The Secrets Behind “All I Want for Christmas Is You”

The holidays are right around the corner, and you know what that means, Christmas songs playing to get you into the spirit. This time of year is for getting together with the family, enjoying excellent home-cooked meals, and listening to songs to cherish the moments.

Mariah Carey / Mariah Carey / Mariah Carey, James Corden / Mariah Carey.

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There are so many memorable Christmas songs that have become classics over the years and have touched the hearts of people celebrating worldwide. There is one song, however, that stands out above all others. Without Mariah Careys’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” the holidays would simply not be the same.

Cheery Classic

The song was released in 1994 and, since then, has captured the essence of Christmas and the holidays. Not only does Mariah Carey, an international superstar, sing the song, but there are so many interesting facts about its creation and its impact.

Mariah Carey performs live at the All I Want For Christmas Is You tour.

Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

Months before Christmas, the song is being played on the radio, in malls, and basically, everywhere you go. Ever wonder where the song came from, who wrote it, and how it became such a hit? Well, here are the facts you need to know about what has been labeled the best Christmas song to date.

A Quick Hit

Apparently, it took all of fifteen minutes to write this incredible song. Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff co-wrote the song, going back and forth to create the smash. In no time, they made the structure, melody, and chords. All that was needed was writing the right lyrics, and there you have it, the perfect song in just a couple of hours.

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Mariah Carey/Getty Images

The song was released twenty-six years ago and, since its release, it has topped the charts every single holiday season. Unlike any other song, it is the fourth decade in a row it has peaked at number one.

World Record

On Spotify, it has broken the record for most played song twice! In 2018, the song was played 10.82 million times in twenty-four hours which was later broken by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s “I don’t care.” However, in 2019, it reclaimed its glory and hit 12 million streams.

Mariah Carey is awarded for highest-charting Holiday Song.

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It has also collected three Guinness World Records: for most streamed song on Spotify in twenty-four hours, for the highest number of weeks in the Top 10 U.K. singles for a Christmas song, and the highest-charting holiday song on the Billboard U.S. Hot 10 by a solo artist. Not bad for a seasonal song.

Initial Dislike

Afanasieff, who co-wrote the song, didn’t particularly like the song when it first came out: “At the time, I thought it was overly simple, and I really didn’t like it.” He felt the melody was too basic. It turns out it was more enjoyable than expected. People couldn’t stop singing it because of how catchy and fun it was.

A portrait of Mariah Carey / Afanasieff plays the piano.

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He also didn’t enjoy Mariah’s vocals at first. When speaking to Business Insider in 2013, he noted, “My first reaction was, ‘That sounds likes someone doing voice scales. Are you sure that’s what you want?'” Good on Maria; the song is now her legacy.

Troubling Origins

In her memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, she speaks about her difficult childhood. When it came to the holidays, she ‘didn’t experience the joy and wonders that most kids do. She reflects on always wanting to have the most festive Christmas, but her family ‘didn’t have the means to do so, and “somehow people I was related to would come in and ruin the holiday every year.”

A screengrab of Mariah Carey at home.

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She had to reflect on what she wanted for the holiday. It seems like wanting the genuine “you” is all people want, no matter what they can afford.

Timing of the Album

At the time, Mariah didn’t feel it was the right time to come out with an album. Most stars who did so had already made it big, and coming out with a holiday album was untraditional considering where she was in her career.

A Christmas candy with a sticker of Mariah Carey.

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It is safe to say we are happy with the turnout. Mariah didn’t seem to like the album cover initially, as her ex-husband and previous manager, Tommy Mottola, pointed out. He noted that she said, “What are you trying to do, turn me into Connie Francis?”

Almost Didn’t Happen

Mariah had no plans to write her own song. She initially wanted to make an album consisting of only cover songs. If she hadn’t, Christmas would not be the same. We are thankful she somehow found the inspiration and added to the holiday spirit.

Mariah Carey in a still from the song's video.

Source: YouTube

The song is a huge success, and the fact that it has stayed popular for so long is more reason to celebrate. For the song’s 25th anniversary, Mariah decided to go on a holiday tour to celebrate the classic.

Deluxe Edition

Mariah’s album, “Merry Christmas,” was released as a deluxe anniversary edition in 2019. Fans must have been raging over this stocking stuffer. She also decided to release footage from the just as famous music video; what a treat to see where it all started!

