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What Mariah Carey’s Christmas song did to achieve mass popularity

Love it or hate it, you are bound to hear her song in the car, at the mall, or at a holiday party. Mariah Carey’s 1994 hit, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is one of the best-selling Christmas singles in history and the most downloaded holiday single ever. With her song reaching the Billboard Hot 100 each year, you may be asking, how is this song so popular and what did it do to get here? Let’s dive into analyzing the history of the 11th best-selling single in music history.

Gabriel Theriault – Argosy Illustrator

History of the song:


Walter Afanasieff was one of Mariah Carey’s collaborators in 1994 and assisted her with the creation of the song. At that time, the door was wide open to create a new Christmas song because Afanasieff believed that Christmas music and albums “were not [a] big deal” compared to today. Carey’s love and passion for Christmas, plus her knowledge of music, secured the foundation for the creation of the song. “I am a very festive person and I love the holidays,” said Carey in a 1994 interview, “I just wrote it out of love for Christmas and really loving Christmas music.” Her knowledge of music was instrumental for the theme, “I listen to a lot of old R&B and I listen to a lot of gospel music for inspiration,” said Carey, “I also know every song on the radio because I am a fanatic about that.” Throughout the song, Carey left traces of old R&B and gospel, especially with the backing vocals. Writing the song, Afanasieff said, was like a “game of ping pong,” while he played chords, Carey responded with lyrics. Alfanasieff admitted that it was an easier song to write compared to others they have written, calling it “formulaic” and with little chord changes. One clue showing why it is so popular is that the song contains one chord also found in Bing Crosby’s, “White Christmas”—the only Christmas single that has outsold Carey’s.




Once finished, Afanasieff said that at first he did not like the song, comparing the melody to  vocalists warm-ups. However, he believes it was the simplicity of the melody and chords that allowed the song to flourish upon release. Carey also shared skepticism about her presentation on the old-fashioned album cover.


Their reactions, however, were not like the North American public’s. A year after the song was released, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 Radio and the Billboard Hot 100 Adult Contemporary. The song continued to gain traction when it climbed the charts to become top 10 in 2013, making it Carey’s 28th song to reach that feat. December 21, 2019, however, was the first time it became number one on the Billboard Hot 100 along with 45.9 million streams. Since then, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has reached the top spot each year. The song achieved international acclaim, attaining number one in 22 European countries. It also made the top spot in Australia and New Zealand the past four years and stands as Carey’s most successful song in Japan.


To answer the question of why “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is so popular is because of its universalness. Unlike past Christmas songs, Carey sang for everyone regardless of religion, family status, or location. She and Afanasieff captured the essence of Christmas, presenting upbeat lyrics and melodies of love and happiness that can be listened to anywhere.

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