Words by Keane Fletcher
The time has come. You began noticing it early-November: the odd bit of tinsel, a bauble here and there. Fake snow in summer. And then. That unmistakable tinkling over the shopping centre speakers. The slow, melismatic warble of the opening line: I-I-I...don’t want a lot for Christmas...
That’s right folks, the festive season is finally upon us, and like some Lovecraftian monster, Mariah Carey —the official Queen of Christmas — has awoken from the depths of her slumber to reign supreme once again. She doesn’t want a lot for Christmas: only complete and utter world domination. And she’s got a new Apple TV+ special, Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special, and a re-release of her 2010 single, ‘Oh Santa!’ (now featuring Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson) to help her achieve exactly that.
To celebrate the re-release of ‘Oh Santa!’, and Carey’s return to world dominance, we’re taking a quick track-by-track look at the album that birthed it, her oft-neglected (and far more polarising) second Christmas album, 2010’s Merry Christmas II You, to see how it stands up against her iconic first holiday release, Merry Christmas.
First though: a disclaimer. Merry Christmas II You (MCIIYou) is an acquired taste. Where her first holiday album was able to achieve a kind of timeless grace with its mixture of gospel-ised standards and Phil Spector inspired gems, MCIIYou’s appeal is in its campy, unabashedly millennial kitsch. More stylised and experimental than Merry Christmas, it isn’t often you’re going to hear MCIIYou blasting out of Westfield speakers everywhere. But all the more reason for us to take a deep dive right? Ready or not, here we go!
1. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Intro)
Light, orchestral. Nothing much. Sounds like the beginning of a Christmas movie. More of a primer than anything else, goading expectations before launching into the wonder that is…
2. Oh Santa!
Oh my. From its very first cheerleader chant (Santa’s gon’ come and make you mine this Christmas…) the song takes up where Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ left off. She’s got the sable, the 54, and now she wants her ex-boyfriend back too, with the help of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick and some conspiratorial coercion. That’s right, ‘Oh Santa’ is the world’s newest addition to the sub-genre of sexy (or sex-adjacent) Christmas songs. There’s no denying the chorus is catchy – due in no small part to how often it’s repeated – and the re-release (featuring Carey and Grande in a whistle-tone-off) really elevates it to new gospel-ised heights.
3. O Little Town of Bethlehem/Little Drummer Boy Medley
The first of many of the album's mashups. While not quite capturing the exuberance of Merry Christmas’s ‘Joy to the World’ or the awed reverence of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/Goria (In Excelsis Deo)’, it's still a wonderful showcase for Carey's powerhouse vocals. And all in under three-and-a-half minutes. Say all you want about her, but Carey certainly is efficient.
4. Christmas Time Is In The Air Again
Co-written with Broadway composer Marc Shaiman (of Hairspray and SMASH fame), ‘Christmas Time Is In The Air Again’ is a sweet, if over-produced song that never really rises above pastiche. Usually Carey is able to blend cliché and performance in a way that really elevates a song, but the production here lets her down. See ‘Miss You (Most At Christmas Time)’ from Merry Christmas for a far better example.
5. The First Noel/Born Is The King (Interlude)
Delicate and piano-driven, this is the first time we get a real glimpse of Carey’s torch-singer side. To be honest, she really shines here. So far, this is the song that comes closest to capturing that feeling of timelessness she perfected on Merry Christmas. And while the proceeding interlude won’t be to everyone’s taste, kudos must go to Carey for her daring.
6. When Christmas Comes
Christmas Al Green style. A sexy, tongue-in-cheek experiment in soul-ifying the traditional holiday-song.
7. Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)/Housestop Celebration
The Song Most Likely To Be Skipped.
8. Charlie Brown Christmas - Medley
Americans have a fascination with Charlie Brown, especially during the holidays, and while I’m not as familiar with the significance of the cartoon as some might be, I couldn’t help but be won over by this song’s wistfully nostalgic quality. More of Carey’s torch-singing here too. Reflective and restrained. Which is not something you can often say of Carey’s vocals.
9. O Come All Ye Faithful/Hallelujah Chorus
Featuring her own mother, Patricia Carey, in the opera section of this mashup, you can’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy listening to this song, despite its stuffiness. A famously tumultuous relationship, there is something touching about the way Carey and her mother have joined forces here, and though it might not make it to the top of your holiday playlist, it’s still worth a listen for its sentimental significance.
10. O Holy Night - Live From WPC In South Central Los Angeles
I mean, anyone who has listened to Carey’s original recording of this song can attest to its pure, goosebump inducing magic. Truly one of her most incredible early performances. Not sure why she has included a ‘live’ recording of it here. Nothing is gained, except the sound of the audience clapping and whistling in the background. Go listen to the Merry Christmas version instead.
11. One Child
Christmas albums are tricky, due in no small part to the way most of them try to balance secular songs with more traditional, religious sentiment. Once again co-written with Marc Shaiman, the song 'One Child’ drips with sincerity, which is not necessarily a good thing.
12. All I Want For Christmas Is You - Extra Festive
Um, is this cheating? And what does she mean by extra festive? Can ‘AIWFC’ get any more festive? Apparently, it can, with extra chimes, bells and backup vocals. So cheesy I’m now lactose intolerant.
13. Auld Lang Syne - The New Year's Anthem
The album’s closer, and Carey’s final foray into blending traditional holiday material with more contemporary music styles. This one is probably the most joyous of the album, though you can’t help but cringe at some of the choices. Did Auld Lang Syne really need a house beat? Probably not. But at least now we know.
Thanks for stopping by Hipland. Merry Christmas everyone!