Five Burning Questions: Mariah Returns to No. 1, Other Holiday Favorites Overwhelm Hot 100
This week, Mariah Carey returns to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with her perennial "All I Want For Christmas Is You" -- the second straight December that the song has advanced to the top spot.
The calendar may only say Dec. 15, but it’s now officially the holiday season. This week, Mariah Carey returns to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with her perennial favorite “All I Want For Christmas Is You” — the second straight December that the song has advanced to the top spot.
It’s just the second time in Hot 100 history that a song has made two entirely separate trips to the top, following Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” nearly 60 years earlier. But it’s hardly alone in making a return to the chart’s top tier: The top 10 is also currently playing host to holiday classics from Brenda Lee, Bobby Helms, Andy Williams and Jose Feliciano, with many, many other seasonal favorites ranking underneath them.
What songs might provide competition for Mariah at No. 1 in the future? And could her own new song provide much of an “All I Want” threat? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Mariah’s back at No. 1 for the second December in a row. How do you feel about the prospect of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” becoming a perennial No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — is it still charming or is it getting a little overwhelming?
Katie Atkinson: Still charming! If the chart is supposed to represent what’s most popular at any given moment, “All I Want” and Christmas music in general is on a nonstop streaming loop at my house, so it’s definitely capturing what’s most popular for me.
Gab Ginsberg: I’m all for it! “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is a modern Christmas classic, and it’s impossible not to smile whenever and wherever I hear it playing. The Queen of Christmas DESERVES and I think this song should be No. 1 every year forever. Like decorating the tree, hanging up the stockings and getting sick off Baileys, “All I Want” hitting No. 1 is now holiday tradition.
Lyndsey Havens: It’s comforting, and in a year of few comforts I’ll gladly take it. Few things are certain these days, and if every December Mariah ends up topping the Hot 100 with a certified feel-good smash, then consider me charmed.
Jason Lipshutz: There’s nothing else quite like “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in current popular music, a holiday single that is so enormously popular — and so much more popular than any other modern Christmas single! — that it can reliably return to the top of the Hot 100 on a yearly basis, decades removed from its release. Not only is the song celebrated on a yearly basis, its singular chart achievement can now be toasted year after year; 2020 is only the second year of its No. 1 reign, and I’m fascinated to see how many more it can string together.
Andrew Unterberger: Mostly still charming, but I could see that wearing off a little in years to come if a true rival to its supremacy doesn’t emerge. The Kevin Durant-era Golden State Warriors were a blast to watch, but imagine if they had just trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals for a half-decade in a row — without any sense of competition, it’s almost impossible to maintain that early level of excitement.
2. Mariah tried to give herself a little friendly competition with the new “Oh Santa,” featuring Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson, but the song debuted at a perhaps-underwhelming No. 76 this week. Why don’t you think the song did better — and do you think its esteem/popularity might grow in the years to come?
Katie Atkinson: The idea of Mariah and Ariana on a song together might have been more compelling than the reality of it. Don’t get me wrong: The song and its video are very cute, and I was thrilled to hear Carey harmonize with Grande on their impossibly high whistle notes at the end. But there might be a reason the original “Oh Santa!” didn’t pop when Merry Christmas II You was released a decade ago; it just doesn’t have the same sing-along factor as “All I Want.” And if it only hit No. 76 with all the fanfare of its first week, I don’t see it getting much bigger down the road.
Gab Ginsberg: Mariah has been giving equal attention to both “Oh Santa” and “All I Want For Christmas,” as have her diehard fans, but there is a clear winner among the general populace, and that is “All I Want.” Maybe “Oh Santa” will be a smash down the line — time will tell — but for now, it’s just for fun, and that’s okay!
Lyndsey Havens: Look, I alone have streamed this song so many times I’m shocked it didn’t perform better. But if you look at the Holiday 100 this week, the top 10 is composed of classics, with no 21st century originals in sight. (Yes, “Oh Santa” is a decade-old hit, but still too current to compete.) I think over time it could grow in popularity — we very well could just be one TikTok challenge away — but no matter if it climbs or falls downs the charts in years to come, we will forever have the sky-high, seconds-long sing-off courtesy of Mariah and Ari.
Jason Lipshutz: The general public loves its time-honored Christmas music and largely spends the month returning to songs and playlists that they’ve held dear for years. Even with Mariah, Ariana and Jennifer on the track, “Oh Santa” was a long shot to resonate with a wider audience in 2020 — but who knows what will happen in a few years, when the (highly enjoyable) collaboration has a few years of plays under its belt? After all, we’re seeing Christmas songs that are a half-decade old, from Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” to Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree,” reaching new ubiquity on Christmas playlists, after listeners were able to familiarize themselves with the singles year after year. See you in 2025, “Oh Santa,” maybe!
Andrew Unterberger: One thing you have to say about the American holiday song canon — you really gotta earn your way into that thing. Unlike in the U.K., where holiday chart-toppers have historically been a fairly regular occurrence, it takes songs years — and more often, decades — to really start to make headway stateside, no matter how many big names are attached to them. And while “Oh Santa” is delightful enough to make a run at that eventual status, I can’t say I see it ever really coming for the “All I Want” throne regardless.
3. It does seem like this year, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is closing the gap a little between the two most perennially popular Christmas songs. Why do you think the song is mounting a relative surge, and what do you think the chances are it one day overtakes “All I Want”?
Katie Atkinson: A few possible factors come to mind: There’s the cross-genre appeal of Brenda Lee on holiday-heavy AC stations as well as on country and oldies stations, not to mention streaming becoming more and more prevalent with an older crowd each year. Whatever the case may be, given the staying power of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and the new methods of consuming holiday music, I’d say the chances of Lee coming out on top someday are high.
