Mariah Carey’s 1994 Hit ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ Still Dominates The Holiday Charts

(AP) — If anything about Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” annoys you, best to avoid shopping malls now. Or the radio. Maybe music altogether, for that matter.

Her 1994 carol dominates holiday music like nothing else.

The Christmas colossus has reached number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart the past four years in a row — measuring the most popular songs each week by airplay, sales and streaming, not just the holiday-themed — and it’s reasonable to assume 2023 will be no different. One expert predicts it will soon exceed $100 million in earnings. Even its ringtone has sold millions.

“That song is just embedded in history now,” says David Foster, the 16-time Grammy-winning composer and producer. “It’s embedded in Christmas. When you think of Christmas right now, you think of that song.”

Carey’s hit is so omnipresent that the Wall Street Journal wrote about retail workers driven batty by how many times it comes on in their stores, including one who retreats to the stockroom every time he hears the distinctive opening bells.

Yet the story behind “All I Want for Christmas is You” is not all holly and mistletoe.

The song’s co-authors, Carey and Walter Afanasieff, are in a mystifying feud. The authors of a different song with the same title have sued seeking $20 million in damages. While Carey calls herself the Queen of Christmas, her bid to trademark that title failed.

Every year on November 1, the song’s hibernation ends when Carey posts on social media that “it’s time” to play it again. This year’s message depicted her being freed from a block of ice to make the declaration.

In both music and lyrics, the song was perfectly engineered for success, says Joe Bennett, musicologist and professor at the Berklee College of Music.

At the time of its release, most new holiday music came from artists past their peak and looking for a new market. In 1994, though, Carey was at the top of her game.

“All I Want for Christmas is You” works as a love and holiday song. Carey sets it up: She doesn’t care about all the holiday trappings, she has one thing — one person — on her mind. It’s kept vague whether it’s a lover or someone she yearns for.

“It’s a wishing song and it works narratively,” Bennett said. “You can sing it to your beloved if you are together or not together.”

She sprinkles in specific holiday references: the Christmas tree, presents, Santa Claus, a stocking upon the fireplace, reindeer, sleigh bells, children singing and, of course, mistletoe.

The instruments and brisk arrangement recall Phil Spector’s 1965 album, “A Christmas Gift for You,” itself a holiday classic. To top it off, part of the melody slyly references “White Christmas,” Bennett says.

“That was my goal, to do something timeless that didn’t feel like the ‘90s,” Carey explained in a recent “Good Morning America” interview.

Billboard has produced lists of top seasonal hits since 2010, and “All I Want for Christmas is You” has been number 1 for 57 of the 62 weeks it has run, said Gary Trust, chart director. The Luminate data company said the song peaked at 387 million streams in 2019, the 25th anniversary of its release.

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but Will Page, Spotify’s former chief economist and author of the book “Pivot,” estimates the song will exceed $100 million in earnings this holiday season.

“By most objective measures,” Bennett said, “it’s the most successful Christmas song of all time.”