Maria Carey and LA Reid at the of Merry Christmas II You.

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The deluxe edition also includes a bonus disc with a live set from New York’s Cathedral at Saint John’s in 1994. Remixes and updated editions of songs such as “Sugar Plum Fairy” are added to the redistributed holiday work.

How Original Is the Song?

It might come out as a surprise that the song wasn’t the first one called “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” In 1989, Vince Vance and the Valiants released the same name song that reached country music single charts.

A still of Vince Vance and the Valiants video clip.

Source: YouTube

Don’t get me wrong; the country song wasn’t nearly as successful as Mariah’s. Also, Carey’s song is entirely unique, without anything in common with the song with the original first name. The jingle and melody are just too catchy for any other one to compete.

International Recognition

The song was a smash hit all around the world, reaching top charts in various countries. It reached number two in the United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Japan, and Australia. In 1994, the song became the 12th best-selling single in the U.K.

A Christmas promotional portrait of Mariah Carey.

Source: Apple TV

The British Phonographic Industry certified the song quintuple platinum on Christmas day in 2020, and it’s Maria’s best-selling song in the U.K. Inn 2017, the song reached number two in the U.K. since its release, and then again in 2018 and 2019.

Too Hot for a Christmas Song

It just makes so much sense for the song to be written during the winter holiday season, but don’t be fooled. It was recorded in August when the weather demanded we wear shorts and head to the beach.

Mariah Carey's Christmas performance at the Mall.

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The writers also needed the holiday feel to record the song properly: “We had Christmas trees and lights brought into the studio to get us in the mood,” stated Afanasieff. Snow was also considered for the effect in the studio, but it fell through as it might have been too much.

The Music Video

The music video suited the song. The main video shows clips from Mariah Carey’s childhood. It was a homemade-style video where we saw depictions of her family and dogs.

A still from the video.

Source: YouTube

Mariah is also dressed in a Santa costume, happily running through snowy mountains. Tommy Mottola, Maria’s husband at the time, makes an appearance in the video, giving her a gift and flying away on a red sleigh. The second video was filmed in black and white giving it that extra homey feel.

Greatest of All Time

Who hasn’t covered the song? I mean, I know I sing it in the shower before the holidays even start. Stars like Demi Lovato, My Chemical Romance, John Mayer, and Shania Twain have logically taken a liking to the song and done covers.

A still from Mariah Carey's latest Christmas video clip.

Source: YouTube

Remixes were also released all around the world. In 2000, the song was re-released commercially with the name So So Def remix. New vocals were added as well as a harder, urban beat with a sample from Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Forces’ “Planet Rock.”

A Lesson to Be Learned

Real instruments weren’t used during the recording of the song. Carey’s vocals were added only after music and instruments were placed on a track for the recording. Regardless of the computer used to combine the lyrics and melody, 13 chords, including a minor subdominant chord, were used in the song.

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

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The particular chord used in the line “underneath the Christmas tree” is a feature recognized in the Great American Songbooks. The song wasn’t just catchy and fun but had some real musical legacy in the making.

Who Doesn’t Love the Song?

Double-platinum sales peaked in 2009 as “All I Want for Christmas Is You” became a hit ringtone. Even animals have taken a liking to the song. In 2010, a British farmer shared that his goat made the most milk when listening to “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Mariah Carey/Getty Images

After Mariah, the charismatic Mickael Bublé was the first to record a cover of the song that hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mariah seems to have recognized his work as the two singers went on to do a duet together.

Carpool Karaoke

Have you ever heard of Carpool Karaoke? The late-night host James Corden picks up celebrities, singers, and bands as they escort him on his way to work, jamming out to all their hits together. For Christmas, James wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to sing with Mariah Carey.

James Corden and Mariah Carey sing together.

Source: YouTube

She joined him to jam out to her hit, and other celebrities joined in the duet. Famous names such as Elton John, Demi Lovato, Chris Martine, Selena Gomez, Adele, Lady Gaga, Nick Jonas, Gwen Stefani, and more joined.

Love Actually

One of the most notable films covering “All I Want for Christmas” is sung by Oliva Olson in Love. Olson played Joana in the romantic comedy and singing the song played a critical turning point in the plot.

