Wrapped in Red is Kelly Clarkson's sixth studio and first Christmas album. It was released on October 25, 2013 by RCA Records.
Kelly had expressed interest in recording a Christmas album for years, having recorded various Christmas songs such as "Oh Holy Night" and "My Grown Up Christmas List" on the "American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics" in 2003, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" on "iTunes Session" in 2011 and being featured on Blake Shelton's 2012 Christmas album "Cheers, It's Christmas."
Weary of constantly being asked for her primary genre, Kelly felt that recording a Christmas album would finally pave a way for her to explore other different genres.
"I always get asked what genre I'm in: 'Is this country or pop or rock? What are you?' And what's cool about making the Christmas album was, 'Oh, there are no limitations! We can do whatever we want!'"
She further added:
"The thing about Christmas is that it almost doesn't matter what mood you're in or what kind of a year you've had—it's a fresh start. I'm going to clear the air and take stock of the good that's happened."
Discussions about making Kelly's sixth studio album being a Christmas record began on December of 2012, a month after releasing her first greatest hits album Greatest Hits – Chapter One.
Having found the opportunity to do so, Kelly commissioned producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, whom she had previously collaborated with on her albums "Stronger" and "Chapter One" to solely produce the whole album.
Despite having been raised in a Jewish faith and unfamiliar with Christmas songs, Kurstin still agreed to produce the project.
As a result, the record marked the second time Kelly's studio album only had a single producer (the first being David Kahne solely producing "My December" in 2007).
It also marked the fourth time Kurstin had solely produced an entire studio album apart from being a member of the musical groups The Bird and the Bee and Geggy Tah (the first three being Lily Allen's 2009 album "It's Not Me, It's You," Sia's 2010 album "We Are Born" and The Shins' 2012 album Port of Morrow in 2012).
The recording sessions for the album took place in Kurstin's Echo Studio in Los Angeles while the orchestral sessions were recorded at EastWest Studios in Hollywood and featured vocals recorded in The Barn studio in Nashville.
In recording tracks for the album, Kelly and Kurstin wanted to showcase as many different styles as they could by experimenting in various sounds and styles to create fresh, contemporary sound to classic-sounding music.
"It was a lot of fun for us because we got to go back to our roots. When Kelly started singing, it was clear she had the chops and had been trained to do anything."
Further adding, "We really experimented. It was so much fun and liberating. And it pays off."
Kurstin (who studied with jazz musician Jaki Byard at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music) recruited various jazz and soul musicians such as James Gadson, Kevin Dukes, Roy McCurdy, and Bill Withers to perform on the record to resonate a Memphis soul sound.
He also collaborated with Joseph Trapanese to arrange and conduct a chamber orchestra.
In providing instrumentation for the record, Kurstin used all of his instruments such as a Mellotron and a Chamberlin, taping them from a distance to stimulate the Wall of Sound (a recording technique originally developed by Phil Spector that was popular in the early 1960s). He enlisted Kelly to provide all the background vocals herself.
Kelly (who grew up singing in a chorus) was pleased with the aspect; saying:
"Blending is something I knew how to do from childhood. Sometimes I'd have to do an alto instead of a soprano because they needed a bigger sound. But I've never had to do anything like this before—doing all my backup vocals, essentially being my own choir."
Together, they began to record in May of 2013 and continued through the summer of that year, beginning by recording "White Christmas" with Kelly in the vocal booth and with Kurstin on a piano.
"The production is all him. I would be just like 'Hey, can we make this more jazz? Hey, can we make this more bluesy. And he just, like Harry Potter, made this happen. It's so weird."
Kelly has cited the color red as the album's only theme. A color traditionally associated with Christmas, she affiliated the color to various emotions in the holidays.
Wanting to stray away from her usual pop sound, she described the album's music as a representation to explore different genres such as jazz, country and Memphis soul.
"What's cool about Christmas albums is you can do jazz, rock and roll, you can do pop, you can do blues, like you can do all that stuff and it works—cause it's all classic and it's Christmasy sounding."
Kelly also noted that the album's multitude of styles positively contributes to her artistic goal, saying:
"My best friend from childhood heard it and said, 'This is what you sound like, before everything else.' And I agree, It's my core sound. Back in the day, when artists came out with things like "Fall to Pieces" and "Bridge over Troubled Water", those songs transcended genres. It wasn't, 'Where is it going to fit?' You catered to whatever the song calls for. And that's exactly what I did—without having to have an umbrella for everything."
