Out of every person — living or dead, real or fictional — only one should come to mind when thinking about the holiday season: Mariah Carey, our Christmas Queen.
But over the last few years, there’s been a special emphasis on the relationship between Mariah and the season of perpetual hope. While she most recently showed up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last week and deflected questions about her personal life by complimenting the host’s holiday décor, the singer has established far deeper roots within the Christmas community. In short, she loves the shit out of Christmas. But when did she get so festive?
Of course, if you’ve spent as much time as I have watching and rewatching Mariah’s spots on the Home Shopping Network, you’d know that her mom was the one who originally introduced her to festive cheer — and that Mariah’s never been a stranger to the spirit of the season. But at the same time, until Love Actually revived the splendor of Carey’s 1994 hit “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in 2003, her notoriety was reserved for sleigh-free jams, the implosion of Glitter, and her personal struggles of the early naughts (from which she bounced back with the 2005 release of The Emancipation of Mimi and her appearance in Precious, which earned her serious critical acclaim).
But following the kibosh of 2009’s Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, Mariah went back to the studio in time to release Merry Christmas II You, and then back again in 2011 to join Justin Bieber for Under the Mistletoe, one of the greatest Christmas albums to ever exist. And from there, her reign as our First Lady of the Holidays truly began: She annually appears on the HSN, launched a Christmas-centric residency at the Beacon Theatre in December 2014 and 2015, and made her directorial debut with Hallmark’s A Christmas Melody. Plus, there’s her countless recent live performances of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” a song written in 15 minutes in the summer of 1994 that ages like a good wine.
But OK, seriously: for an artist to become defined almost exclusively by a holiday isn’t exactly a marker of relevance. Alongside Mariah Carey, artists known for their Christmas music range from Bing Crosby to Andy Williams. And even the likes of Brenda Lee and The Carpenters — artists whose holiday albums are staples of the season — aren’t defined by singing “O Holy Night.”
But Mariah’s association with Christmas seems so extra because she’s so enthusiastic about it. In fact, it’s Mariah who’s worked to stake her claim on the season, effectively cementing herself as the angel atop our holiday trees. We may play “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on repeat from November 1 onward, but she’s the one who reminds us to. She’s the one who shows up in silk robes and diamonds, performing while unveiling holiday windows or ringing in the start of Ellen’s 12 Days of Giveaways. For Mariah, Christmas isn’t a footnote or a bonus album — it’s the time of year in which she truly comes alive.
Which makes even more sense when you realize that Mariah herself is a reflection of the season. Like the holiday — weeks drenched with and defined by sparkles and shimmer and, yes, even glitter — Mariah is over-the-top and excessive. She whips up a pie in heels and fine jewelry. She is sequins, fine robes, and a knower of angles. She isn’t a spokesperson for reality, or even an artist we look to for transparency and truths. Instead, she’s as mythic as Santa Claus, leaving her world of 2 a.m. bubble baths to visit our own. Mariah, like Christmas, is magic.
So why wouldn’t she align herself with it in a way no other artist has? As Mariah has come more and more into her own (read: by doing whatever the hell she wants whenever she wants to do it), we’ve tuned in to her more and more — enough to warrant an upcoming Mariah-centric reality series. We know better than to believe in St. Nick and his eight tiny reindeer, so we’ve shifted our beliefs to Mariah, an artist and person whose lifestyle is so glamorous and unbelievable that, like kids waiting to spot a dude on a sleigh, we peer in and can’t stop watching.
And that means Christmas needs Mariah more than she ever needed it. Without an actual person to represent the holiday’s glitz, glamour, and penchant for excess, it’d just be another holiday in which to stress over familial politics or endless to-do lists. Mariah is the Christmas Queen because no one else has ever been worthy of the throne — at least until someone else wearing diamonds creates a holiday single that still brings joy to our hearts 22 years after its release.