A still of Oliva Olson performing All I Want for Christmas.

Source: YouTube

All the critical stars in the romantic love triangles seem to have frozen in place to watch her performance when she performs. Samb, the boy who had fallen in love with Joana in the movie, plays the drums to try and win her over.

Amazon Documentary

“Mariah Carey Is Christmas” is the title of the mini-series that goes behind the scenes. The documentary was also released in honor of the 25th anniversary. Mariah, producer Randy Jackson, and others are interviewed to give their insight.

A still from Mariah Carey in the Amazon Documentary.

Source: Amazon Music

“As we continue to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ‘All I want for Christmas is You,’ it was important for me to share part of the story behind this song that still brings me joy every year,” says Carey. I hope you enjoy Amazon’s special glimpse into the magic of the song.”

Performances by the Queen of Christmas

Once the song came out, everybody wanted to see Mariah perform it both live and on TV. The singer went on several world concert tours to share the magic of the tune. The tours included the Daydream World Tour (1996), the Butterfly World Tour (1998), Rainbow World Tour (2000), and many more.

Mariah Carey performs at the Disney Christmas Day Parade.

Photo by Mark Ashman/Disney/Getty Images

Carey also performed the song at the acclaimed Walt Disney Christmas Day Parade that aired on ABC in 2004. Mariah performed the So So Def remix version during the opening night (New Year’s Eve) of her Angels Advocate Tour.

Cultural Legacy

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” hasn’t missed a holiday chart once. From 2017, it was estimated that the song racked in an estimated 60 million dollars in royalties. Lauren Alverez, a writer for Forbes Magazine, said that the tune has “become the unofficial song of Christmas each year debatably.”

A general view of the atmosphere as Mariah Carey performs.

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Cady Lang, a writer for Time Magazine, stated that one of the biggest reasons the song was so popular was the “powerhouse vocals of the beloved elusive chanteuse.”

Merry Christmas

When Mariah put out the album, she included nine other songs to go along with “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” The others were delightful, but the album’s success was credited to the hit. The same co-writer who helped Maria write the classic tune worked with Mariah on the rest of the album.

Mariah Carey in a still from the song's video.

Source: YouTube

Opinions of the album diverged. Some people loved it, mentioning her vocals were “gospel and soul-inflected.” The Recording Industry Association in America certified it a platinum album eight times.

25th Anniversary

When the album was released for its 25th anniversary, many events and specials celebrated the event. A two-disc edition was released on November 1st, 2019, including other notable songs such as “Oh Santa” and “The Star” and various remixes.

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

The album Merry Christmas is one of the best-selling Christmas albums ever and has sold fifteen million copies globally. The singer’s spirituality and faith influenced the album. She felt she was able to show her spirituality through her music.

The Goal of the Album

The album was composed of a variety of genres, sounds, and musical placements. Carey wanted to give the album the “Christmas Feel” that the holidays demanded, and she added her soulful touch to the music.

Mariah Carey poses on a red Christmas background.

Photo by Dennis Leupold

On the gospel side, the album included songs like “Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child,” which was recorded in a church. Children playing instruments as well as backup singers were added to the melody for the necessary effect. The church feel was instrumental in allowing Carey’s voice to flow naturally in the song.

The 1960’s Feel

The vibe of the song was something you didn’t typically hear in the early ’90s. The sound hinted more to the 60’s era: “I was trying to do my own version for the ‘Wall of Sound,'” said Carey. Essentially, she wanted the vocals in the background to become the focus.

A general view of Mariah Carey's performance on stage.

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Phil Spector, famous for producing the “Wall of Sound” effect, greatly influences Carey’s musical sound. Other critics have also mentioned that her vocals are a slight reminder of Spector’s female groups, The Ronettes or The Crystals.

Pitch Perfect

Randy Jackson mentioned that “I used to call her Mariah Claus in the song’s documentary.” It was understood that she had a tremendous love for the Christmas season and wanted to make sure everything was perfect, which was reflected in the song.

A video still from Mariah Carey, singing.

Source: Apple TV

“My mom would try to make it fun, but we didn’t have a lot of money, so sometimes she would wrap up fruit, and whatever it was she could afford.” A perfect Christmas is what Mariah aspired to when she became successful, which is reflected in the hit.