In gathering inspirations for "Wrapped in Red," Kelly started by listening to Bing Crosby's and Rosemary Clooney's soundtracks from the 1954 feature film "White Christmas" as well as Mariah Carey's 1994 album "Merry Christmas" and Reba McEntire's 1997 album "Merry Christmas to You."
While Kurstin (who used to play in a jazz band) took influences from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio and "A Christmas Gift for You" by Phil Spector as his inspirations which resulted to the album's Wall of Sound resonance.
Kelly also cited that her relationship with her then-fiancé Brandon Blackstock had inspired some of the album's lyrical content.
Kelly shares writing credits on all five original songs on "Wrapped in Red," some of which were written in December of 2012 to avoid writing Christmas tunes during the 2013 summer season.
She co-wrote the opening and the titular track "Wrapped in Red" with Ashley Arrison, Aben Eubanks, and Shane McAnally.
A Christmas ballad, the song was inspired by a scene in the 2003 holiday feature film Love "Actually" in which someone confesses unrequited love towards another. Critics singled out the track the one that resonates the "Wall of Sound" the most.
The second track "Underneath the Tree" was written by Kelly and Kurstin, making it the first time they had co-written a track together.
"Greg and I have worked a lot together, but usually I just come in and I just sing. We've never have actually written a song together at this point. And he and I were like, 'Let's just try to write something for the record."
RCA Records chief executive Peter Edge remarked that its release as a single was partly inspired by the success of Mariah Carey's song "All I Want for Christmas Is You."
The following track is a rendition of the holiday standard "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which Kelly had selected for its saccharine content
Kelly favored "Run Run Rudolph" as her favorite classic, saying: "Just because it got to be a little more rock and roll."
She also remarked that "Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)" was the first song selected for inclusion after her mother's recommendation and the song's melancholic lyrics.
Written by Kelly and Eubanks, "Every Christmas" was the first song to be written for the album.
She revealed that the song narrates of her holiday life prior to meeting Blackstock, McEntire's stepson, saying "Every Christmas, I was just like, 'This is going to be different, right? I'm going to actually find someone and not be pathetically alone for the rest of my life?'"
The seventh track is a cover of Elvis Presley's song "Blue Christmas." Its follow-up, a rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" features Ronnie Dunn.
Clarkson had approached Dunn thinking that his personality suited the song's content well, saying "Like, it's straight-up his personality to say all of that to try and get you to stay, and have a drink."
The song "Winter Dreams (Brandon's Song)" was written by Clarkson, Arrison, and Eubanks as a companion piece to "Every Christmas."
Dedicated to Blackstock, the song accounts her holiday after meeting him. She remarked, "Christmas changes, it morphs, it comes to life a little more… It’s just a happier time."
The tenth track, "White Christmas" was the first song to be recorded for Wrapped in Red.
A cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things" follows up as the eleventh track.
Kelly opted for the Broadway performance of the song to stray away from Julie Andrews's version, citing:
"'I think you shouldn't go near anywhere of what she's doing because she's so good."
Kelly and Kurstin co-wrote "4 Carats" with Cathy Dennis and Livvi Franc. Originally written a pop song, they converted it as a Christmas song to fit the album's theme, describing it as a crossover between Eartha Kitt's 1953 song "Santa Baby" and Madonna's 1984 song "Material Girl."
A rendition of Imogen Heap's "Just for Now" was described by Clarkson as her highly dysfunctional environment, saying "Can we just stop for like five minutes and have like a normal Christmas setting?" The song begins by sampling the melody of the Christmas tune "Carol of the Bells".
The closing track (a rendition of the traditional carol "Silent Night") features Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood and ends in an a capella setting between the trio.
In addition, two tracks were also included in the deluxe edition of the album: the first, Kelly's cover of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" from "iTunes Session" and the second, her rendition of the first stanza of the ecclesiastical hymn "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel."
- Wrapped in Red (3:36) (written by Kelly Clarkson, Ashley Arrison, Aben Eubanks & Shane McAnally)
- Underneath the Tree (3:49) (written by Kelly Clarkson; produced by Greg Kurstin)
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (3:39) (written by Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin)
- Run Run Rudolph (2:27) (written by Johnny Marks & Marvin Brodie)
- Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing) (3:19) (written by Charles Brown & Gene Redd)
- Every Christmas (3:46) (written by Kelly Clarkson & Aben Eubanks)
- Blue Christmas (2:52) (written by Billy Hayes & Jay Johnson)
- Baby It's Cold Outside (feat. Ronnie Dunn) (3:01) (written by Frank Loesser)
- Winter Dreams (Brandon's Song) (3:22) (written by Kelly Clarkson, Ashley Arrison & Aben Eubanks)
- White Christmas (3:02) (written by Irving Berlin)
- My Favorite Things (2:49) (written by Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard Rodgers)
- 4 Carats (3:28) (written by Kelly Clarkson, Greg Kurstin, Cathy Dennis & Olivia Waithe)
- Just For Now (3:30) (written by Imogen Heap)
- Silent Night (feat. Reba McEntire & Trisha Yearwood) (4:09) (written by Franz Xaver Gruber & Josef Mohr)
International\Target Exclusive Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks
- I'll Be Home For Christmas (from iTunes Session) (2:54) (written by Buck Ram, Kim Gannon & Walter Kent)
- Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel (2:00) (Traditional)
"Wrapped in Red" was first released internationally on October 25, 2013 by RCA Records through Sony Music Entertainment.
