The feat means Carey’s song has now broken multiple records: “All I Want” is the first holiday song to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100 since the Chipmunks’ 1958 “The Chipmunk Song;” it’s the most-streamed track on Spotify by a female artist in a 24-hour window; and its 20 weeks in the British singles Top 10 chart is the most of any Christmas song.
This is Carey’s 19th time on top of the Hot 100, beating her own previous record for the most No. 1 hits by a soloist. She’s also just one more hit away from matching the Beatles’ record of 20.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” always does well on the holiday-specific charts, but it’s been surging on general charts in recent years, with its biggest successes coming in a musical landscape that’s dramatically different from the one in which Carey recorded it.
In June 1994, Carey hung up Christmas decorations in the Hamptons rental home where she was staying to create the right mood. Former frequent collaborator Walter Afanasieff, who co-wrote “All I Want,” came up with a basic chord structure. Sitting together at the piano, Carey offered vocal melodies that Afanasieff wasn’t so sure about, but he soon changed his mind, he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2013.
“She would sing a melody and I would do a chord change,” Afanasieff told the newspaper. “It was almost like a game of ping-pong, back and forth, until we had it.”
Afanasieff later had a live band record the arrangement, but the original feeling of what he had created with Carey was missing. So the final version instead features Afanasieff playing all the instruments.
He never expected the song to be the monster hit it turned into, but Afanasieff has some theories as to why it’s done so well. Of course, there is Carey’s vocal prowess and command. But there are also few up-tempo Christmas songs in the American canon, and “All I Want,” he told the Seattle paper, is “more adult” and a love song that’s less focused on the trappings of the season.
Billboard compiles ratings based on streaming, radio airplay and sales data for its Hot 100 chart, and has changed the eligibility rules over the years. Between 1963 and 1972, and again between 1983 and 1985, holiday songs were mostly confined to the holiday rankings chart. When Carey released her “Merry Christmas” album, “All I Want” was not available as a single that could be physically purchased, which also prevented it from appearing on the Hot 100. Billboard has since changed that rule, and another barring older songs.
Streaming may be a big reason “All I Want” and other older holiday songs are doing so well on the charts these days. (“All I Want’s” 25-year journey to No. 1 is the longest of all songs in Billboard history.)
During the 2018-2019 season, Christmas songs occupied 23 spots on the Hot 100 list, and “it’s pretty much just one word: streaming,” Billboard’s senior director of charts, Gary Trust, told Genius in 2018. “We’ve seen streaming gain so much over the last few years. We’re really seeing it with holiday songs,” adding that smart speakers are helping to fuel the trend.
Although “All I Want” becoming a No. 1 hit is quite nice, Carey said she didn’t need affirmation.
“It’s something my die-hard fans think about, and people that are really close to me are talking to me about it literally all year,” she told the New York Times. “But I don’t need something else to validate the existence of this song. I used to pick it apart whenever I listened to it, but at this point, I feel like I’m finally able to enjoy it.”
“I just truly love the holidays,” she added. “I know it’s corny, and I don’t care.”