On November 1, 2022, Mariah Carey posted on social media a black-and-white video in which she appears dressed as a witch in a forest, surrounded by pumpkins and pedaling on a stationary bicycle. As she pedals, the days of the month of October appear around her. When the 31 finally flies past, something explodes. It’s Christmas. Mariah Carey reappears, this time dressed as Mrs. Claus on a reindeer, surrounded by snow, trees and gifts: “It’s time!” She sings with her unmistakable high pitch. The bells begin to sound to mark the beginning of All I Want For Christmas Is You, the Christmas carol that she released in 1994 as part of her fourth studio album, Merry Christmas. The song became an instant success, topping charts in 26 countries, including Australia, Canada, France and Germany. But why does the song mark the beginning of Christmas 28 years later? It has a lot to do with the movie Love Actually (2003) and with the internet community, which turned the hit into a viral icon. And its iconic status also has been helped by Mariah Carey herself, who took the opportunity to position herself as the queen of the winter holidays.
First of all, the data. “The music industry should be dreaming of a white Christmas,” wrote The Economist in 2017, referring to the singer’s success: the song brings her around $2.5 million a year in royalties, which, according to calculations by Forbes, add up to a whopping $72 million today. The Recording Industry Association of America awarded the song the Diamond certification for having sold 10 million copies. It shares that status with only 87 other songs, none of which are Christmas carols. What’s more, every year, it returns to the Billboard chart, which classifies songs based on the activity of streaming platforms and sales of more than 200 territories across the world.
All I Want For Christmas Is You hits all the emotional and sonorous keys expected of a good pop song: a 50-second intro that prepares the listener and builds suspense, a catchy harmony, a few bells for a festive touch, and above all, the voice of Mariah Carey. After years and years of the same carols, she established a new way of singing for Christmas. And it worked.
In 2002, eight years after the song’s release, director Richard Curtis chose the song as part of the soundtrack for the Christmas-themed romantic comedy Love Actually. In the film, the song is part of a performance at a school Christmas pageant. The girl with whom one of the characters was in love sings the song while he plays the drums. The song had already broken records in the 1990s, but the film introduced it to new generations, while making sure previous generations wouldn’t forget it. After Love Actually, it was reborn through the versions of artists such as My Chemical Romance, in 2004; Demi Lovato, in 2012; and Ariana Grande, in 2014, although none achieved the success of the original version.
Then came the internet
According to KnowYourMeme, the website that investigates the birth of viral trends, the song turned into a meme in 2015, when a Reddit user named linkognito posted an image of the YouTube trend chart for the song’s music video. Noticing the start of a surge of interest in October, he captioned the image “It Begins,” referring to the moment when, all over the world, people start listening to All I Want For Christmas Is You on the platform.
A year later, in November 2016, Zach Cole tweeted a similar image, also showing a spike in interest immediately after Halloween. The Twitter user also wrote: “It begins.” The tweet garnered 55,000 retweets and more than 78,000 favorites in less than a month. Since then, many internet users have uploaded similar screenshots to various social networks in early November. Christmas may be different every year, but Mariah Carey remains a constant.
It was only a matter of time before the artist herself joined the meme. It happened for the first time in 2021, when she published a surprise video on his Instagram (where today has 11.1 million followers), immediately after Halloween, in which she patiently waited for midnight on October 31 to break a few pumpkins with her huge candy cane, dressed in a long red sequined dress. The video received almost 1,300,000 views. The strategy is smart: why wait for the internet community to inaugurate Christmas if she can do so herself? Mariah Carey knows when it’s time to hit the market again.