By Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
As Thanksgiving passes and Dec. 25 draws nearer, radio stations across the country are dusting off their holiday CDs and preparing for a month of seasonal cheer. One single that’s sure to be among the most-played in the Christmas canon is Mariah Carey’s iconic 1994 hit “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Carey recorded a vocal masterpiece that is somehow both festive and authentic, capturing the spirit of the season without selling her soul. She swipes at the commercialized, materialistic version of Christmas with lines like, “Don’t care about the presents/Underneath the Christmas tree,” and “Santa Claus can’t make me happy/With a toy on Christmas Day.”
Holiday albums have long been regarded as moneymakers for the washed-up and irrelevant, but Carey, then only 24 years old, snapped that narrative over her knee. Over the course of two and a half decades she’s sold almost 90 million albums in America, with every record debuting in the top four on the Billboard charts, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. “All I Want for Christmas is You” followed that paradigm of sales, becoming the most-downloaded Christmas song ever with over 3.2 million downloads and doubling the numbers of the second-place track.
The duality of Carey’s success is rare; few artists can maintain their essence while crossing over between Christmas and pop. It’s hard to imagine Beyoncé or Rihanna creating a Christmas album without watering down their brands in the process. Likewise, Yuletide legends like Bing Crosby or Brenda Lee couldn’t reach their same status had they sung Top 40 music.
The most reliable measure of a song’s value is it’s longevity; songs that set the pace for modern music will stay relevant. The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver remains popular because it sounds like many of 2016’s indie records. In the same way, Mariah’s Christmas muse bears none of the hallmarks of nineties’ pop music, instead opting for a timeless formula that gives the song a strangely new feeling. It sounds as if it could have been recorded this year, as opposed to other dated Christmas classics like Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” a very good track that unfortunately reeks of 1987.
Writing the song reportedly only took Carey 15 minutes, an impossible feat for anyone with less than a MENSA-level musical IQ. The single oozes charisma with a danceable beat, chiming church bells and layers of bright backup singers, inspiring countless multi-platinum acts to put their own spin on the single. The copycats include pop stars Michael Bublé and John Mayer, country icon Shania Twain and punk mainstay My Chemical Romance.
As the holiday season begins to peak, one thing is for certain: Mariah Carey is sure to spread the joy of Christmas through her legendarily infectious hit,“All I Want for Christmas is You.”