“I didn’t want it to be, or seem in the slightest, like a surface-level, sort of commercial cash grab,” Darren Criss says of his first holiday album, the aptly titled A Very Darren Crissmas. “That was like, the anti-what I wanted to do.”
So what makes a Darren Criss Christmas album especially Crissmas-y?
“It had to be very, very, very me,” the entertainer tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen to his full 40-minute interview, below). “Which requires a few things. It has to have left-of-center choices musically, things that people don’t know at all. It’s gonna be seemingly cheeky but hopefully (have) a lot pathos. Just a lot of stuff that I subscribe to.
“And trying to whittle that down to make it the most sort of honed version of what I just said was the goal and the obsession for the past year. And that’s why it’s called A Very Darren Crissmas. Other than the obviously convenient pun of my last name, it is a very me thing — with who’s on it, how I recorded stuff, how I produced stuff, how — the whole thing.”
Among the left-of-center songs Criss includes on the album – his first for Decca Records – are a wintery rendition of John Mayer’s 2001 song “St. Patrick’s Day,” an upbeat arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s classic 1971 piano ballad “River” and a cover of the 1954 song “Welcome Home” (from the musical Fanny).
The set also boasts collaborations with Adam Lambert (a swinging version of the holiday favorite “[Everybody’s Waitin’ for] The Man With the Bag”), Lizzy McAlpine (on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), Lainey Wilson (the twangy original Criss tune “Drunk On Christmas”) and Evan Rachel Wood (“Somewhere in My Memory,” an Oscar-nominated song from the 1990 film Home Alone).
A deluxe edition of the album includes a Criss-penned original, the festive and merry “Christmas Dance.”
Just around the corner for Criss are two concerts – a Dec. 20 show at the Beacon Theater in New York, which will also be livestreamed, and a Dec. 31 New Year’s Eve show with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at Davies Concert Hall in San Francisco. (More information on both performances can be found at Criss’ official website.)
Also on the show, hosts Katie and Keith discuss chart news about Adele continuing to dominate both the Billboard 200 albums and Billboard Hot 100 songs chart (with 30 and “Easy on Me,” respectively), how SZA’s viral hit “I Hate U” debuts straight into the top 10 on the Hot 100, and how half of the week’s top 10 on the Hot 100 are holiday tunes.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s deputy editor, digital, Katie Atkinson and senior director of Billboard charts Keith Caulfield every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)