Another holiday season, another Christmas music takeover on the Billboard Hot 100. Every year, the impact that holiday music has on the charts seems to grow — though by season’s end, it’s usually the same two women who end up leading the pack: Mariah Carey and Brenda Lee.
Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” — which has topped the Hot 100 for multiple weeks each of the last two holiday seasons — is No. 2 on the chart this week, behind only Adele’s seven-week chart-topper “Easy on Me.” But just after her at No. 3 is “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which has climbed to No. 2 in back of Carey each of the last two years, and which seems to be closing the gap between the two songs even more this year.
Will this be the year Brenda Lee finally takes over? And who might sneak up on them in years to come? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. The chart gap between “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” seems to get smaller every year — but with Christmas just a week and a half away, Mariah Carey’s unkillable pop classic is still leading Brenda Lee’s holiday perennial. What percentage chance would you say Lee has of getting the gift of a Hot 100 No. 1 this year?
Stephen Daw: I’m gonna give Lee a 10% shot here. Like, never say never, but also, it’s probably not happening for you this year, Brenda. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is an absolute chart behemoth, and with the massive gains Mariah is making as we get closer to the holiday next week, I don’t see that gap closing significantly enough for Lee to swoop in and take the No. 1 spot. But hey, Christmas miracles can happen, so maybe she’ll manage to pull it off, unlikely as it may seem.
Josh Glicksman: Unfortunately for Brenda Lee, I’d say that there’s a less than 10 percent chance that Santa Claus comes down the chimney with a No. 1 hit for her this year. With only a few weeks remaining of the influx of songs on the Hot 100 — historically speaking, at least — she’d have to make a significant surge to sled past “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and you’d imagine if something to cause that was in the works, it’d have already surfaced by now. But hey, silver bells are perhaps preferable to gold ones this time of year, anyway, right?
Jason Lipshutz: I’d say 10%, because I simply won’t bet against “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as the most dominant holiday single on the charts until proven otherwise. Watching the gap close between Mariah Carey and Brenda Lee’s respective holiday singles each year has been interesting to watch, and can be chalked up to a few factors, like streaming playlist placement and the “classic” designation over the more modern “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Yet until the runner-up actually makes it into the No. 1 slot, I’m counting on the perennial champ to get there instead.
Melinda Newman: Maybe 25%. There is a small, but not impossible, chance that Lee’s Christmas party hop leaps over Carey’s wistful holiday hit. Lee and Carey’s streaming numbers are neck and neck, as are their sales, although Lee’s airplay impressions are slipping. Carey also has the edge because a new Apple + special this year has helped introduce her 27-year old chestnut to new fans.
Andrew Unterberger: I’d say 15%. If “Rockin'” was going to pass Mariah, it probably would have by now, but as things really heat up the actual week of Christmas, playlisting across the various streaming services — which sometimes favors older songs — could provide something of a wildcard.
2. Let’s say you were on Brenda Lee’s publicity team and determined beyond all determination to get her the No. 1 this year. What move(s) might you try to pull out that might actually be effective enough to give her that extra boost over the top?
Stephen Daw: If there’s anything I’ve learned from the past few years, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a remix or remaster to boost public awareness, interest, and yes, streams. If I were her team, I’d plot out a special re-release of the single, including a version that features a “We Are the World”-amount of music superstars joining in on the verses to help regenerate interest in the holiday classic. I think that, mixed with the addition of the song into any Christmas movie it can be plugged into, would certainly help rocket the holiday gem up to a No. 1 position. [Ed. note: Remixes released outside of the general time frame of older songs do not have their metrics combined with original versions for Billboard chart purposes, so a splashy new “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” remix would not directly help the original’s chart position — however, it would of course drive attention and likely extra consumption towards the original as well.]
Josh Glicksman: I’d do what countless other artists in today’s age have tried doing in order to revitalize or give a little extra oomph to one of their hits: add in a flashy remix! No one has really forayed into the field of putting new spins to classic holiday hits, so what’s the harm in trying? Even if it’s merely a duet or trading verses with a superstar, there’s nothing like giving a decades-old hit some 21st century pizzazz.
Jason Lipshutz: My main objective would be to get Mariah Carey involved. If you’re not a close chart-watcher, you probably aren’t aware of how “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” have established themselves as the Batman and Robin of perennial Hot 100 hits during the holiday season — and the way to change that is to pair Mariah and Brenda and make some well-deserved noise about the friendly competition. Who knows? Maybe Mariah will graciously rally around “Rockin’” getting to No. 1. It’s not like Lee is challenging Carey’s claim to the Christmas throne, and more than deserves one week to wear the crown.
