Mariah Carey‘s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is already one of the best selling singles of all time. It has broken so many records, it’s almost impossible to verify just how many.
One would think that the song has little left to prove, but this morning, over a quarter of a century after its release, Billboard announced that for the very first time, the tune has ascended to the top spot on the magazine’s Hot 100 list. It knocked The Weeknd’s Heartless off the peak.
The achievement either extends Carey’s previous milestones, or creates new ones altogether.
It is her 19th number one, the most of any solo artist and the second most for any act (only The Beatles have more, clocking in at 20).
It represents the longest climb a song has ever had to the top spot, and gives Carey the longest gap of any artist in history between her first number 1 (1990’s “Vision of Love”) and her latest. The songstress, it should be noted, is now sixth on the list of producers with the most number ones, and she is also the most successful female producer on the chart. Carey is also now the fourth most successful songwriter (behind only Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Max Martin). She was also previously tied with Elvis Presley for the most cumulative weeks atop the chart, but now holds that record on her own, with 80 combined weeks. Here’s how it happened:
The Song Was Originally Ineligible For the Hot 100
The Hot 100 was originally established not as a “songs” chart, but rather, a “singles” chart. While it always took into account more than just sales, a song’s eligibility was that it had to be released individually as a CD single (as in, you could go down to your local Specs Records or Sam Goody and by it on a CD separate from the album, perhaps with a B-Side or some remixes tacked on).
In the mid-90s, record label execs began to believe that singles sales were negatively affecting album sales (conversely, critics and a good deal of the public began to believe that too many albums were made with too little hits and too much filler). So, labels began servicing songs to radio and MTV without releasing them as separate singles.
The most famous examples was No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” which was the most played song on the radio for 16 weeks in a row, but never charted on the Hot 100 due to the single rule. Songs like the Goo Goo Doll’s “Iris” and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” had similar fates. So, in 1998, Billboard decided to change the rules, opening up the chart to album cuts as well. Of course, in today’s world, where most songs are available to purchase separately on digital, this has become a moot point.
Still during its original release, “All I Want” received respectable placement on charts it was eligible for, like the airplay chart and the Adult Contemporary song chart. In 2000, with new rules in play, the track finally made it’s first appearance on the Hot 100 at number 83.
The Internet Beings to Fuel the Staying Power of the Song
Hot on the popularity of the iPod, Apple introduced the iTunes store in 2003. It goes without saying that this changed the music industry forever, but in Carey’s case it may have also altered the trajectory of the “All I Want” legacy, establishing it as a canonical classic.
In 2005, the track topped the Hot Digital Sales chart for the first time (the chart itself had only been established in 2004).
However, due to Billboard rules at the time, which were meant to prioritize current songs, the track was labeled “recurrent” and, thus, once again ineligible for the Hot 100. Still, from 2005 to 2008, the song did take the top spot on a separate recurrent chart, proving its year-over-year appeal.
Another Rule Change Allows the Song Back into the Chart
In 2012, Billboard decided that any song that would chart in the top 50 should chart in the top 50, and thus, just as long as “All I Want” had the streaming, sales and airplay numbers to warrant it, it would be welcomed back on the charts. The song has more than verified its place, first appearing in the top 10 in 2017, the top 5 last year, and, finally, at number one this year.
Still, Competition is Everything
So: why did the song hit number one on this particular year, if it has always trended upward around Christmas? Well, probably because there’s not too much competition.
Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” was the last major hit single smash, reaching its apex in October. Since then, no song has spent more than two weeks in the top spot, indicating a lack of staying power.
Compare that to last year, where America was still very much in the throes of Ariana Grande-induced “thank u, next” fever.
In 2017, Post Malone’s “Rockstar” was riding high, in 2016 that song was Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles”, and in 2015 it was Adele’s “Hello.” These weren’t holiday-related, but they were big enough hits in which the holiday wouldn’t interrupt their popularity.
In 2019, we just don’t have a song like the aforementioned, and recent album releases from marquee pop stars like Camila Cabello or Harry Styles have failed to launch conquering songs.
So without a lot of major competition, Carey was free to march to the top spot.