With the holiday season upon us, let’s take a look at the best selling Christmas single in the 21st century, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.

Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is still the #1 selling Christmas song of all time, but when it comes to the modern era, nothing comes close to Mariah Carey’s ode to the holidays.

In 2019 it was the most streamed song in 24 hours on Spotify, and since 1991, it’s sold 3.2 million copies giving it the #1 spot by a massive margin. For some, the song has become synonymous with Christmas, and yet the track barely made a ripple when it was first released. Thanks in part to a performance with Jimmy Fallon in 2012, the song appeared on the Billboard charts and made its way to #21.

It was around this time that Carey gained the honorific title “Queen of Christmas.” Since then the song has only increased in popularity; in 2017 the song made it to Billboard’s #9 spot, snowballed to #3 in 2018, culminating with the #1 spot in 2019.  

So what is it about this track that netted Mariah over $60 million in royalties and reached #1 an incredible 25 years after its release? We asked a few of our instructors to dissect the mammoth Christmas song.

What goes into the making of a massive hit?

Andre – There are two distinct emotions in the song. In the introduction, you’re taken into a world of nostalgia, and then suddenly it’s a party song. The listener goes on an emotional journey, which is a big reason it’s on so many playlists.

Steven – The production is genius. The way they used the orchestration, it could be a film score, an advertisement, anything. Because of that, its commercial uses are infinite.

Andre – For a song like this, the biggest production challenge is not doing too much. It’s like recording Elvis, you want to let the artist be themselves. But what makes this song such a hit is that it could be redone in every possible style and it would still work. You could sing it around a campfire, do a hard rock version, anything really. Other than maybe trap, ha!

So, if you’re setting out to compose a hit, you might want to consider using the elements that make Mariah’s Christmas song so popular. With its orchestral arrangement, the tune maximized its commercial potential by making it a perfect accompaniment for a wide variety of publishing applications, from film to TV, to commercials. And with its emotional introduction followed by a “rocking around the Christmas tree” vibe, it invokes not only nostalgia but good times, something that everybody is looking for during the holidays. Add on the fact that your track could get a yearly bump in sales and royalties, what have you got to lose?

And of course, as of 2019, there IS a trap version of the song. We’ll let you judge whether or not it’s a hit.

Written by Micheal Perry

Illustration by Yihong Guo