It then received a North American release on October 29, 2013 by RCA as part of its holiday promotional campaign with the soundtracks to the feature films "Black Nativity" and "The Best Man Holiday" with the album being promulgated as the one that will transcend formats and become a new holiday classic.
In an interview with Billboard, RCA marketing executive Aaron Borns remarked that the album was their main release of the holidays, quoting:
"The angle on this album is that, like all great Christmas records, it's about amazing vocal performances. That's what this is intended to be-an album launched this year but timeless and genre-defying."
In preparation for its release in the United States, RCA shipped a half-million units on Amazon.com and Target which exclusively released a deluxe edition.
A red LP pressing of "Wrapped in Red" by United Record Pressing followed the CD release on November 25, 2013, marking the first time an album by Kelly was released on a vinyl record.
A deluxe LP and CD edition was also released on the Sony Music store which included a scarf, a holiday ornament, and a snow globe (all of which were decorated in red) as inspired from the album.
A international promotion campaign was also planned for Kelly, but it was later halted due her pregnancy.
On October 15, 2013, "White Christmas" was released as a promotional single from Wrapped in Red.
Three days after, "Underneath the Tree" premiered on Kelly's Vevo channel.
A television Christmas special, titled Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale was filmed by concert director Hamish Hamilton on October 30, 2013 )(the eve after its street date) at The Venetian Las Vegas.
A pastiche of A Christmas Carol, the Christmas special featured live performances of selections from "Wrapped in Red."
Produced by Done and Dusted, the special premiered on NBC in the United States and Global in Canada on December 11, 2013, being pegged by RCA as the album's primary promotional medium.
NBC's premiere broadcast of the special was seen by 5.31 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
It also received a 1.4 share among adults between the ages of 18 to 49, generated NBC’s second biggest overall audience its time slot.
NBC had also a rerun broadcast of "Cautionary Christmas Music Tale" on Christmas Day which was seen by an additional 3.54 million viewers.
Kelly had also promoted the album in various televised performances, all of which she was dressed in red attire.
On November 26, 2013, she first performed "Underneath the Tree" on the "The Today Show."
On December 4, 2013, she performed "Run Run Rudolph" and "Blue Christmas" on the Christmas at Rockefeller Center television special.
Kelly had then performed "Underneath the Tree" on more televised events: such as on the fifth season of the "The Voice" on December 3, 2013, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" on December 5, 2013 and on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" on December 12, 2013.
On December 25, 2013, Clarkson returned to The Today Show on its Christmas Day broadcast, performing "Blue Christmas."
Selected tracks from the album were also used in advertisements such as "Run Run Rudolph" which was used in a Belk holiday advertisement and "Underneath the Tree" which was featured in an Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX advertisement with an appearance by Kelly performing the song.
The album's lead single, "Underneath the Tree" was released to radio airplay on November 5, 2013.
Praised in its initial release, music critics approvingly compared the song to "All I Want for Christmas is You" and blazoned it as a future Christmas standard.
Reviewing for Slant Magazine, Sal Cinquemani wrote that track is likely to become Clarkson's very own contemporary standard while The Independent's Hugh Montgomery applauded it as "a winner on all fronts."
After debuting on the Billboard Holiday 100 chart at number 34, it became holiday top ten hit by peaking at number eight on the chart.
It also topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for four consecutive weeks, becoming Clarkson's third track and the fifteenth holiday song to top the chart.
"Underneath the Tree" also charted on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart at number seventy-eight and became a top forty hit internationally: including the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 chart, the Dutch Top 40 chart, and the Official UK Singles Chart.
USA Today reported that "Underneath the Tree" was American radio's most-played new holiday song of 2013 while Edison Media Research reported that the single was the first holiday song to receive a considerable support on mainstream contemporary hit radio in almost 20 years.
