The Queen of Christmas


Briana Thomas, Staff Writer

Every holiday season, the only person that seems to compete with Santa Claus in embodying both the Christmas spirit and capitalism is Mariah Carey. Twenty-four years ago, Mariah Carey released her critically acclaimed  Merry Christmas and garnered the title “Queen of Christmas.” Carey never planned on creating a Christmas album, but she was forced to do so by her label; ultimately, she ended up birthing a classic body of work that still has a heavy influence on pop culture today.

Before Mariah Carey, artists thought of Christmas records as cliche and only done to appease radio listeners. Before this album, the only  Christmas records that had any commercial success were, at that point,  over 40 years old. One of the reasons this album is so iconic is because it gave the holiday genre marketability and dignity again. The statistics speak for themselves in regards to commercial success and impact; the album is the best selling Christmas album of all time, it’s certified five times platinum by the RIAA and has sold 15 million copies worldwide! The lead single “All I Want for Christmas is You” is the most downloaded holiday song in history and is worth $60 million dollars in royalties.  Despite being released in the 90s, this year the song hit a new peak on Billboard Top 100 proving it’s value and longevity. Take into account this composition was written, arranged and produced all by Carey herself, no other song, in any genre, carries these remarkable accomplishments. No other album has achieved such unprecedented success with such a precarious genre.

On Merry Christmas, Mariah Carey utilizes her 5-octave range to deliver rolling vibratos, seraphic harmonies, complex vocal layerings and, of course, her legendary whistle notes. On the third track, a rendition of “O Holy Night”, Carey starts out the first verse using her lower register; her voice is accompanied solely by a keyboard. As the song progresses, drums, synths, and a bass guitar are integrated into the song. To match the complexifying instrumentals, Mariah extenuates her runs and fluctuates between octaves in less than a second.  At the climax of the song, Mariah Carey effortlessly belts out the word “divine” in the whistle register. Mariah Carey’s confidence allows her to perform each song with unwavering passion,  leaving listeners feeling like they are the divine being she is referring to. Yet the euphoric journey this album provides is long from over, as Mariah does an entire acapella version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. This track relies solely on her vocals and musical intuition.  Carey sings the main vocals, the backing vocals, the harmonies, and melodies. She manipulates her voice to replicate orchestral sounds and layers the same notes to emulate the power of a choir. Mariah, her musicality and voice, are the only entities that created this track; she is the sole vocalist, producer, and arranger. She used this opportunity to explore her own musical creativity but ended up breaking boundaries for the whole music industry.

Artistically speaking, this album is like no other in its genre. Most modern Christmas songs have similar lyrical content and chord progressions because they have a specific purpose; the labels are looking for high spirited songs with those glitzy synths that are recognizable by the general public. That’s what Mariah Carey’s label wanted her to make as well, but instead, she produced a cohesive body of work that would inspire the general public in ways this genre had never done before.  After Merry Christmas was released, there was no denying the authenticity present throughout the whole record. On “Jesus Born On This Day”, Carey vocalizes her faith and her abiding love for Jesus. To coincide with the pure message of the song, a local children’s choir sang the backing vocals. This song’s emphasis on spirituality, made it very successful among Christian radio stations; once again, proving Carey’s ability to succeed in anything. For Carey personally, her religious beliefs had never been a major theme in her music so this also showcased her effortless versatility. Going back to her roots, the song “Miss You Most” is a ballad with melancholic lyrics. The songs describe Carey’s association of unrequited love with the holiday season. As Carey sings “I get by without you/ Till the snow begins to fall” listeners can hear the sudden change in tone and can appreciate how she conveys her own vulnerability. The raw emotion matched with the personalized lyrics gave other holiday artists a spiritual awakening of what elements create a Christmas album.

Mainstream holiday music had always been classified as easy-listening and was actually noted for the child-like appeal; listeners never took the time to analyze this genre because the artist never took the time to dimensionalize it. Holiday music was not the genre artists would go to for commercial success or the genre to communicate intellect and emotion. But in 1994, Mariah Carey’s authenticity and passion was the thing that ended up re-commercializing this genre; a genre historically seen as unmarketable for decades. Those magical synths heard at the beginning of All I Want for Christmas is You go along with this song and its album ’s miracle-like impact on the music industry.