Melinda Newman: Just like Ed Sheeran took to social media to implore fans to go buy or stream Elton John/Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart” so it would knock his own “Shivers” out of No. 1 on the U.K. charts, Lee’s publicity team should ask Carey to do the same. Carey could do a cute post saying that all she wants for Christmas is for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to go to No. 1. What could be less Grinch-like than giving 77-year old Lee the ultimate Christmas gift— a No. 1 song. I would also enlist many of the contemporary artists who have cut their own versions of “Christmas Tree,” including Justin Bieber, Meghan Trainor and Kacey Musgraves, to go on social media and tell their followers to bring this one home for Lee.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m not sure the remix route is necessarily the way to go here, since there’s no real way to do that in a way that sounds natural, and holiday music fans aren’t really interested in new spins on their favorite Christmas classics anyway — the music is comfort food at this time of year, and nobody wants their favorite recipes tinkered with. Maybe it’s just a matter of trying to land it a big sync in a widely watched new holiday movie or holiday TV special. The fondness that most music fans under the age of 40 have for the song is likely due in large part to associations with Home Alone, after all — repeat that effect for a new generation and that might be enough to get it over the top.
3. Though this has been more or less a two-horse race the past couple years, there’s no telling which Christmas songs — even decades- or generations-old standards — will tick up in a given December. Which song a little lower on this week’s Hot 100 rankings do you think might have a chance of one day being a No. 1 threat? (See below for complete breakdown of Xmas songs on Hot 100 this week.)
Stephen Daw: It’s tough because there’s a lot of great Christmas classics on the Hot 100 right now. But, if I had to choose, considering that there’s an entire Internet game called Whamageddon based around the sheer pervasiveness of the song “Last Christmas,” I’ll give it up to the 1984 classic for a future No. 1. It’s been the inspiration for a full movie, it’s been covered by basically every artist that’s ever lived, and every year it seems to only grow in cultural status — with the right tactics, I think that single could easily reach the summit of the Hot 100.
Josh Glicksman: It feels like Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” is going to surge up the charts into contention one of these years. Maybe the pop star will head out on a holiday-themed Christmas & Chill 10th anniversary tour in 2025, complete with a few new tracks and a release of the seasonal favorite? If not her, Darlene Love doesn’t seem far away from entering the conversation, either. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” works well because it has the beloved classic feel, and with her modern-day performances of the modern standard, it’s still being introduced to new listeners.
Jason Lipshutz: The more time that Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me,” which comes in at No. 30 on this week’s Hot 100, is given to seep into the collective consciousness, the more likely the song becomes a holiday staple. New Christmas singles typically take a few years to join the regular holiday-music rotations on radio stations and streaming services, but “Santa Tell Me” is catchy and likable enough to hang with the best of them. See you near the top of the Hot 100 in 2027, Ari!
Melinda Newman: I’m picking two: a relatively new one and a stone-cold classic. Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree,” from her 2013 holiday album, Wrapped in Red, has all the elements to make it to No. 1: an irresistibly catchy melody, great Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound production, a spiffy sax solo, ringing bells, the theme of love as the ultimate present and Clarkson’s unbeatable delivery. It should be a perennial top 10 holiday song.
But whereas Clarkson’s bop pays spritely homage to Spector’s sound, Darlene Love’s incomparable “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is, of course, the real deal. Nothing comes close to the shimmering production, Love’s powerhouse vocals, the backing singers and the slight melancholy as she longs for her love to return again for the holiday. At 58 years old, it remains the best Christmas song of the rock era. No disrespect to any of the other singers, but no other artist on the chart can hold a (Christmas) candle to Love’s mighty, mighty delivery.
Andrew Unterberger: I could see a pro-“Feliz Navidad” movement continuing to brew. The song caught a real second wind last year celebrating its 50th anniversary, and as the rare bilingual holiday song to annually impact the charts, it perhaps feels a bit more relevant to contemporary pop than some other competing titles. Plus, who wouldn’t be rooting for a song as sheerly likeable as “Feliz Navidad” if it got close?