"Wrapped in Red" is Kelly's most critically successful album.
At Metacritic, the album received an average score of 73, based on 6 reviews and scoring higher than any other album by Kelly.
AllMusic's senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave it a three-and-a-half stars.
He described its uptempo arrangements, as well as her vocal performance, as "bold and brassy" and its mid-tempo arrangements as "even more alluring."
He also noted the track selection "favors the bold," but that "she fares well in this setting, always sounding like the strongest element in the mix."
Towards the end of his review, he wrote that:
"Perhaps the concept and execution are conventional, but even in this utterly expected setting, Clarkson retains her fiery, individual spirit, and that's what makes Wrapped in Red appealing: to the letter, it delivers what it promises."
Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine also gave it a similar rating. He noted that the album "largely offers a respite from the pop-rock template she's been relentlessly pursuing since Breakaway, with less shouting and more of the varied range and texture on full display that helped coronate her the winner of the inaugural season of American Idol. For better or worse, a decade of recording and touring has roughed up the edges of her voice, lending a lived-in quality that imbues lyrics about love and longing with an authenticity that might have otherwise been missing had she recorded these songs just a few years earlier."
NPR's Ken Tucker described the album as a "glossy but heartfelt work" and approvingly compared its contrasting philosophy to Nick Lowe's Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family, both of which he described as "will put you in a holiday mood."
Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe gave a favorable review, particularly lauding "Underneath the Tree", and described Clarkson's rendering the Christmas standards as "fairly straight."
"She starts gently on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" before belting out the money notes. She ambles assuredly through the soulful favorite "Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)" and hangs by the piano for a torchy “White Christmas."
Newsday's music columnist Glenn Gamboa wrote that "Clarkson handles it all expertly, hitting remarkably high notes on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas;" and swinging jazzily on "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Dunn.
The new songs make Wrapped in Red a real gift, as the title track and "Underneath the Tree" channel the Phil Spector Christmas albums; and "4 Carats" somehow blends "Stronger" and "Santa Baby."
Reviewing for HitFix, Melinda Newman gave the album an "A" rating, praising Clarkson's vocal performances and noting that she and Kurstin "have clearly studied legendary Christmas albums of yore—most notably Spector's A Christmas Gift For You and Andy Williams' Merry Christmas—to lovingly recreate Christmas standards, as well as craft new ones in the image of those sets."
Chris Klimek of Slate declared "Wrapped in Red" as the best of 2013's new Christmas records, noting for its vintage sound.
He also observed that its five original tracks, most notably "Wrapped in Red" and "Underneath the Tree" have reasonable odds of remaining in the yuletide rotation five years from now.
In his review for The New York Times, Jon Caramanica wrote that Kelly is very likely the only singer working in pop with a real possibility of creating a modern holiday classic along the lines of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" and remarked that her takes on familiar songs, however accomplished, are "also faithful in the way that someone mindful of pop history would be."
"Wrapped in Red" became a commercial success in the United States.
Prior it its release, music commercial analysts predicted that the album would likely sell at least 60,000 copies in its first week of release in the region, and foresaw it to be the front-runner as the bestselling holiday release of the season.
On the week ending November 16, 2013, it debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at number 3 with 70,000 copies sold in all retailers, a 93,000 decrease from "Stronger"'s first week sales of 163,000 copies in 2011.
Nielsen Music analyst Dave Bakula attributed its low performance to the falling market share of the holiday music in general which saw 3.8 percent decrease in 2012.
The album's chart debut on the Billboard 200 earned Kelly her sixth consecutive top three studio album as well as the highest debut for a Christmas record by a female artist since Susan Boyle's first Christmas album "The Gift" debuted at the top of the chart in 2010.
It also debuted three other different charts, most notably at the top of the Billboard Top Holiday Albums chart.
On the week ending November 30, 2013, by charting at number six on the Billboard 200, the album became the lone Sony release inside the chart's top ten, with the others being Universal Music Group releases.
Despite its modest debut week, "Wrapped in Red" began to gain traction at the beginning of the holiday season, selling up to 131,000 copies during the Thanksgiving week.
It experienced its best sales week after benefiting from NBC's premiere broadcast of "Cautionary Christmas Music Tale," selling up to 136,000 copies on its seventh week of release.
For nine consecutive weeks, it stayed in the top ten of the Billboard 200, the most by any studio album by Kelly.
On December 5, 2013, the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, making it her sixth platinum studio album
The album subsequently became the bestselling Christmas release of 2013 by selling over 763,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan, making her the first American female artist to have the number-one Christmas album of the Soundscan era.
