This Motown-flavored song has a simple message: Mariah Carey is not concerned about all the paraphernalia of Christmas - she just wants to be with her man.
As the world became more virtual and Christmas got more commercial, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" got more and more popular. Initially released before most of us had ever heard of the Internet, decades later it connected with listeners eager to unplug and enjoy the simple pleasures of Christmas. Sure, there are plenty of songs from a bygone era that can handle the task, but there's something special about it coming from Carey, a modern superstar who could probably buy up the North Pole but just wants to be with her special someone for the holiday.
"All I Want For Christmas Is You" was co-written and co-produced by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, who started off as Whitney Houston's arranger and has co-produced and co-written many of Carey's hits, including "One Sweet Day
" and "Hero
." He also won a 1999 Grammy award for co-producing Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On
Carey and Afanasieff wrote it in the summer of 1994, with him coming up with musical ideas on a piano while she developed the melody and lyrics. They set out to write an uptempo Christmas track in the style of Phil Spector's girl group productions of the '60s (Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
" comes to mind). They achieved their goal, creating a very fun and memorable song, although Afanasieff worried it was too basic.
He told ASCAP in 2014: "It's a very simple arrangement. In fact, it's so simple that at the time I thought it was overly simple and I really didn't like it. Music people know: 'bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah'... it's almost a practice interval. So, keeping that tradition and then the oversimplified melody I guess made it so easily palatable for the whole world to go, 'Oh, I can't get that out of my head.'"
In terms of airplay (at least in America), this is by far the most successful Christmas song written after 1963, when Bing Crosby recorded "Do You Hear What I Hear?
" The most popular holiday songs on American radio were all written between 1934-1963, with "Sleigh Ride
" (1948), usually the most-played.
"All I Want For Christmas Is You" was not released as a commercial single, serving instead to drive sales of Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas
album. On airplay, the song made #12 US in 1994 when it was first issued to radio stations as a promotional single. It returned to the Airplay chart at #35 each of the next two years, establishing a place on holiday playlists. By 1999, the Hot 100 no longer stipulated that a song had to be sold as a single to be eligible, and with airplay now a factor, "All I Want For Christmas Is You" made the chart at #83.
In 2010, the song found a new audience when a version by Big Time Rush (as "All I Want For Christmas") made #124. In 2011, it nicked the charts with recordings by Justin Bieber & Mariah (#86), Michael Bublé (#99), and the Glee Cast (#118). At this point, Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe
," which reached #11 in 2011, was the highest charting modern Christmas song.
In 2012, Mariah's original rendition once again charted, this time peaking at #25. Every year, the song returned to the Hot 100; it cracked the Top 10 for the first time in 2017 when it hit #9. The Christmas of 2018, it climbed to #3. Finally, 25 years after the song was first heard, it hit #1 in 2019.
In the UK, the chart positions are also very impressive. It was prevented from being the 1994 Christmas #1 by "Stay Another Day" by East 17. Thanks to downloads (our friends in the UK tend to buy a lot of music around Christmas), the song made #4 in 2007, #12 in 2008, #18 in 2009 and #22 in 2010. We can't declare it the most successful UK Christmas song of the modern era because "Do They Know It's Christmas?
" has made #1 in some form three times since 1984.
In December 2006 this became the first ringtone to achieve a RIAA Gold certification for sales of over 500,000. The next year, the ringtone was certified Platinum for a million, then Double Platinum for 2 million in 2009.
The ringtone far outsold sales of the single, which wasn't issued until it was available digitally on iTunes and other services in 2003. The digital single was certified Gold in 2005.
Vince Vance & the Valiants released a completely different song called "All I Want For Christmas Is You" in 1989. That one, which was written by Troy Powers and Andy Stone (who performs as Vince Vance), has a similar sentiment, but more of a country vibe. It made a few appearances on the Country chart around Christmas time in the '90s.
