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Bryson Tiller emotes the bitter-sweetness of the holidays in 'A Different Christmas'

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MINE THIS CHRISTMAS")

BRYSON TILLER: (Singing) I thought you would be mine this Christmas. Ring, ring, ring. Hear the bells ringing on the Christmas tree. Minnesota winter, snow is glistening. Yeah, but I'll be spending this one different.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The holiday blues are real. For some, this season can feel deeply lonely, maybe a reminder of loss. For years, the bittersweetness (ph) of the holidays has inspired musicians - think heartbreak anthems like "Last Christmas" by Wham!, "Every Year, Every Christmas" by Luther Vandross. Multi-platinum-selling singer-songwriter Bryson Tiller is the latest to take on those themes in his first-ever holiday album, "A Different Christmas."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MINE THIS CHRISTMAS")

TILLER: (Singing) Had to make a wish now, baby. My only wish is for you to come home. But how does this sound, baby? Baby, I'll make the trip. I'll tell you what. I'll sing it to you like this. I'll tell you what.

FADEL: Bryson Tiller joins us now from Los Angeles. Hi, Bryson.

TILLER: Wow, hi. I love that intro. It was amazing.

FADEL: (Laughter) Just describing what you're doing. I have to ask though. This is your fourth album. You called it "A Different Christmas." But it's a pretty monumental task to take on Christmas music. It's hard to be different. So let's start with that title. Why this project? Why that name?

TILLER: I named it that for two reasons. One, I'll say, you know, last year was when COVID was introduced to the world, and I felt like a lot of people were spending Christmas differently. A lot of people haven't seen their families. You know, I know people personally who have maybe family in nursing homes that they can't go visit. You know, I feel like all of us are spending a different Christmas. And second, for me, personally, I was going through some things in my life. And the thought of spending Christmas alone was like, wow, I can't believe I would even be spending this Christmas alone or I might be spending this Christmas alone if I don't get it together, you know what I mean? - and figure out what's going on, you know what I'm saying? So, yeah.

FADEL: What do you want people to take away from this album when they listen to these songs?

TILLER: Well, specifically for people who are - who may be spending Christmas alone, I'd love for them to realize that they're not in it alone. You know, I feel like everybody has had at least one Christmas where it was like - it felt lonely, even if you weren't alone. You know, some people...

FADEL: Yeah.

TILLER: ...May have been around family and still felt alone for some reason. This project is for you. And it gradually becomes, you know, a not-so-lonely Christmas. And with the other music that we're creating right now, I have more vibes that kind of cater to that specific feeling of it finally not being a lonely Christmas.

FADEL: Yeah. Everybody can talk about loneliness after the past almost two years that we've had. But I also want to talk about the type of music you make. You made a splash with your first album "TRAPSOUL" in 2015. You describe yourself as a Trap Soul artist. You helped define the genre with hip-hop beats, rhythmic melodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T")

TILLER: (Singing) I'm back and I'm better. I want you bad as ever.

FADEL: I'm wondering how this album embodies that sound.

TILLER: Yeah, and I didn't even touch on the first question, because that's also another reason I named it "A Different Christmas," because I'm not the artist anybody would expect to do a Christmas album.

FADEL: Yeah.

TILLER: You know, it's very different just off the bat, just because it's me. But the first couple songs are, like, kind of catered to, like, my original sound of me. You know, like, kind of like the trap drums. And I'm not rapping necessarily on it like I did on "TRAPSOUL." But I wanted to cater to that sound and then kind of gradually get out of that and then into something different - you know, to beats that people have never heard me on, like on "Lonely Christmas" with Bieber.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONELY CHRISTMAS")

TILLER: (Singing) It's going to be a lonely Christmas, a lonely, broken-hearted Christmas. I filled your heart up with resentment. It's going to be a lonely Christmas.

FADEL: So I have to talk about your cover of "Winter Wonderland" on this album, which was so sweet and it had this adorable surprise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINTER WONDERLAND")

TILLER: Sing it, Harley.

HALO: (Singing) Gone away is the bluebird.

TILLER: OK.

HALO: (Singing) Here to stay is a new bird.

TILLER: OK.

BRYSON TILLER & HALO: (Singing) He sings a love song while we stroll along.

HALO: (Singing) Walking in a winter wonderland.

TILLER: Yeah. Like this.

FADEL: So that's your daughter Harley, who goes by the stage name Halo, singing with you, right?

TILLER: Yeah, it is.

FADEL: What was it like recording with her? I mean, this is your first daughter. You have two little girls. You're a doting dad.

TILLER: It was amazing. It was a tearjerker moment, for sure. I love to record other people singing. Like, I love being on a song, but I really - my dream was always to kind of, like, be a songwriter. And I actually recorded her mom before we - Harley was even thought of. So when we finally did this song, "Winter Wonderland," it was like a full circle moment because all three of us were in the studio. And it was just like, wow, look at this. I'm, like, vocal producing our daughter. Like, this is crazy.

FADEL: So it sounds like being a father really has influenced your career and your music.

TILLER: Yeah, absolutely. It's the reason why I'm here. I always credit my drive, my success, everything to them. Because Kelly, which is my youngest daughter - she's about to be 2 this year - you know, she's new here, but, you know, she's still a big reason why I wake up every day and I go hard. But Harley was born when I was nothing and had no money and was sleeping in my car. And she was the reason why I even got a job. Like, I never even cared to get a job. I was trying to, like, pursue music for maybe a year or two. Then I found out I was having a kid. And I was like, OK, you know what? I can't be the dad who's just, like, trying to make music in the studio, trying to make it. Like, I need to go get a real job. And it was a moving job. And then I started working at UPS. And then I started working at Papa John's. And I just - I really just kind of, like, went up the tier of jobs, like - and then my last job became this, which is crazy.

FADEL: So from Papa John's to multi-platinum selling artist (laughter).

TILLER: Yeah, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINTER WONDERLAND")

TILLER & HALO: (Singing) Walking in a winter wonderland. Walking in a winter wonderland.

HALO: Merry Christmas.

FADEL: What are some Tiller family traditions at Christmas, since we're talking about your family right now?

TILLER: Tiller family traditions are putting up the Christmas tree on November 1, which sounds crazy to most people. They're like, Thanksgiving, man. Why not Thanksgiving? I love the - how it - we bring family together. But I never cared for it because, like, after all the food and stuff, everything was said and done, I was the one who had to do the dishes. So I was like - I hated it. I was like, oh, man. And I don't even eat none of this stuff...

FADEL: Oh (laughter).

TILLER: ...That they were making. Like, I'm a really picky eater. So I'm like, now I got to wash these green bean plates and these beans and all this stuff. And I was just so grossed out by it and I just hated Thanksgiving. I was like, can we just get to Christmas already? So once I finally got my own house, I started putting my Christmas tree up on November 1, and that's been a tradition ever since.

FADEL: That was singer-songwriter Bryson Tiller. Thank you so much for joining us.

TILLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRESENTS")

TILLER: (Singing) Baby, I'd love to get away just to spend the holiday with you. No better feeling than when I am home alone with you. Told you I'd be right back in time, almost missed my flight. But I'm back here tonight. What's on your mind? I'll take you for a sleigh ride. All you got to do is text, call me. You can say less because I'm on the way, see. All you got to do is wait for me, for me. All you got to do is wait for me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.