With a voice tailor-made for big ballads, Ariana Grande could have put out a traditional Christmas album and it would have sold like gangbusters. But on her 2015 holiday EP, Christmas & Chill, the pop diva put a trap-flavoured twist on holiday standards to create a modern-day Christmas classic of her own.
Listen to Christmas & Chill right now.
“Twas a long, productive slumber party,” the singer wrote after she surprised fans with the EP’s release, on 18 December 2015. Offering an after-hours soundtrack to the holiday season, Grande swapped her usual light-heartedness for an edgier, moodier persona, cooing throughout over a soundscape of trap hi-hats and cloudy 808s.
At the time of Christmas & Chill’s release, the term “Netflix and chill” had become official shorthand for a romantic evening in for Grande’s millennial generation. Offering her own playful take on the phrase, the EP featured more mature lyrics and plenty of innuendo, eschewing the innocent pop tone of 2013’s ‘Santa Tell Me’ for something more seductive.
Tidings and trap music
At the centre of Christmas & Chill is ‘December’. Starting out with jingle bells ringing in the background, the song quickly switches up into a thrilling trap-R&B affair. On a mission, Grande sings, “I’m just trying to keep my baby warm through the wintertime.” With a rapid vocal delivery, she follows that up with, “I’m just tryna give you something to remember through the summertime.”
Taking a cue from the EP’s opener, ‘Intro’, the trap percussions are what really drives Christmas & Chill forward. With the spirit of a modern ‘Little Drummer Boy’, the instrumental productions foreshadowed territory that Grande would conquer with 2016’s Dangerous Woman album.
Contemporary and seasonal
There is a vivacious spirit to Grande’s sound, but she always balances it with a touch of sweetness. On both ‘December’ and ‘Intro’, Grande takes more traditional holiday instrumentation, like sleigh bells and chimes, and fuses it with hip-hop production, making the EP feel both contemporary and seasonally appropriate. And, as with her previous releases, she brings a healthy dose of R&B to the release.
From Grande’s stunted vocal delivery to the pulsating energy of the beat, ‘Wit It This Christmas’ dabbles in trap. Full of holiday references such as mistletoe, fireplaces and Gingerbread, the song presents Grande as the gift. She revels in the idea of keeping her significant other warm, while maintaining a playful tone.
With production work from Tommy Brown and songwriting input from longtime collaborator Victoria Monet, songs like ‘True Love’ capitalise on the comforting nature of Christmas music, fuelling it with hip-hop soul.
Mistletoe and innuendo
By the second half of Christmas & Chill, Grande briefly abandons modern trap for a more traditional Christmas sound. ‘Not Just On Christmas’ is a slow ballad scored by a grand piano, on which she assures her partner that her love is unconditional, lasting 365 days a year, rather than just Christmas Day.
‘Winter Things’ completely goes against the tone of the EP’s first five tracks. Taking a page from Bing Crosby’s Hawaiian-inspired holiday track, ‘Mele Kalikimaka’, Grande offers her own ukulele-driven song, singing about spending the holidays at home in her native Florida: “It ain’t even cold outside, not where I’m from/Feeling like it’s mid-July under the sun.”
For a Christmas collection created in just one week, Christmas & Chill emerged as an effortless holiday classic for a generation that can’t “Netflix and Chill” to Dean Martin.
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