In June 2022, Andy Stone brought legal action against Carey, seeking up to $60 million in damages. Song titles can't be copyrighted, but he claimed that Carey and Afanasieff engaged in "acts of unjust enrichment" and exploited "the popularity and unique style" of his song.
Carey hits a lot of Christmas clichés in the lyric, including mistletoe, Santa, reindeer and the North Pole, but she found some fresh powder. The song's co-writer Walter Afanasieff explained: "She created a lyric that probably, to this day, is the only uptempo Christmas love song. I think people like this positive love song because it's interchangeable: Anybody can sing it to anybody. It's about everybody, and it can only mean one thing from father to child or mother to child or wife to husband. It's just, 'All I Want For Christmas Is You.'"
The music video, shot to look like a home movie, shows Carey cavorting with Santa in the snow. It was directed by Diane Martel, who also did Carey's "Dreamlover
" video and later directed the Robin Thicke video for "Blurred Lines
Speaking with PopSugar in 2017, Carey recalled how the wintry video caused damage to her locks. "I was actually in the snow, that's not something that was created," she said. "It was freezing in that one-piece ensemble, [my] hair was frozen – and I remember it like it was yesterday."
Most of the music on this track was programmed on a computer by Walter Afanasieff, who handled the bass, drums, keyboard, and assorted festive sound effects, like the jingling bells. Dann Huff added guitar, and Carey was backed on vocals by Melonie Daniels and the sisters Kelly and Shanrae Price. The backup singers all had a gospel background.
Carey was married to Sony Music executive Tommy Mottola when this was released. In his book Hitmaker, Mottola claims that she initially balked at doing a Christmas album, since she thought it would damage her hip-hop credibility. When she saw the now-famous cover with her dressed in Santawear, she said, "What are you trying to do, turn me into Connie Francis?"
This became Carey's first chart-topper in Japan, where it sold over a million units.
Justin Bieber recorded a cover for his 2011 Under the Mistletoe album. He originally cut the song in a lower range, before Carey suggested that they record it as a duet, with the Canadian teen star reverting his vocals to her original key. However, Bieber's voice broke just before he hit the studio, which made it the hardest track on the album for him to record. "Yes, that was high," the Biebster told Billboard magazine. "But I grinded it out and we got it down."
The video for this duet shows Mariah in a skimpy Santa outfit showing off how well she recovered her form after having twins. The clip, chock full of product placement, shows Bieber and Carey in a department store setting, although most of the shots have them appearing separately. Carey is very particular about how she appears on screen, and if you look carefully, you'll see that her shots have a different video treatment than Bieber's. Mariah prefers a look created by shooting at double speed and then slowing it down in post production, generating a nice film effect. This means she has to sing at double speed, and also might explain why in the shots at the end, we don't see Justin doing any "singing."
A cover by child star Olivia Olsen was used at the climax of the 2003 holiday feel-good film Love Actually. The film's director, Richard Curtis, told Entertainment Weekly: "I was obsessed with that song. Whenever I was stuck with the movie, I played that song."
The Merry Christmas album sold 3 million copies by the end of 1994, and another million by the end of 1996, in large part because you had to buy it to get the song. It was certified at 5 million in 2003, the same year the song was first sold as a digital single. This makes it one of the best-selling Christmas albums ever released, and along with offerings by Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand that have also cleared 5 million, one of the biggest by a female artist. The top-selling Christmas album of all time is Elvis' Christmas Album, with over 10 million.
A children's picture book inspired by and featuring all the lyrics of this song was published on November 10, 2015. The All I Want For Christmas Is You book recounts the story of a Mariah-esque little girl, whose greatest Christmas wish is for a new puppy.
In 2017, an animated film based on the song was also released.
An English farmer named Angus Wielkopolski discovered that goats produce more milk listening to this tune than any other song. The discovery was made at St. Helen's farm near York where staff listen to music while they milk the cows. They found that the goats produced up to half a pint more when Carey's famous Christmas track was played. We hope they don't play Herman's Hermit's "No Milk Today
" for the goats!
