The Playlist: Taylor Swift’s Nostalgic Tune, and 12 More Holiday Songs

Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos. Just want the music? Listen to the Playlist on Spotify here (or find our profile: nytimes). Like what you hear? Let us know at and sign up for our Louder newsletter, a once-a-week blast of our pop music coverage.

“Christmas Tree Farm” celebrates childhood memories — Taylor Swift grew up on a farm — from an adult’s distance. In the intro, she croons about grown-up stress over 1950s-style strings. But then a modernized wall of sound whisks her into happier thoughts — and also into Mariah Carey’s (and Phil Spector’s) seasonal territory. Behind the sleigh bells and chimes, it turns out Swift is only wishing she could be back on the farm, but a euphoric final refrain — “Baby, baby, Merry Christmas!” — sweeps any misgivings away. PARELES

Macklemore takes the conceit of the Christmas song seriously enough to deliver clever, dense, unexpected rhymes on familiar tropes: “The belly’s tubby, but the reindeer are strong.” But he’s winking, too: In the video, kids drink egg nog from one of his Grammys, and late in the song, he raps, “I want to take a second and shout out my dead dog/Toby/He’s dead.” It’s … funny. Honestly. CARAMANICA

Blink-182’s punk-pop skills are on full display in “Not Another Christmas Song,” which goes barreling forward with lyrics about being “burned out like lights on a tree” and “Why can’t we get divorced for Christmas?” All the sullen belligerence arrives in neat, peppy verse-chorus-verse, with a bridge that sneaks in a drum solo. PARELES

This update of the Simon & Garfunkel song features Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple in solemn harmony on the holiday classic, while the National’s Matt Berninger is the newscaster, reading counterpoint headlines about, among other things, the murder of Botham Jean by the police officer Amber Guyger and the potential restrictions to abortion that could come from an upcoming Supreme Court case. Proceeds from the song benefit Planned Parenthood. CARAMANICA

Aretha Franklin joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra onstage in 2015 to perform a solo rendition of the German Christmas classic “O Tannenbaum,” accompanying herself with rolling gospel piano chords and singing in both German and English. This casually rousing rendition appears on the orchestra’s live album, “Big Band Holidays II;” it’s the only track without the full band, but even at 73, the Queen of Soul needs no help. RUSSONELLO

“Loneliest Time of Year” plunges deep into holiday angst. In a ballad that leaves her ample room for vocal display, Mabel works herself up to all-out tearful melismas as she bemoans the way Christmas can “have you thinking of all the things that you don’t have.” She does seek solidarity: “If I’m feeling lonely I can’t be the only one,” she reasons. But it’s no consolation. PARELES

The guitarist Dave Stryker trades melody duties with the vibraphonist Stefon Harris on this cover of Donny Hathaway’s modern-day Christmas classic. Rounded out by the organist Jared Gold and the drummer McClenty Hunter (doubling on jingle bells), Stryker’s Eight Track Band plays the tune at the same sauntering, medium tempo that Hathaway used; even without Hathaway’s munificent voice or the boisterous horn section of the original, the tune’s infectious, syncopated melody and the low-key virtuosity of this quartet’s members are enough. RUSSONELLO

It takes a very special hubris for Pink Sweats to posthumously overdub Donny Hathaway’s own version of his durable Christmas standard: grabbing the first verse for an Auto-Tune-assisted lead vocal, replacing Hathaway’s richly organic studio band with programmed sounds, yet still keeping enough of Hathaway’s original vocals and piano to remind listeners of less artificial times. No one thought this was a bad idea? PARELES

Here’s “Jingle Bells” from a California-born star of norteño music. With more devout lyrics (in Spanish), a scampering button accordion and a hyperactive electric bass, it’s transformed — and still American. PARELES

In a cheerful homage to Chuck Berry, Bryan Adams places “Joe and Mary” in “a beat-up Buick on the open road,” searching for shelter with no room at the Motel 6. It still has a happy ending. PARELES

Suave, leisurely and benignly affectionate, Keith Urban reaches back to doo-wop chords and piano triplets for a song that methodically works out the possibilities of its title: “Let’s put a kiss at the top of your list/We can be naughty or nice,” he offers. PARELES

Jenny Owen Youngs sings this whispery waltz about things she misses at Christmas: the comforts of childhood, an ex she’s hasn’t forgotten. It turns orchestral, only to leave her alone at the end. PARELES

Each bromide here is like a dusty lump of coal in your stocking that you also have to eat. CARAMANICA

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