4. There have also been a number of brand new songs on the chart in the past two weeks: Dan + Shay’s “Pick Out a Christmas Tree,” Taylor Swift’s “Christmas Tree Farm (Old Timey Version),” Ed Sheeran and Elton John’s “Merry Christmas” and Camila Cabello’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Which of them seems the most like a potential future perennial to you?
Stephen Daw: Strangely (though let’s be real, not that strangely), I think it’s going to be “Christmas Tree Farm (Old Timey Version)” by Ms. Swift. While my gut says that a song by a chart-ruler like Ed Sheeran with a legend like Elton John would have a massive future, my problem with “Merry Christmas” is that it’s very much designed for this moment — a happy holiday song meant to cap off a very hard year. What Taylor did with her “Old Timey Version” of “Christmas Tree Farm,” though, is she made it feel timeless. So, should the song ever make it out of the realm of Amazon exclusivity, I think it has a good shot at becoming a smash hit sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Josh Glicksman: Taylor Swift, no doubt about it. If you’ve only learned one thing in the past year about music, it may very well be that it’s never, ever too late for her to create a monumental amount of hype surrounding a years-old release. Like, ever. Sign me up for the “Christmas Tree Farm (Old Timey Version) (Taylor’s Version) (Frosty Winter Version)” a decade or so from now. It’s going to be an absolute hit.
Jason Lipshutz: Ed Sheeran and Elton John’s “Merry Christmas” isn’t my favorite of these, but I could foresee the warm-and-fuzzy duet with an immediately arresting hook to withstand the test of time. In the same way I hesitate to bet against “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as the current Christmas champ, I don’t like discounting Sheeran’s knack for collecting hits — and having his pal Elton in the mix makes “Merry Christmas” a cross-generation crowd-pleaser.
Melinda Newman: Sheeran and John’s “Merry Christmas” feels like it has the potential to go the distance and get trotted out every year. It includes elements that every holiday perennial should have — pristine, layered production; a slightly wistful, but still upbeat theme; ringing bells and a general sweetness, not to mention superstars and a very goofy video. It also feels like the one that will most readily get licensed in holiday commercials for years to come, which will keep introducing it to a new audience.
Andrew Unterberger: Gotta be “Merry Christmas,” which seems custom-designed to slot into radio and streaming playlists of holiday classics like a favorite from 35 years ago that you just hadn’t heard in a little while — and which of course is co-led by two of the most successful British pop-rock stars of the past half-century, one of whom already has one Xmas perennial to his credit. Don’t count out Dan + Shay though — the warm-hearted sentimentality of holiday music is right in their sweet spot, and this is their second season in a row breaking the Hot 100 with a Christmas song. If “Pick Out a Christmas Tree” doesn’t become their holiday standard, maybe the next one will.
5. While it sometimes seems like every major artist has tried their hand at a holiday anthem at this point, there are still some remaining holdouts. Who would you most like to see get into the holiday music game by this time next year?
Stephen Daw: I feel like the obvious answer here is Adele — her voice is literally perfect for a holiday album, and I actually would love to hear her take on an original Christmas track. If she could channel the unbridled joy-yet-wistfulness of, say, Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red (a personal favorite Christmas album of mine), then I think it would be an absolute game-changer for the rest of the holiday music world. However, considering that Adele has just released an album and is likely prepping to go back off the grid, it’s doubtful that my wish will come true by this time next year.
Josh Glicksman: How about Lorde? As much as I love Christmas songs about chilly temps, heavy snowfall and hot cocoa, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a few externally warm tracks as well. Her holiday experiences during New Zealand’s summertime should help with that.
Jason Lipshutz: Picture it: after a year-long, world-conquering campaign behind 30, Adele caps off a tremendous run by recording her first holiday single. Who wouldn’t want that? Who doesn’t need that? Let’s make it happen for 2022!
Melinda Newman: Easy answer — Adele. Technically she sang” All I Want For Christmas” with several other artists on The Late Late Show with James Corden in 2016, but that doesn’t count. I want a new sad holiday original from Adele that has you in tears on the floor by the time the first chorus is over. Runner up: Billie Eilish. She parodied one on a Christmas sketch on Saturday Night Live this past week and she’s sung “Sally’s Song” in a live production of Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas, but if there’s anyone who could put a new off-kilter spin on the holidays, it’s Eilish.
Andrew Unterberger: Adele is indeed the obvious choice, but let’s also make room for some Weird Christmas potential with a Doja Cat holiday single — something manic, horny, and as irresistible as the glow of the Yule Log TV broadcast.