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All I Want For Christmas Is You: History, How Much Mariah Carey Makes Every Year, And More

1990s | December 22, 2019

There aren't many artists who had a better year in 1994 than Mariah Carey. After the success of the previous year's Music Box, she was named the top female singles artist by Billboard, which she followed up by releasing one of the few original Christmas classics since the '60s.

It’s safe to say that Carey was unstoppable in the early '90s, but a hit Christmas song wasn’t a given. At the time, listeners weren't exactly banging down the doors of record labels to beg for new Christmas tunes. Still, "All I Want For Christmas Is You" found its audience in 1994, and that was just the beginning. Over the course of the next 25 years, the single only became more popular thanks to smart placement in films and constant seasonal radio play. The song has gone platinum multiple times, been covered by artists across the musical spectrum, and even inspired goats to make some of the best cheese of their life. This is the incredible story of "All I Want For Christmas Is You."

Mariah didn’t want to record the song

Source: Pitchfork

As with all Campbellian hero narratives, Mariah Carey didn't want to accept her call to greatness. When she heard that her label wanted her to record a Christmas album, she balked. At the time, no one was recording Christmas albums unless they were over the artistic hill. Her then-husband and head of Sony Records, Tommy Mottola, had to convince her to record the album.

The song was rushed into production

Source: YouTube

All Mariah Carey wanted for Christmas was to be finished with this song. She and co-writer Walter Afanasieff spent about 15 minutes putting the song together in Carey's home studio in August 1994. Afanasieff said of their time in the studio:

We had Christmas trees and lights brought into the studio to get us in the mood. There was even talk of bringing in some snow at one point, but we didn't go with that, thank God.

After putting the song down on paper, Carey and Afanasieff recorded it themselves without a band, producing all the music on the studio's computer. 

The track was inspired by Phil Spector's Christmas album

Source: Time

One of the reasons "All I Want For Christmas Is You" became an instant classic is that it doesn't sound like it's from any specific era. In '94, Carey was the queen of ballad-heavy, pop R&B, but her Christmas single harkens back to '60s girl groups like The Ronettes, something that audiences weren't expecting in the era of Boyz II Men and Soundgarden. Carey and Afanasieff were inspired by Phil Spector's wall of sound, so when Afanasieff sat down at the piano, he started playing as if he was a part of Spector's band. He told Billboard:

I started playing some rock 'n' roll piano and started boogie woogie-ing my left hand. And that inspired Mariah to come up with the melodic [sings] 'I don't want a lot for Christmas.' And then we started singing and playing around with this rock 'n' roll boogie song, which immediately came out to be the nucleus of what would end up being 'All I Want For Christmas Is You.'

No one thought the song would be a hit

Source: Buzzfeed

At the time, the songwriters had no notion of their slapdash song lighting up the charts, especially not for two decades. Afanasieff said:

[When the song was released], Christmas music and Christmas albums by artists weren't the big deal that they are today. 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 everyday, 'Hey, you know, we're putting out a Christmas album. No big deal.' To think of it as a single that's going to No. 1, that's going to drive an album ... we didn't have an inkling of that. 

The hit that keeps on giving

Source: Variety

Would we still be talking about this song if it weren't so ground-shakingly good? It's not like a song persists for decades if it's bad, but it's still shocking how the song continues to be a seasonal banger year after year. As popular as it was when it debuted, it actually didn't hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 until 2019, 25 years after its release. Every December, the song slinks its way back onto the charts, bringing in over half a million dollars between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. Of the song's enduring success, Afanasieff says:

I've been very lucky to have written many hits like 'Hero' and 'One Sweet Day' with Mariah Carey, but 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' is the cherry on top. I never imagined it would be something that we'd still be talking about 20 years later, but I'm glad that we are. It definitely helped feed and clothe my three children.

Carey has cornered the market on Christmas

Source: Mic

"All I Want For Christmas Is You" is no longer just a song; it's an entire franchise. It spawned a children's book in 2015, an animated film in 2017, and an Amazon Music documentary in 2019. Even its ringtone went platinum in 2009.

For her part, Carey doesn't question the magic of the song. She told the New York Times

It's something my die-hard fans think about, and people that are really close to me are talking to me about it literally all year. But I don't need something else to validate the existence of this song. I used to pick it apart whenever I listened to it, but at this point, I feel like I'm finally able to enjoy it. I just truly love the holidays. I know it's corny, and I don't care.

All I want for Christmas is ewe

Source: Forbes

The most miraculous thing about the song isn't its chart performance or the consistent income stream it provides its writers. The special thing about this song is the way that it affects people ... and animals. In 2010, a British goat farmer revealed that his goats produce more milk when they listen to "All I Want For Christmas Is You" on a loop. He had previously tested "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)," but that trial was a complete failure. It's unclear why this man wanted such festive cheese, but it's a conclusive fact that Mariah Carey's voice turns everything it touches into Christmas joy.

Tags: 1990s | Christmas | music

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.