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How Mariah Carey’s Christmas Classic Digitally Rocketed To No. 1 In 2019

streaming Christmas music

This Christmas season, what’s old is not only new again — in fact, what’s old is kicking major butt on the music charts, and you have the digital and eCommerce ecosystem to thank (or blame) for that.

What’s old is the Mariah Carey now-standard holiday pop tune “All I Want for Christmas is You.” To some people it’s a classic that brings about warm, nostalgic feelings and Christmas cheer. To certain other people, the track represents something as meaningful and appealing as chewed bubblegum, an example of the devolution of music and perhaps even a sign of the end times. (No matter what, the structure of the song is fascinating. As Carey co-writer Walter Afanasieff has explained, the song — as mainstream as any song can get — has no formal or traditional chorus.)

Whatever one’s view — we here at PYMNTS tend to prefer a unique mix of Lawrence Welk holiday reruns and Run-DMC’s venerable rap song “Christmas in Hollis” as we crank out stories before Dec. 25 — this cannot be denied: Carey’s song recently hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

What’s the big deal, you might ask? Carey already has had numerous No. 1 hits.

Well, the big deal is this: It took 25 years since its release for “All I Want for Christmas is You” to achieve that mark.

YouTube and Amazon have at least a bit to do with that, as does streaming. In short, digital and mobile technology is behind the fresh success of this classic earworm.

Path to the Top

As various outlets have reported, the story of the song getting to No. 1 this year involves a brand-new video for the track, which, as Rolling Stone explained, “premiered on a YouTube livestream hosted by Carey … with a live fan Q&A leading up to the video’s midnight premiere.” That’s some serious buzz right there, and evidence that even music industry veterans, under the guidance of sharp marketing executives, can exploit the digital-and-mobile ecosystem to find new life for a track that is a quarter-century old. And Carey also benefited from the publicity gained from a mini-documentary on Amazon.

That’s not the only advantage the Carey track has this year. As Billboard put it, the song received a big bump thanks to a 21st-century method of consuming music. The song “topped the Hot 100 for the first time thanks to the annual (and growing) spike in streaming it receives around the holidays,” that report said.

Granted, the song was hardly obscure before this year’s chart success. According to Billboard — still the keeper of most things holy when it comes to music charts — “All I Want for Christmas is You” stands as the “biggest-selling digital holiday track of all time.” That translates into some 3.6 million U.S. downloads. (Oddly enough, Billboard also says “the song is being released as a physical single for the first time ever this month.”) And last year, the Christmas song became the most streamed track over a 24-hour period on streaming service Spotify.

Carey seems rather pleased with making this shift toward digital, at least according to comments she gave Billboard. “I think that’s very important,” she told the music industry publication, “because people want to say, ‘She’s a physical [albums] artist. She doesn’t understand or know [streaming]. It’s a different business.’ Then why did the song break the record for most streamed song within one day?”

The song’s success is not just about the song, though. There is an entire ecosystem built around “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — an ecosystem that every year serves to renew interest in this 25-year-old track. There has been a TV special, a Hallmark Channel holiday movie inspired by the song, a children’s book and holiday concerts anchored by the now classic tune. Indeed, those Mariah Carey holiday shows — while perhaps not as inadvertently trippy as those old Lawrence Welk spectaculars — have grossed at least $16.5 million, according to a Billboard estimate.

Income Statements

So how much does the “All I Want for Christmas is You” retail-and-payments machine earn for Carey, co-writer Afanasieff and the various other people entitled to the various types of monetary rewards from that track? That’s not easy to calculate beyond saying “a lot,” but that hasn’t stopped people from trying.

One summary of those financials said that the song has brought in well north of $50 million in royalties since 1994 (as co-writer, Afanasieff likely gets half of the royalties, but we here at PYMNTS are not privy to the actual situation). That’s proof that even if you dislike the song with the intensity of a thousand suns, the ability to write an irresistible hook will mean financial freedom not only for you, but your grandchildren as well. The income stream from YouTube and streaming services would be tiny by comparison — there is a reason that many musicians would like to conduct a full-scale rebellion against streaming operators — but even so, streaming brings publicity and attention, and can pave the way for a No. 1 hit that is 25 years in the making.

In any case, enjoy the song this holiday season — or make fun of it, whatever the case may be. But make no mistake about the ability of digital technology to breathe new life into an analog classic.

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