filed for divorce from her husband of seven years. Still, Clarkson perseveres, proving she can wear many hats: Inaugural American Idol, Iconic Pop Star, The Voice Winning Coach, Emmy Winning Talk Show Host, Mother… shall I go on? Okay, one more: Princess of Christmas. Yes, Princess, because we all know who’s the reigning Queen of Christmas. Still, When Christmas Comes Around… Kelly Clarkson better be on your playlist.
This year, Kelly reasserts her place in the Christmas canon with the release of When Christmas Comes Around…, her second Christmas album. The follow up to 2013’s classic-in-waiting Wrapped In Red, the new set is perhaps Red’s antithesis. In 2013, Clarkson was a newlywed and even dedicated one of the album’s songs to her new groom. This year, her tone has changed: “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You),” she sings to her ex on its lead single. When Christmas Comes Around… is certainly a Christmas album, and it for sure has its festive, cheerful moments. However, it’s also Kelly’s first post-divorce album, and it shows on several of the album’s original compositions.
There’s the aforementioned lead single, “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)” which is one of those uber-up-beat sort of Christmas songs moulded in the image of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Clarkson is no stranger to this type of track; she has quite a few, but this one sits at the bottom of the pile, frankly. Melodically, it’s catchy; musically, it’s fun. Lyrically, though, it just doesn’t match. She would’ve been better off saving her break-up angst for her next proper album. Well, at least when it comes to this track.
Her pair of “Merry Christmas” songs, however, are both much better Christmas takes on heartbreak. “I’ll let my absence show you/ What I got you for Christmas/ Is losing me/ Merry Christmas, baby,” she sings, stingingly. An effortless drag, and it works splendidly. Sure, the song ain’t filled with Christmas cheer, but, hey, it’s real, and many of the lyrics are clever as can be.
Meanwhile, on “Merry Christmas (To the One I Used to Know)” is utterly heartbreaking. It sort of sounds like something that could’ve been sung by Idina Menzel’s Elsa in Frozen; not lyrically, but in every other way. I had to check the writing credits for the Lopez pair, but in fact the song was penned by Clarkson, her musical director Jason Halbert, and songwriter Aben Eubanks. Adele might be famed for her ability to send listeners scrambling for tissues and wine, but Kelly Clarkson is no stranger to such power, and this track is more than proof enough.
The album is not entirely a cause for seasonal depression awareness though. Clarkson covers standards such as “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “Santa Baby,” “Jingle Bell Rock” (ended The Plastics, to be honest) and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (Brenda Lee has reason to be shook) all with ease to be expected from the original American Idol winner and Queen of Kellyoke. The best among the covers, though, is Kelly’s reworking of the George Michael classic “Last Christmas.” She slows the song down, giving it a gorgeous new spin.
Another standout is one of the album’s duets: “Glow,” featuring Chris Stapleton. The two sound so good together, and the song is another clever one, lyrically. It’s a love song and not overtly festive, but still just enough to evoke those lovey-dovey Christmas feels. On the other hand, “Santa, Can’t You Hear Me,” Clarkson’s duet with fellow Voice coach Ariana Grade, falls flat. Vocally, there’s just a little too much going on, and in every other area… the song is just sort of lacking, and a bit trite. I deleted it from my library.
Closing out the new album proper are “Blessed” and “Christmas Come Early.” The former is a gorgeous ballad of gratitude that is reminiscent of something Lin-Manuel Miranda might’ve written (but it’s not). The latter is another one to put you in your feels, touching and heart-warming. Understandably, Kelly begs, “Christmas Come Early” – she’s had quite the year, and probably in need of some good cheer.
Fortunately, the album doesn’t end there — Ms. Clarkson included the three one-off Christmas singles she released over the last few years, which includes two more originals, “Under the Mistletoe” and “Christmas Eve,” as well as a cover of the other “All I Want For Christmas is You.” Of the three, the standout by far is “Christmas Eve,” which is just… immaculate. Honestly, it should become another modern classic; the song is just perfection. It has everything one expects from a Christmas classic, the one thing lacking is time. As the years go by, I can definitely see this sitting among the most beloved Christmas songs.
In short, Kelly Clarkson’s second Christmas album is a welcomed addition both to her catalog, and to the Christmas music canon. With plenty of originals and a handful of covers, Clarkson ensures her place as a holiday hitmaker. She’s set herself up perfectly to become one of the season’s most prominent figures. Only time will tell, When Christmas Comes Around…