In March 2015, Mariah Carey became the first rider on James Corden's Carpool Karaoke
. The bit became wildly popular, and in December, Carey returned
to sing "All I Want For Christmas Is You," but interspersed with footage of Carpool Karaoke guests singing along, including Lady Gaga, Elton John, Nick Jonas (St. Nick?), Adele, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Chris Martin and Gwen Stefani. With about 30 million views on YouTube, it sent the song once again into the Hot 100, this time placing it at #11, topping its original placement of #12 in 1994.
The conservative magazine The Weekly Standard
devoted the cover story of their December 21, 2015 issue
to "The debasement of Christmas songs," with this track cited as a prime offender. "'All I Want' is a bit of musical misdirection, a love song swaddled in Christmas clothes (velvet miniskirt, Santa cap)," Andrew Ferguson wrote. "The seasonal references to reindeer and snow and Santa and Christmas trees are used as a means to convey the singer's earthier, and less Christmassy, need for a hunk-a hunk-a burning love."
"All I Want For Christmas Is You" amassed 10.82 million streams on Spotify on December 24, 2018, breaking the single-day record for streams in the platform. The record had previously been held by XXXTentacion's "Sad!
," which had 10.4 million streams on the day after the rapper's passing.
Carey's streaming record was broken a few weeks later by Ariana Grande's "7 Rings
," which accumulated 14.97 million streams on Spotify in the 24 hours after being released on January 18, 2019.
Mariah Carey released a new "Make My Wish Come True Edition" music video for the song in 2019 directed by Joseph Kahn. The songstress leads the festivities in the clip alongside other seasonal imagery such as Santa Claus and dancing elves. The visual also features Carey's eight-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan, as well as Mixed-ish actress Mykal-Michelle Harris. Even her dog, Cha Cha, makes an appearance. Carey explained during a YouTube Q&A with fans her intention was to translate the song's wonder to a new generation.
"We wanted to make a modern classic and that's kind of been the theme with this song from the beginning. It's kind of the opposite of the original video because the original video – there was no syncing to camera; I'm just opening stuff and sleigh-riding and whatever. And this is a production, but I feel like it has the same spirit, if not more, because of how the song has affected me over the years."
The song topped the UK Singles Chart for the first time ever on the tally dated December 17, 2020, which was 26 years after its initial release.
Mariah's romantic longing is highlighted by the fact that she's standing alone under the mistletoe, where couples meet to share a kiss for good luck. The origin of the tradition isn't clear, but the Anglo-Saxons associated the ritual with Frigga, the goddess of love. Referenced in the classic tunes "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
" and "Holly Jolly Christmas
," the practice is still going strong in modern Christmas fare, including Taylor Swift's "Christmas Tree Farm
," Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe
," and Kelly Clarkson's "Under The Mistletoe
In her 2020 memoir, The Meaning Of Mariah Carey, Carey recalled being in love with the idea of Christmas as a child, but year after year the holiday was ruined by volatile family members who couldn't keep the peace for even one day. Still, she conjured the image of a perfect Christmas in her mind and revisited it when she began to write this song. "It was from my little girl's spirit and those early fantasies of family, and friendship, that I wrote 'All I Want for Christmas Is You,'" she explained. "Think of how it begins: ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding … the delicate chimes are reminiscent of those little wooden toy pianos, like the one Schroeder had on Peanuts. I actually did bang out most of the song on a cheap little Casio keyboard. But it's the feeling I wanted the song to capture. There's a sweetness, a clarity, and a purity to it. It didn't stem from Christian inspiration, although I've certainly sung and written from that soulful and spiritual perspective. Instead, this song came from a childlike space; when I wrote it, at 22 years old, I wasn't that far away from being a child."
After topping the Hot 100 in 2019, "All I Want For Christmas Is You" reached the summit in December 2020 and 2021. This made it the first ever song to reach #1 on the US singles chart on three separate occasions after dropping out of the charts completely each time.