Every year, holiday music is dominated by Mariah Carey. She's put out three Christmas albums, penned several original Christmas songs, and is widely recognized as Queen of Christmas.
Her song "All I Want For Christmas" is her biggest holiday hit. Every year it plays on loop in malls and livings rooms during the holiday season, but most don't realize the meaningful history behind the megahit.
But the story behind the song is deeper. The hit was actually born from Mariah's tumultuous childhood. Mariah is biracial, and growing up, she faced a lot of discrimination because of it. She also dealt with a lot of family drama, which Mariah alludes to, but doesn't talk in-depth about.
"I always wanted Christmas to be perfect," Mariah recently said in an Amazon Music mini-doc. "I always looked forward to the holidays. I had this incredibly dysfunctional family that would ruin it — not my mom. My mom would try and make it fun. Sometimes my mom would wrap up fruit or whatever she could afford."
"I was like, 'When I grow up, I'm never gonna let that happen. I'm gonna make Christmas perfect every year,'" Mariah said.
And so once Mariah had done two albums and an EP (Mariah Carey, Emotions, Mariah Carey: MTV Unplugged), she was approached to do a Christmas album. She was reluctant.
"I just felt like, 'Don't people usually do that later on in their career?'" she said. And she was right. At the time, it was atypical of an artist to put out a Christmas album so early on — especially with the trajectory of Mariah's promising career at the time.
And if an artist was to do a Christmas album, it was more common for them to cover classics because of the audience's familiarity and emotional attachment to them.
But being a songwriter, Mariah wanted to write some of her own. It was risky — and more work, of course. "I got into it. I was like, 'I'm gonna write from that place of a kid who didn't grow up with any money, who wanted to have the most festive Christmas."
So, Mariah took Christmas bulbs and trinkets and decorated the record studio, which was built into her house with Tommy Mottola. In a way, it was Mariah's way of creating festivity, happiness, and cheer in a house — and marriage — she ultimately felt trapped in.
She sat down in August of 1994 with her writing partner Walter Afanasieff and thought of everything she loves about Christmas — snow, presents, stockings, fireplaces, mistletoes, etc. — and incorporated into the song.
What was created was a song that incorporated pop, soul, R&B, rock, gospel and other genres as well. Music experts have noted that it sonically resembles the Ronnettes and Jackson 5 of the '50s '60s — as well as modern elements of dance music. Basically, between the lyrics and sound, it's engineered to put you in a good mood.
The background vocals of the song ("And Iiiiii..." and "Iiiiii") add to its catchiness, but there are also hidden components in the song as well for hardcore fans. Extracted a capella vocals reveal hidden whistle notes and other melodies.
Mariah first performed the song in 1994 for a mini benefit concert at St. John The Divine. You can tell in the video below that audience didn't know the song well.
The reaction to the song then was different then. It actually was a hit in Japan first, which is why Mariah sometimes performs the song in the spring there. Many consider her best performance of the song to be her Tokyo Dome rendition.
During its first years of release, the song would dominate the holiday charts in America, but still wasn't the powerhouse it is today. In 2000, it had only peaked at number 83 on the Hot 100. During the mid-2000s, Billboard had a rule against old songs joining the Hot 100, so it solely dominated digital sales.
The song was remixed with Jermaine Durpi and Justin Bieber, while being covered by other artists. But none of the renditions measure up to the original.
By the late 2010s, the song began to climb up the Hot 100 during the holiday season, peaking at No. 21 in 2013. By 2017, it had reached No. 7, and by 2018, No. 3.
It has never topped the Billboard Hot 100, though. It's one of the most successful, well-known, well-sung songs to-date, and it has never achieved No. 1 status.
The song — born out of a little girl's desire to escape childhood wounds — deserves to top the Hot 100 arguably more than any other song. It would give Mariah her 19th No. 1.
The song reflects impassioned songwriting, holiday festivity, and genius musicality to give people the sense of happiness everyone pines after during Christmastime.
For decades, the song has most likely played a part in your life — and if anything, even for just four minutes and two seconds — made it a little more festive.
And that's why fans are rallying to get it to No. 1 this year. You can stream the song here!
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