It’s that joyful time of year where those who celebrate Christmas come together to exchange gifts, catch up with family, and get into the spirit through a number of things like baking, decorating, or caroling. Christmas is the one holiday that is overflowing with themed music. I’m sure there are dozens of songs that come to your mind when it comes to Christmas, but what’s the first? Do you think of the classics, “Jingle Bells” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”? Do you think of modern releases like, “Santa Tell Me,” or “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”? There is a lot to choose from this time of year, but when it comes to Christmas standards – meaning, songs that are so popular they become part of the standard repertoire of the holiday season with many artists covering the track – most of the songs we consider standards were written as far back as the 18th century. But there are a select few that have come onto the scene and become classics in their own rights despite being from the 20th or 21st century.
That brings us to the song we’re putting the spotlight on today – a song that has carved out a place in Christmas lore as a classic and continues to maintain that popularity 29 years after its release. Whether you love or hate it, you surely know it. It’s Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
Mariah Carey has had 19 #1 hits over her 33-year career. Her first #1 hit, “Visions of Love” was also her debut single released in 1990. Anyone could debate which of her #1 hits is her best, but one can’t deny that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has stood the test of time. Almost 30 years after its release, it reached #1 on Hit 100 from 2019 to 2022. Along with reaching #1 in 2019, the song also had 45.6 million streams and 27,000 digital sales sold (Source).
Looking at the history of the song, it’s quite fascinating. After the major success of Carey’s 1993 album Music Box, the suggestion of making a Christmas album was brought up. It’s interesting to note that Christmas albums were seen as something done by artists who were past their prime back in the 90s. Carey’s cowriter Walter Afanasieff said about making the album, "Back then, you didn't have a lot of artists with Christmas albums. It wasn't a known science at all back then, and there was nobody who did new, big Christmas songs. So, we were going to release it as kind of an every day, Hey, you know, we're putting out a Christmas album. No big deal" (Source). With that sentiment, Carey and Afanasieff got to writing the album Merry Christmas.
To help get in the Christmas spirit (it was late spring/early summer after all), Carey decorated her home for the holiday. This wasn’t too difficult for her to do as she has said in many interviews that she loves Christmastime. In the book written by Chris Nickson, Mariah Carey Revisited: Her Story, Carey shared her love of the holiday saying, “I've sung Christmas songs since I was a little girl. I used to go Christmas caroling. When it came to the album, we had to have a nice balance between standard Christian hymns and fun songs.” The album included a few new original songs but primarily had Carey doing her rendition of Christmas standards. One of the originals was of course, “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
The to-be classic was formally written and recorded in August 1994 – a track that only took 15 minutes to write and compose. Isn’t that wild? A song that would chart for decades was crafted in the time it takes for a batch of cookies to bake. Interestingly, while the album itself Merry Christmas hit #3 on the Billboard Top 200 and certified triple platinum by the RIAA by the end of 1994, it took a little longer for “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to take hit the Hot 100 charts. This was because of a technicality in the rules basically. According to Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004) by Joel Whitburn, the song peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary and at No. 12 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart in January 1995. It placed on those charts again in December of 1995 and 1996, but it was ineligible for the Billboard Hot 100 when it was initially released because it was not released commercially as a single in a physical format. As the rules of the Hot 100 changed over the years, the song was allowed to continuously chart starting in 1998. It appeared on Re-Current charts in the 2000s every December until the rules changed again to allow her song back on the standard Hot 100, where it climbed the charts into the top 30.
Then, in 2017, the song saw a big resurgence, cracking the top 10, charting at no. 9. This made “All I Want for Christmas Is You” Mariah Carey’s 28th song to make it in the top 10. The last time it occurred was in 2009 for her hit, “Obsessed.” In December 2019, after 35 cumulative weeks on the chart, (this was the slowest climb to the top spot in the chart's history surpassing “Macarena.”), “All I Want for Christmas Is You” hit no. 1. In the subsequent years since then, the Christmas classic has reached no. 1 every December. This is all just within the United States. If we were going over the chart statistics from places like Europe and Japan, this blog would be significantly longer (and it’s already pretty long – sorry! Lots to cover). So, we’re just going to leave it with the US stats.
There are dozens of milestones that Carey has hit with her hit, but the most fascinating I wanted to include is that she is the first artist to top the charts in four separate decades. As of 2017, the song was reported to have earned $60 million in royalties, and it’s estimated she earns about $2.5 million every year it tops the charts (Source). You go, Mariah!
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” has become a classic, especially with its resurgence in recent years. Very few modern Christmas songs measure up to the same level of star power. Still, many artists try. And one artist is convinced that the iconic song was stolen from them. In November of 2023, news broke that Andy Stone, singer and representative of the Louisiana group Vince Vance & The Valiants filed a copyright lawsuit against Mariah Carey, Sony Music Group, and Walter Afanasieff in California district court. He and co-writer Troy Powers claim that Carey copied their 1988 song with the same title, “All I Want for Christmas is You.” The song was recorded and released in 1989. The lawsuit specifically claims that Carey copied “Compositional structure of an extended comparison between a loved one and trappings of seasonal luxury, and further includes several of Plaintiffs’ lyrical phrases” (Source). They are seeking $20 million in damages, insisting that the success of Carey’s Christmas hit stems from their original idea.
I personally think it’s bullshit. While both songs have similar subject matter, they are vastly different tracks in both tone and lyrical content. It feels like an attempt to get a piece of the pie now that Carey’s song has become a classic. But let me know what you think in the comments!
So, what about it makes it such a classic? Well, that answer is subjective, but people have tried to analyze what makes it so good. Some believe it’s because it’s reminiscent of so many Christmas classics, capturing the true spirit of Christmas while still maintaining a foothold in modern music. It’s the perfect blend of everything. Other people theorize that the star-power of Mariah Carey is what keeps her Christmas hit topping the charts for almost 30 years after its initial release. It could also be that the lyrics have a timeless quality to them that could have been sung by one of the legends of 50 years ago and it would fit right in with other old Christmas classics.
Maybe it’s a little of all of those things. And while I’m sure many retail workers are burnt out on “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from hearing it multiple times a day with their job’s holiday radio (trust me, I get it. I’ve been there), even those workers can’t deny that Mariah Carey’s hit is the official signal that Christmastime is here. Whether you like the song or not, the Library of Congress determined in 2023 that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” holds enough cultural significance to be preserved in the National Recording Registry. On Christmas Day in 2022, the song broke the single-day record on Spotify for most plays for the fourth time (the first time being in 2018 with 10.82 million plays) with 21.2 million global streams within 24 hours (Source). So, it’s safe to say the hit is definitely here to stay. All Mariah Carey wants for Christmas is the universal you and much like the little kid in Love Actually who is convinced his crush only wants him for Christmas, we have to share Carey’s love with the rest of the world. Just remember, even if you’re alone on Christmas, Mariah Carey will always love you this time of year. And you, and you, and you...
We hope the wonderful readers of the Savage Content blog have a wonderful holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, and whether you like Mariah Carey’s Christmas standard or not. I hope you enjoyed going through the history of this modern classic with me. Enjoy the holiday!
Thanks to the following sources for helping me put together this blog post!
Written by Kristen Petronio