Gab Ginsberg: Do I look like the all-seeing Santa? I have no idea why it’s more popular this year, or whether it will go No. 1. But “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is great, so if it eventually overtakes Mariah, I won’t be mad. Also, this seems like a good time to ask Miley Cyrus to please film a music video for her awesome cover.
Lyndsey Havens: Here comes another TikTok point, but I think if the app’s users were to have a field day with the Home Alone scene of this song, it very well could propel it to the top (currently on the app, “Rockin'” is only tagged to 10.2 thousand clips). Otherwise, I see it remaining as a close companion to “All I Want” but am not sure it has the chutzpah to surpass it.
Jason Lipshutz: I think the difference between “closing the gap” and “overtaking” is too wide in this instance. Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is a classic, but doesn’t possess the pop culture force of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” or its universally beloved, holiday-ruling singer. If those two songs become the de facto Christmas singles that climb back highest on the Hot 100 each year, I don’t foresee their order changing anytime soon.
Andrew Unterberger: The interesting flip side to how long it takes a song to enter the holiday canon is the fact that once there, songs never really leave it — as evidenced by “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” both about as old as the Hot 100 itself, perennially ending up the silver and bronze medal finalists behind “All I Want.” We’ll see about either ever actually pushing for No. 1, but don’t discount the older folks flocking to Alexa and Amazon Music this time of year to fill their households with holiday classics — there’s more of them every year, and Brenda Lee might actually be a more recognizable figure to a lot of ’em than that young whippersnapper Mariah Carey.
4. Let’s say Mariah’s greatest competition doesn’t come from an older song, but a newer one. What 21st century holiday song do you think poses the greatest threat of eventually rivaling or surpassing it in holiday-season popularity?
Katie Atkinson: A lot of artists have tried to replicate Carey’s success with original holiday music, but I think the most successful 21st-century example is the one that followed Mariah’s exact path down Candy Cane Lane: Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree.” Aside from it being the highest post-2000 song on the latest Holiday 100 at No. 11 (and also hitting a new peak at No. 25 on the Hot 100 this week), it has three distinct similarities to “All I Want”: It’s about only needing love for the holidays, it takes a page from Phil Spector’s timeless Wall of Sound production, and it was co-written by the pop star herself (with Greg Kurstin). The fact that it’s still finding new fans seven years after its release bodes well for its endurance.
Gab Ginsberg: I know I just said I can’t predict the future, but also, I’d like to predict the future and say that Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” will follow in the footsteps of “All I Want” and become the next modern classic.
Lyndsey Havens: I’ll be the first to admit if I’m wrong, but this feels like too tall an order. But if I had to guess (with the help of data), I’d say Kelly Clarkson and Brett Eldredge’s “Under the Mistletoe,” which as of two weeks ago was nearing 8 million year-to-date on-demand total streams. Justin Bieber’s rendition of “Rockin'” was close behind, and had come out a month later… but my money is still on Kelly.
Jason Lipshutz: I love Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” — more muted than “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” with an R&B approach and subtle hook, but an arrangement that’s a true delight whenever it pops onto a holiday playlist. “Mistletoe” has aged very well over the past nine years, and while I doubt it ever challenges for the top of the Hot 100, I could see it growing in holiday-song stature over the next decade.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m also betting on Ariana, whose “Santa Tell Me” is a legitimately great song that both feels universal and also personal to its uniquely talented creator. It might take another 20 years — hell, it might take another 40 — but as kids come of age who grew up with Grande as an all-consuming pop culture figure the way that Mariah was a generation earlier, I think it could become a legitimate and worthy rival to “All I Want” supremacy.
5. You have a blank-check budget for resources and promotion, and can enlist up to any three artists of your choice to perform: Design the perfect holiday single to present a plausible rival to Mariah’s timeless classic.
Katie Atkinson: This is tough, because the most successful holiday hitmakers of the past couple of decades have mostly performed Christmas covers, and it’s going to take something original to compete with “All I Want.” So instead of calling on Michael Bublé or Pentatonix, I’m going to go with Adele (no features needed). She’s a reliable Hot 100 chart-topper and has the kind of songs that could fit in on the radio in any era, so this thing will have legs. For her first holiday song, I’m imagining a new standard in the vein of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or the quiet melancholy of Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Greg Kurstin, you’re up.
Gab Ginsberg: Lana Del Rey singing anything. WHERE IS THE LANA DEL REY CHRISTMAS ALBUM????
Lyndsey Havens: The thing is… I feel like the trio of Mariah, Ari and J. Hud is pretty perfect already, so I’d use my unlimited budget to promote the heck out of it.
Jason Lipshutz: I’d dial up Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, whisper the words “North Pole Road,” and be done with it. Nas’ quasi-Christmas single “Holiday” was the appetizer to the Christmas feast we all need.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s gotta be Adele — and as tempting as it is to enlist Drake for a 16-bar detour about his eight craziest Hanukkah nights, it’s probably gotta be just Adele. Do it 2020 Taylor style: announce it the morning before Christmas Eve, build up rabid anticipation over 12 hours, and unveil it that night. And though I don’t want him on the song, I am enlisting Harry Styles to fill another crucial purpose: to co-star in the song’s event music video, a 12-minute short film shot in black and white by “Hello” director Xavier Dolan, featuring Styles and Adkins as ex lovers and business rivals emboldened by the Christmas Spirit to give it one last shot. Call it “Don’t Be Alone at Christmas,” and watch the streaming records shatter like a glass ornament falling from the top of the tree.