Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” might become the most popular song of all time, and a musicologist explained why

It’s almost official: Experts say Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” may become the most popular song…ever. Not just the most popular holiday song, but the biggest pop song of all time. That’s epic, and the reasoning, explained by a musicologist, is more interesting than you think.

Since being released in 1994, “AIWFCIY” has only gotten more popular over time. With over 14 million copies sold, it’s already one of the 20 best-selling singles ever. This December, it was in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time ever, and The Economist reports that Carey has earned about $60 million in royalties from the ditty. It’s also the most streamed Christmas song on Spotify, and its success has led to a movie, a book, and a recent tour that even saw Beyoncé make an appearance.

The reasoning behind the song’s popularity is more than just a catchy beat. According to musicologist Nate Sloane, host of the podcast Switched on Pop, it goes far deeper than that.

Sloane has a theory: Much of the song’s popularity has to do with the element of suspense throughout, created by the lyrics and harmonic structure of the song. He says that the first verse is kind of a tease, where Carey says she wants something for Christmas, but won’t say exactly what it is. As listeners, we spend part of the song waiting to hear exactly what she does want.

Sloane said, "That's a nice trick. But it might not be so effective if the chordal structure of the song wasn't supporting this idea of building to a reveal."

Another detail worth noting is that “AIWFCIY” is in the key of G-major, which apparently makes listeners feel most at ease. Sloane said that the only time the song’s first verse is in G-major is at the beginning and end, and that, “as listeners, we won’t feel relaxed until we hear the song return to that ‘home’ chord.”

Nostalgia also plays a big part here. “AIWFCIY” doesn’t use a modern verse-chorus structure, but instead goes for something more old-school — the AABA song structure that was most popular in the 1940s and 1950s. This is the structure of some of your other favorite holiday songs, like “White Christmas” and “Frosty The Snowman.”

And, obviously, we can’t deny that the song is just really, really good. It’s feel-good, and it’s been around for so long (holla, millennials!) that December doesn’t really feel as festive without it.

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