Twelve of the album cuts from Wrapped in Red also entered the Billboard Holiday Digital Songs chart during its first week of release—led by "Silent Night", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Underneath the Tree" at numbers one, two, and four, respectively.
Other songs also appeared in various Billboard charts throughout the holiday season: songs such as "Blue Christmas" and "Please Come Home for Christmas" charted in the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, peaking at numbers 5 and 6, respectively whereas "My Favorite Things", "Run Run Rudolph", "Please Come Home for Christmas", "Silent Night" and "Wrapped in Red" peaked on the Billboard Canada AC chart at numbers eight, seven, 14, 22, and 49, respectively.
Tracks such as "My Favorite Things" charted on the Billboard Mexico Inglés Airplay chart at number 49 while "Silent Night" charted in both the Billboard Holiday 100 and the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, peaking at numbers 86 and 51, respectively.
Amazon.com listed "Wrapped in Red" as their second bestselling album during the holiday season and listed it as their sixth bestselling title of 2013.
Internationally, "Wrapped in Red" had a relatively limited commercial performance.
In Canada, the album debuted on the Billboard Canadian Albums chart at number 6 on the week ending November 16, 2013, making it her fifth top ten debut on the Nielsen-tracked chart. It peaked on the chart at number 5 on the week ending December 28, 2013.
The album became the second bestselling Christmas album of 2013 in Canada with 67,000 copies sold in the region, behind A Christmas Gift to You by Johnny Reid.
In Australia, the album debuted on the ARIA Albums Chart at number 82 on the week ending November 4, 2013 and peaked at number 29 on the week ending December 30, 2013.
In Switzerland, it debuted on the Schweizer Hitparade at number 97 on the week ending November 10, 2013.
In the United Kingdom, "Wrapped in Red" charted on the Official UK Albums Chart at number 65 on the week ending December 14, 2013.
Despite its limited performance, Sony Corporation listed the album as their fifth bestselling release worldwide during the holiday season which included albums, album cut tracks, and singles sales.
- All vocals – Kelly Clarkson
- Featured vocals – Ronnie Dunn, Reba McEntire & Trisha Yearwood
- Bass – Frank Abraham, Greg Kurstin, Einar Pedersen, Gabriel Noel
- Drums – James Gadson, Chaun D. Horton, Greg Kurstin, Roy McCurdy, Miles McPherson, Aaron Redfield
- Flugelhorn – David Ralicke
- Horns – The Regiment Horns
- Saxophones – Leon Silva
- Trombone – Lasim Richards
- Trumpet – Sean Erick, Left Shires
- Guitars – Kevin Dukes, Greg Kurstin
- Hammond organ, keyboards, organ, piano and Wurlitzer– Jason Halbert, Greg Kurstin
- Mellophone – David Ralicke
- Saxophones (Baritone, Tenor) – David Ralicke
- Strings – Greg Kurstin
- Trombone – David Ralicke
- Trumpet – David Ralicke
- A&R – Keith Naftaly
- Arrangement – Greg Kurstin, Joe Trapanese
- Horn Arrangement – Greg Kurstin, David Ralicke
- Art director – Meghan Foley
- Conductor – Joe Trapanese
- Engineers – Alex Pasco, Greg Kurstin, Jesse Shatkin
- Mixing engineer – John Hanes
- Assistant engineers – Julian Burg, Shawn Daugherty, Todd Tidwell
- Manager – Narvel Blackstock
- Mastering – Chris Gehringer
- Mixer – Serban Ghenea, Jason Halbert
- Assistant mixers – Kevin Harp, Tim Roberts
- Producer – Greg Kurstin
- Vocal producer – Jason Halbert
- Orchestra contractor – Sandy DeCrescent, Gina Zimmitti
- Programming – Jason Halbert, Greg Kurstin, Jesse Shatkin
- Recording – Ronnie Dunn, Matt Coles, Jason Halbert, Satoshi Noguchi
- Songwriters – Ashley Arrison, Irving Berlin, Ralph Blane, Marvin Brodie, Charles Brown, Kelly Clarkson, Cathy Dennis, Aben Eubanks, Billy Hayes, Oscar Hammerstein, Imogen Heap, Jay Johnson, Walter Kent, Greg Kurstin, Frank Loesser, Johnny Marks, Hugh Martin, Shane McAnally, Gene Redd, Richard Rodgers, Olivia Waithe, Peter J. Wilhousky (musical quotation)
- Music Preparation – Booker White
- Photographer – Jeremy Cowart
- Hair – Robert Ramos
- Make-up – Ashley Donovan
- Wardrobe – Steph Ashmore