Song 342: Mariah Carey, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (1994)


I know, I know. You’re probably cringing just thinking about this song, because you’re tired of hearing it every damn place you go. And look, I feel you: it’s unrelentingly cheerful, as if fueled only by joy. It wants so badly to be a Christmas standard, and now that it’s actually achieved that esteemed status, the song seems to rub that in your face. Look what I did, it says. I’m a goddamn Christmas song, and you’re just buying peas in the frozen food aisle.

But here’s the thing about “All I Want For Christmas Is You”: despite its tinny early-nineties production and cloying background singers, despite its karaoke strings and unearned bombast, it’s awesome. I love it, and I think, deep down, you do too.

My office has a tradition in which people hired during a given year have to perform a holiday song at that year’s Christmas party. The year I was hired, I and two others sang along to “All I Want For Christmas Is You” wearing blonde wigs (we couldn’t track down Mariah’s brunette shade in time), dancing around a table full of props. We sweated this for a few weeks,  rehearsing the stupid thing every couple of days. Thanks to the wigs, props, and drunk audience, we killed, but it was a hard-won victory.

I thought that experience would erase any love I had for “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but it only strengthened our bond. After those weeks of rehearsal and the flop-sweat performance, we know things about each other that nobody else could ever understand. We have seen some shit, man.

That’s what I think of when I hear those tinkly opening notes, but I also get excited for the Big Pop Song to come. Carey was clearly trying for a Phil Spector thing here, and I wish she had gone all the way, with baritone saxes and glockenspiels—the whole nine yards. It’s a great song, and it would sound even better with the right arrangement. But maybe we get the Mariah Carey Christmas song we deserve. Maybe I should just accept that Christmas sounds like the mall now, like a bunch of money thrown around like so much fake snow. Sometimes, that doesn’t sound too bad.


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