Favorite Line

We have all connected to the song in addition to the melody, chorus, and entry jingle. Mariah has shared that her favorite line from the song is “I won’t even wish for snow.”

Mariah Carey performs live.

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She mentioned always wishing for snow as it was something she didn’t experience. Nowadays, to make her dream of a festive winter come true, she takes her kids to Aspen for the experience. She even goes on sleigh rides with real reindeer.

Parting Ways

Mariah Carey and co-writer Walter Afanasieff haven’t spoken to each other since they worked on the 1997 “Butterfly” album together. Mariah decided to gear towards a more R&B direction in music. This might have contributed to the relationship deteriorating.

A portrait of Walter Afanasieff / Mariah Carey attends an event.

Photo by Paul Redmond, Getty Images / Barry King, Getty Images

Afanasieff wrote, “It’s a shame because had great chemistry. My greatest dream is to work with her again. Mariah, all I want for Christmas is you!” Other hits they worked on together include “Hero” and “One Sweet Day.”

Part-Ownership

A lot of Mariah Carey fans have taken to social media to credit the entire song to Carey. Afanasieff has been questioned about the experience of needing to defend himself: “it has come to a place where it’s almost bittersweet for me because of the fact that I’m constantly, every single year at this same time of year having to defend myself.”

Afanasieff speaks on stage.

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He also mentions that because Mariah doesn’t share the credit, it harms his reputation and hasn’t left him with the best feeling in the world.

What Makes the Fans Angry?

Since the two have written numerous songs together, it seems that Afanasieff is baffled by people’s reactions. It seems that when it came to working together in general, Mariah was able to credit Afanasieff appropriately. Still, there was something special about this song that set it apart from the others.

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

“I’m not bitter in any way, shape, or form. I’m just saying, geez, I wish people weren’t such haters”.” He feels as though people have exaggerated their remarks, labeling him a liar from their perspective.

Afanasieff’s Version

According to Mariah’s co-writer, the chords and melody were created together. Once that was complete, Mariah wrote the lyrics as she did on every song they wrote together. He also credited her for working on the melody as he played the piano. They went back and forth as people who create songs together usually do.

Mariah Carey in a still from the song's video.

Source: YouTube

Before the lyrics were added, Afanasieff went back to his home in San Francisco to make the track without the singing vocals, which he says he did on his own.

Was a Band Involved?

Afanasieff mentioned that a band was brought in with musicians such as Dann Huff and Greg Phillinganes. Their musical application helped with the song’s vibe, but nothing official was recorded with the band.

A photo of the album cover.

Source: Pinterest

Afanasieff spoke of possibly giving the song a chance with the band, but that it didn’t work out in the end: “It needed to be brighter, more fun and more of what I thought a Christmas song should be on the radio, so I kept all of my synth/sequencer parts, computer parts.”

Astonishing Feedback

The co-writer was also shocked at the overwhelming success of the song”This is the only time in the history of music that 25 years later it’s released that a song went No. 1 on the top 100.”

Mariah Carey talks during an interview.

Photo by Mark Erickson/Getty Images

He says that nothing like this has ever been done before, and it was like the creation of a child, more rewarding than any financial compensation. It doesn’t seem like he cared much for the press, but he would rather have the people understand his contribution.

A Chance Is All He Needed

When asked if he would ever work with Mariah Carey again, Afanasieff responded with, “Are you kidding? I love Mariah. It’s not that I’ve been waiting patiently for this to happen, but I feel there’s no reason whatsoever why we’re not working together after all the magic we made together.”

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

Photo by James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

Regardless of the success and style of the song, Carey went off to take on more of a hip-hop vibe. Afanasieff mentions that the kind of music they created was unique and wasn’t something she would get with others.

Royalties Made Her Rich

It’s no secret that famous musicians make a considerable amount of money. I mean, setting aside the actual making of the music, the fame, marketing tours, and so much more can make them financially comfortable after a very short amount of time, that is, if they make it big, of course.

Mariah Carey poses for the press.

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For Mariah Carey, it’s no different. She made so much from “All I Want for Christmas Is You” that the four-minute song has made her enough royalties to retire altogether.

Singing Incident

In 2015, after her divorce from Nick Cannon, Mariah performed her yearly hit at the Rockefeller Center. Not only did she arrive late, but she also had some malfunctions on important notes. It wasn’t so easy to watch.

