Mariah Carey Conquers The Holiday Album

Halloween, Where Is The Love?

There’s a phenomenon that’s gained some traction in recent years called “Christmas Creep”. As Halloween comes to a close, the focus on Christmas as the central winter holiday takes form. Houses start to break out their decorations, radio stations begin their transitions to a 24-hour format, and department stores click the first holiday playlist that comes up on the Spotify homepage. This seemingly starts to occur earlier and earlier each year.

There’s a reason there are only a few songs that you can tie to Halloween before our attention shifts towards the tail-end of the year. The lack of ample selections for Halloween music (beyond the typical “Thriller” and “Monster Mash”) is part of a larger and more complicated relationship between music and those things we call holidays. It’s difficult to make music for a holiday simply because it requires of it a certain kind of timelessness. It needs to be able to capture its essence again and again and again without losing its foothold. It needs to be something that you can retrieve from the deep vaults and feel at ease with. There don’t tend to be a ton of big music releases as December winds down, but every year I discover another artist has released their quintessential Christmas album.

A Note On The Quintessential Christmas Album

The idea of the Christmas album has stemmed from decades covering carols, biblical nativity scenes, and early iterations of St. Nicholas. The ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s saw a post-Great Depression world shift the focus to more Western customs and themes associated with Christmas (e.g., but not necessarily tied to the Christian faith. Your “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty The Snowman” were the classics pushed things to critical mass for Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Motown to release their renditions to the season classics.

“8 Days of Christmas” from Destiny’s Child’s 2001 album

A lot of holiday albums stuck with the classic hits to be used either as a tool at the peak of an artist’s career, or more commonly, to resurge their diminishing popularity. The thing is, that they don’t come as often as they used to because we have our holiday staples. There is less of a need to hear a rendition of the same songs through a new set of vocal cords. Finding something fresh became more and more difficult as the years passed on, but the industry continually put pressure on its stars to play into the financial market boost.

In 1994, fresh off of her third studio album, Music Box, Mariah released her very first career Christmas album with a mix of the classics along with some original material. It was an unexpected choice in the wake of the popularity rise that her first few albums provided. When you look back at it, the album didn’t it didn’t top U.S. sales that year (but did well overseas, Japan in particular), reviews were sometimes mixed. And so you might ask “Why has Mariah’s Christmas album endured?”. Two main reasons: “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and timelessness.

All I Want For Christmas (Is You)

The original video for the 1994 version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” was released as the lead single for this album and was embraced from its public debut. It’s beginning with the seasonal bells and a simple piano progression give Mariah’s uncontested vocals the stage to carry the listener into its first verse. It was a track that solidified itself as a strong addition to the holiday playlist canon that has never really lessened in the eyes of the culture.

To all accounts, the song itself came together pretty quickly (on the instrument side, it holds a pretty simple pattern and rhythm) and Mariah wrote the lyrics in the blink of an eye. But its the simplicity that is its greatest strength especially when you play the original to its re-recorded version in 2010 or duet version with Justin Bieber in 2011. It captures that genuine essence that doesn’t fall privy to overproduction or time-sensitive lyrics making it easy to recall year after year.

Mariah Hones In On Her Niche

The 2019 version of the “All I Want For Christmas Is You” music video

In some ways the role as the “Queen of Christmas” becomes another career for Mariah; it’s a seasonal job that she clocks in at every Autumn and clocks out at by New Years. The song has charted every year since its release (topping the Billboard Hot 100 in 2017) and had garnered more than $60 million in royalties. TV specials, a children’s book, and an updated music video have kept Mariah Carey in the conversation as she continues her mainstay career throughout the rest of the year. Through this, she has taken a hold of it and started to make it her own with seemingly more control as the years go on

As a more seasoned singer, in the pop genre especially, there are always talented up and comers that can take the spotlight. Sometimes for the veterans, finding your voice can be in a place that wants you to own your niche is a part of an unexpected journey.