It only took a quarter century. A whopping 25 years and change after Mariah Carey first released the holiday perennial “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — and a number of close-but-not-quite returns to the top tier of the Billboard Hot 100 in the years since — the song at long last ascends to pole position on the chart this week.
With its climb to the No. 1 spot, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” also lays claim to a good deal of chart history. It’s the first Christmas song in 61 years to top the Hot 100 — and only the second total — and Carey’s own 19th No. 1, leaving her just one shy of The Beatles’ all-time record of 20. It also gives Mariah her first No. 1 of the 2010s, making her one of a select handful of artists to conquer the chart in three consecutive decades — with a fourth potentially on the way if the song can hold on for another couple weeks.
How much longer will the song’s reign extend? And what could be the next holiday favorite to follow “All I Want” to No. 1? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Well, the day we’ve spent years talking about the possibility of is finally here: “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is now the No. 1 song in the country. On a scale from 1-10, how happy are you to see it at long last take the top spot 25 years on?
Hilary Hughes: I AM A 12. (It’s a special occasion; I’m bending the rules!) Carey has the most formidable collection of No. 1s for any female solo artist in Billboard‘s history (a whopping 19 now), and that’s one thing, but to get yet another No. 1 for a holiday hit? That’s nearly unheard of — which is pretty damn surprising considering the cultural footprint of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and its omnipresence throughout the season. It’s about time the numbers caught up with what we already know about this particular track, which is that it’s a perennial favorite and a classic that many turn to the second they need a dose of Christmas cheer.
Joe Lynch: I’m saying 9. I love, love seeing a new Mariah No. 1, and this is easily the best holiday original released in my lifetime (apologies to the chestnuts on Afroman’s A Colt 45 Christmas). And it’s especially meaningful because she genuinely seems to care(y) about this topping the Hot 100.
Gary Trust: 10. I bought the Merry Christmas album (on cassette!) in 1994 and have loved the song ever since. Every Hot 100 No. 1 is, of course, special, but most songs only have a few weeks, or even sometimes one week, from their release for fans to anticipate them possibly reaching that coveted top spot. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” takes that build-up and multiplies it by 25 years, so it’s truly one of the most unique No. 1s in Hot 100 history. There’s also such a fun time-travel element to it: it’s like we’ve gone back and made this song a deserving No. 1 at last. Add in the holiday angle, and it’s about as feel-good a chart story as it gets.
Andrew Unterberger: 8. Love the song and very happy that it finally got to No. 1, but doing so the week before Christmas feels maybe the slightest bit premature — especially since it seems highly unlikely to abdicate the throne as we get deeper into December.
Denise Warner: A solid 8. It’s pretty exciting, especially since Mariah released it 25 years ago. It’s the best “new” Christmas song and definitely has been fun to watch it climb the charts every year for the past few years. It’s interesting, too, because it shows that older songs can still have so much life in them, because of streaming and the potential virality of even decades-old hits.
2. In addition to being No. 1 on the overall Hot 100, the song also leads the Holiday 100 for the 38th week out of a total 43 frames since the list launched (in 2011). What’s the one thing about “All I Want for Christmas Is You” that’s helped make it easily the most successful holiday song of the modern era?
Hilary Hughes: I love how timeless it is and how seamlessly it blends into a mix with the rest of the holiday standards, from “Feliz Navidad” and “Jingle Bell Rock” to “White Christmas” and back again. Nothing about this song screams 1994, which is by design: the aesthetic is tried-and-true pop perfection with a doo-wop, girl group essence, and it lends itself beautifully to soundtracking a variety of holiday moments as a result. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” doesn’t age, in that respect: it’s buoyant, fun and as addictive as the tiny candy canes your grandma left out, and I have yet to meet a single person who doesn’t sing along with the background vocals (“And IIIIIII….“) a la the teacher’s choir from Love, Actually when it comes on.
It’s effervescent and it doesn’t try too hard, like many, many Christmas songs that came before it — but this gets stuck in your head and stays there with minimal negative side effects, and that’s the secret of its longevity.
Joe Lynch: I don’t know about “the one thing,” but I will say an underrated aspect of it is how organic the recording is. Christmas music listeners don’t want much in the line of experimentation or uber-contemporary, soon-to-sound-dated production. Even an accepted modern classic like Wham’s “Last Christmas” is too synth-y for some, but from the jumpy ivory tickling to the subdued strings to the clanging bells at the top, AIWFCIY feels timeless in that distinctly holiday vein, with a propulsive forward motion that harks back to the big band era (think Bing Crosby & the Andrew Sisters’ “Jingle Bells”) and bright background harmonizing as on A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector.