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

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Sylvester Stallone, who came to the show, said it was “like watching an autopsy on a man who’s still alive.” A little harsh, but we get it. The performance was not good, and it wasn’t Mariah’s best moment. It doesn’t take away from the legacy, nevertheless.

Updated Music Video

In 2019, a new version of the original video called “Make My Wish Come True” was uploaded to YouTube, where we see Mariah dressed as Santa Clause on display in a storefront. That same year, the song was charting number one, so why not give the old song a little makeover for the fans?

An iconic Christmas portrait of Mariah Carey.

Source: YouTube

The video shows a little girl enjoying the magic of season’s greetings with numerous dancers with candy canes and toy soldiers. Mariah appears festively dressed up, eventually appearing in a red sparkly dress welcoming her twins.

All I Want for Christmas Is You – The Movie

Things just keep getting better and better as the astounding success of the song has led to the production of an animated movie. It is based on the song and book that Colleen Madden and Mariah Carey wrote.

A still from the animated movie.

Source: YouTube

Mariah stars in the movie and is joined by other actors such as Breanna Yde and Henry Winkler. The movie plot unfolds with Mariah’s music as her wish for Christmas is a puppy. Mariah plays herself as well as the narrator, while Breanna Yde plays the younger version of Mariah.

Rewarded for the Best

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” has received unbelievable recognition and has broken one too many records, so it doesn’t come as a shock that it has received some official awards as well. Among the rewards, the song received the World Music Award for World’s Best Song in 2014 and the World Music Award for World’s Best Video that same year.

Mariah sits with her dog for a Christmas portrait.

Source: Pinterest

Interestingly enough, the song reached the top of New Zealand charts in 2018 for the first time. A little behind, but Australia’s neighboring country eventually got there.

Glee’s Version

Glee is remembered for adding some of the most creative touches to songs. In 2011, the cast covered the single as part of their album “Glee: The Music, the Christmas Album Volume 2”. The episode featuring the song aired in titled “Extraordinary Merry Christmas.”

The Glee cast is dressed in Christmas outfits during an episode.

Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Fox Broadcasting Company

Justin Bieber was lucky enough to have a duet with the Christmas queen in his album Under the Mistletoe. They filmed the music video in a Macy’s department store in New York City, a classic portrayal of buying gifts during the holiday season.

Mariah’s View

When she began writing the lyrics for the song, she was living in upstate New York. “Actually, I put on It’s a Wonderful Life downstairs. You could hear it throughout the house,” said Carey. What a classic to have in the background while unknowingly writing another soon-to-be classic. She wasn’t really a piano player, so she just played around on an old Casio keyboard.

Mariah Carey performs on stage.

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In her documentary, Carey mentioned it was done very quickly and kind of came out organically, which the best songs do.

Marketing the Tune

In 1994, the song was a smash hit. Evidently, marketing around the song every year allows fans to reconnect. “Every year, we focus a campaign on new ways to market ‘All I Want for Christmas’ because the opportunities for people to hear this perennial classic seem to grow and grow,” said Rob Stringer, the Sony Music Group chairman in 2019.

Mariah Carey in a promotional Christmas shot.

Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage/Getty Images

Promoting the song over the years has taken Mariah on the road beginning in 2014. She has performed in Madrid, London, Paris, and Las Vegas.

“Killin” It on YouTube

The original music video has had just about six hundred million views since 2009, which was the year various cuts were added. In 2016, a black and white sequence was featured in the video, which assisted in the billboard top ranking.

Mariah Carey speaks during an interview.

Source: YouTube

There were over forty-five million streams in one week in 2019 and thirty-five million the week before that. Radio listeners have reached a record audience of 1.8 billion, an all-time record noted by the largest broadcaster in the United States, iHeart Radio.

A Song to Remember

It’s no secret that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has become a singing sensation. Its high popularity has reached listeners even when it’s not the holiday season. Over the years, its various versions, alterations, and additions have updated the song, yet it only seems to grow more popular.

A still from the song's original video.

Source: YouTube

Christmas is right around the corner, and after the few exciting years we have had with the COVID- 19 virus, it will be curious to see what Mariah chooses to do with the song this year.