Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” didn’t join the holiday music canon right out of the gate. Though it was a hit single when it was released in 1994, the song’s popularity flagged in the late 1990s, and might have stalled out completely if not for its prominent appearance in the hit Christmas movie Love Actually in 2003.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” has soared since then. After years of climbing the charts, in 2019 it became the first holiday song to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100—the American music industry’s standard for ranking the most popular songs in a given week—since “The Chipmunk Song” in 1958. According to the Economist, the song has netted Carey more than $60 million in royalties.
Of the seven Christmas songs currently in the Hot 100, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the only one written after 1990. So is there another soon to be classic on the horizon?
Quartz’s analysis of the data suggests it might just be Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree.” The song currently sits at number 15 on the Billboard Holiday 100, its highest position on that chart in the week before Christmas since just after the song was released in 2013. Like “All I Want for Christmas Is You” before it, “Underneath the Tree” has made steady progress on the charts each holiday season, gaining in the rankings each year since 2015. It is the only song in the Holiday 100 top 25 to have made such consistent gains. On Spotify, the song was streamed 2.2 million times on Dec. 23, 2019. This is up from 2.0 million on the same day in 2018 and just 970,000 in 2017.
“Underneath the Tree” certainly has the pedigree to enter the holiday canon. It was co-written by Clarkson, among the most successful commercial artists of the last two decades, and Greg Kurstin, co-writer of the number one hits “Stronger” by Clarkson and “Hello” by Adele. The song was recorded for Sony Music’s label RCA Records, which also owns the Columbia Record label that recorded “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
The song’s sound and themes are also reminiscent of Carey’s massive hit. Like “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “Underneath the Tree” has a bubbly R&B sound that borrows from the musical ideas of 1960s music producer Phil Spector, by creating a “Wall of Sound” of instruments and backup vocals to support the singer. The lyrics are about the joy having a lover this Christmas who wasn’t there last year, similar to Carey’s lyrics about only wanting her lover to be there this Christmas. RCA executive Peter Edge even admitted that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was an inspiration for the song. Clarkson’s hit has a slightly faster tempo, and includes a mean saxophone solo, but for the most part, these tunes are very close cousins.
It might take decades, and an appearance in a holiday movie classic, but some day, “Underneath the Tree” may become just as ubiquitous as Christmas’s current biggest hits.