Gary Trust: Sonically, every line just rolls into the next. Its melody has this propulsive momentum that’s so addictive. Plus, it’s a mix of ’50s-’60s girl-group pop, combined with Mariah’s evergreen (and red) vocals. As for outside forces, it was released at such a sweet spot in her career — by Christmas 1994, she had established herself as a superstar, with a record five Hot 100 No. 1s out of the gate and 12 top 10s. But, her star was still rising, so it was partly good timing, tied to such a great song. Plus, relatively few artists were releasing original holiday songs at that point, so it really stood out for that, as well.
More recently, it’s clear that holiday classics stream incredibly well, so the song’s continued combination of streams, airplay and sales (it’s the most-streamed and best-selling hit among all genres and eras this week) has given it the extra boost it needed this decade to top the Hot 100 at last.
Andrew Unterberger: Hardly the first to point this out, but I’ll say that the song benefits strongly from understanding that what makes 90% of the best holiday songs so resonant is a jubilant performance and production belying a melancholy emotional core. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is, ultimately, a love song about a love that’s either delayed or altogether unrequited; no one sings this urgently about wanting a gift that they know for a fact they’re actually going to receive. That inherent hesitation informs all elements of the song’s structure, melody and delivery, without actually overwhelming any of them — it’s the happiest saddest holiday song of all time.
Denise Warner: “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is a clear holiday classic but still feels modern (despite the fact that — again — it came out 25 years ago). Add to that Mariah’s enviable voice, the many artists who have re-recorded it, and its regular appearance in so many Christmas movies, you have a recipe for keeping it in everyone’s consciousness. (That’s more than one, but you get the drift!)
3. With her first No. 1 of the 2010s, Mariah becomes the fourth artist — along with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Usher — to have No. 1 hits in the ’90s, ’00s and ’10s. Not counting the very real possibility of “All I Want” seeing its reign continue into the first weeks of next year (or beyond), which of those four artists do you think is most likely to extend their streak by scoring a new No. 1 in the 2020s?
Hilary Hughes: Given that Mariah just dropped Caution in 2019 we may be waiting a minute for new music, but I’m rooting for her to be the one to do this — she’s broken plenty of Billboard records, so what’s another one? That said, I recently saw Christina in Vegas for her Xperience residency and fell back in love with her catalogue, so I’d love it if, say, “Reflection” saw a groundswell in the weeks leading up to the release of the live-action Mulan in 2020.
Joe Lynch: Mariah. Even discounting “AIWFCIY,” I think you count out her chances of delivering a slow-burning ballad that radio can’t get enough of (like “We Belong Together”) at your peril. Plus, of all those four, I think her voice is easily the most malleable to new sounds and new generations.
Gary Trust: Justice for Britney’s “My Only Wish (This Year)”! This year, we’ve seen a whopping 10 artists earn their first Hot 100 No. 1s, and while that includes acts as new to the charts as Lil Nas X, Jonas Brothers earned their first leader after essentially a decade away, so you can never count anyone out.
Among the three previously inducted members of the club, Christina Aguilera earned the most recent Hot 100 top five, “Say Something,” with A Great Big World, after returning to No. 1 earlier this decade as featured on Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” (aided by her run on The Voice), so perhaps that’s a sign of her potential. Britney, meanwhile, has such passionate fans, so that support paired with the right song could be the key. As for Mariah, she now has 19 Hot 100 No. 1s, just one away from The Beatles’ record 20. In one of the few chart honors that she’s yet to claim, the possibility of her tying The Beatles for that mark is sure to capture the imagination of the Lambily next.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s Ursher, baby. Not only was he blessed with the ultimate superstar treatment in one of the biggest movies of 2019, but he also made an overdue return to the Hot 100, with his appearance on rising R&B star Summer Walker’s “Come Thru” (which also samples and interpolates his own late-’90s breakthrough “You Make Me Wanna”). It’s clear that a full-scale Usher revival is — or at least, should be — right around the corner, and all it may take is one smartly chosen collab to get him back to the Hot 100’s peak.
Denise Warner: On the strength of the holiday alone, Mariah is most likely to extend the streak with “AIWFCIY.” But a close second is Britney. Fans are still pulling for her, and with her canceled residency (plus her cryptic Instagrams), there’ll certainly be a lot of interest if she drops new music.
4. Almost as stunning as the news of Mariah hitting No. 1 with “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the revelation that it’s the first holiday song in 61 years — since The Chipmunks’ “The Chipmunk Song” in 1958, of all things — to top the chart. Which holiday perennial would you most like to see become the third such No. 1 hit?
Hilary Hughes: It’s insane to me that Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” wasn’t a No. 1 back in the day, and I would be thrilled to see her get the accolades she deserves for this. (Mariah would agree, I bet — she’s covered it herself.)
Joe Lynch: The pressure is on for 2020 to get Fear’s “F–k Christmas” on the Hot 100. It would be nice to see Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” take the (north) pole position – when I spoke with her recently for an upcoming interview, she was very excited about its chart progress, which is considerable: It hit the top 5 for the first time this week (No. 3). Crazy, considering it first hit the chart in 1960.
Gary Trust: As it’s up to No. 3 on the Hot 100 this week, becoming the first song to take 59 years from its debut to climb that high, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” feels deserving. It just has to somehow get past “All I Want for Christmas Is You” …
Among other favorites, Wham!’s “Last Christmas” is the “All I Want for Christmas Is You” of George Michael’s catalog: a classic, even if it’s only listened to for about a month every year. It’s also interesting how both songs’ lyrics are built upon unrequited love. Maybe that sense of yearning helps keep them timeless: every year, as we listen, we’re still hoping that this is the year that our holiday wish comes true, such as giving your heart to someone special (special…)
Andrew Unterberger: “Last Christmas” would be my personal sentimental choice, but respect first to the OG that I still think nails the sublime longing of a great Christmas song better than any other: Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” commonly known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” I mean, the thing is literally titled “The Christmas Song”; imagine if there was a widely acclaimed movie in 2019 called Oscar Bait that got totally shut out come awards season.
Denise Warner: “Snoopy’s Christmas” by The Royal Guardsman or Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Both are fun and cheesy. Though If I’m making a real guess at what actually will or could hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, I’d say Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” It trails Mariah on the Holiday 100 at No. 2. It’s No. 3 on the Hot 100 now, and with a Home Alone remake coming in 2020 — the original movie famously featured Lee’s tune — I predict a continued interest and growth.
5. Perhaps the hardest part to wrap your head around with “All I Want for Christmas Is You” hitting No. 1 is the possibility of how much longer its reign could extend — not just this year, with Christmas still being over a week away, but possibly in future years, if upward trends of holiday song success on the Hot 100 continue. If you had to make a guess, how many total weeks do you think it’ll have spent atop the Hot 100 by the end of Christmas 2024?
Hilary Hughes: NOT ENOUGH. NEVER ENOUGH.
Joe Lynch: Three weeks. I don’t see the trend of holiday songs gaining new Hot 100 peaks abating, but I also don’t think it’s a guarantee that yuletide zeal will benefit Mariah exclusively, and there is a short window for these songs to snatch that No. 1 spot (even the first week of December is too early). But like the Three Kings, I’m going three weeks for Queen Mariah.
Gary Trust: If “All I Want for Christmas Is You” can return to No. 1 next year, it would join Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” as the only songs ever to top the Hot 100 in multiple release cycles, and the latter just happens to be the Hot 100’s all-time No. 1 hit, so that’s pretty good company. While this year had the extra push of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” going to No. 1 for the first time (as well as the built-in peg of the song’s 25th anniversary), listeners are certain to keep streaming and buying it, and radio will surely still be playing it in top rotation each holiday season. So, it probably comes down to elements beyond specific promotional control, including how dominant streaming continues to be on the Hot 100.
Can I go past 2024 and ponder how if “All I Want for Christmas Is You” gets, say, two weeks at No. 1 each holiday season, it might take less than a decade for it to pass “One Sweet Day” (with Boyz II Men) as Mariah’s longest-leading No. 1 (16 weeks)? Or, even Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” (a record 19)? Twenty-five years in, the story of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” may be only just beginning.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m going big before going home this holiday season: I’ll predict we’re talking about Mariah Carey breaking Lil Nas X’s all-time Hot 100-topping longevity record this time in 2024 with her 20th week on top.
Denise Warner: Since Christmas begins earlier and earlier each year, I think for the next few it will hit No. 1 by Thanksgiving, but then start to peter out year-over-year when there’s a new, viral Christmas song — so I’m going with 2 this season, 3 the next, 4 Christmas 2021, 3 weeks in 2022, 2 in 2023 and 0 in 2024, when a new, viral Christmas song makes waves. Let’s say 11 weeks total.