Words and Verse – All I Want For Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey

A merry Christmas jingle or an alarming tale of obsession and manipulation?

In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman, talking to his secretary, delivers this:

“Sometimes, Jean”, I explain, “the lines separating appearance – what you see – and reality – what you don’t – become, well, blurred.”

Which encapsulates the novel nicely. This line only appears in the novel, which is different enough from the film that you want to pick up a copy and read it. What you might not have realised, is that it’s also a great summation of Mariah Carey’s 1994 Christmas single, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’. The notorious December hit is maybe the poster child for saccharine festivity-themed pop. But that upbeat syrup-soaked song between an admirer (we’ll call them Passionate) and their romantic interest (we’ll call them the Occupant), belies a narrative that is anything but festive.

The song starts off with the now all-too-familiar refrain:

“I don’t want a lot for Christmas

There is just one thing I need”

This is an innocuous enough statement. It’s a little nit-picky, perhaps, but wants and needs are two very different things. Whatever the case, it’s nothing huge.

“I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

All I want for Christmas is you”

Heading into the chorus, Passionate blasts us with an outpouring of emotion. This could just be exuberance, which is fine, some people are just a bit loud about their emotional state – but all the same, it’s a bit much. You get the impression that she should calm down, drink some mulled wine or something. Listen, I’m to affection what snow is to British public transport, but even I can tell you that you’re probably not going to catch this ‘you’ by latching onto them like a sodding lamprey. The whole ‘just Monika’ tactic is not the play.

Passionate repeats her original refrain – sod the tree, the presents, the stocking, etc – she’s interested in the Occupant and only the Occupant. She follows up with:

“Santa Claus won’t make me happy with a toy on Christmas Day”

Well, ok then. Freudian slip? Or just a flat-out admission that she is down bad. Whatever the case, we get the picture – she is going full teenage crush on the Occupant. At this point, the repeat chorus “I just want you for my own/More than you could ever know/Make my wish come true/All I want for Christmas is you” becomes a little strained. She’s barely gone three lines before reverting to this focus on possession. We haven’t heard anything about the object of her affections, yet, we just know – without a shadow of a doubt – that she wants them.

“Oh, I won’t ask for much this Christmas”

I have a question – is the Occupant even single? If they’re not, maybe this is asking much for Christmas. Does the Occupant reciprocate Passionate’s seasonal lust? If not then, again, it is asking quite a lot – the importance of consent and all that. Basic stuff. But as highlighted above – we haven’t heard anything about why she wants. Just that she wants.  

“I’m just gonna keep on waiting underneath the mistletoe”

At this point, if we weren’t already there, we’re well into desperation territory. There’s something very uncomfortable about the image of someone just sort of hanging around under some mistletoe, or worse carrying it around with them in the hopes of a Christmas snog. Even more uncomfortable when they’re employing this mistletoe presumably where a number of people can see them and are actually just waiting for a specific person who may or may not be into it. If she’s carrying the mistletoe around like one of those awkward Christmas scenes from a 90s sitcom or something – is she just wandering up behind the Occupant and dangling this sodding mistletoe like a weird sex pest?

Also, I can’t disabuse myself of the notion that there’s a certain social etiquette being violated. If this scenario occurs in a space occupied by other people… just don’t? People are usually repulsed by overt desperation. While there’s different opinions on how comfortable people are with public displays of affection, everybody agrees that being outright horny on main is not cool. In addition, someone else might want a turn with someone they can actually get off with. Let others have a go. But it’s rude to dislodge the sad lass who can’t get her leg over and has given up all pretence of hiding that fact.

The more you think about this scenario, the less comfortable it becomes.   

Conceivably this mistletoe could be deployed in a personal meet or framed a joke or whatever. But then why would she need to spend about four minutes whinging mournfully into a mic about it if she’s already got this bloke/lass? Not to sound Dickensian – I’ve no problem with public displays of affection, seems a bit prudish to care what other people are doing with their faces – but like I said, desperation isn’t an attractive look. Either Passionate has the game of a paraplegic fullback or she’s actually describing some worrying behaviour.

Does anybody remember Sean’s unnamed admirer from Bret Easton Ellis’ Rules of Attraction? The person in this song reminds me of her. Things go way overboard in her head and end in tragedy. The same seems to be what’s happened to this song’s unfortunate lass.

“‘Cause I just want you here tonight

Holding on to me so tight

What more can I do?”

Ah, ok – that lays to rest any question surrounding the previous line about toys. And, I suppose given all the implications from the mistletoe, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Although, if it’s gotten to the point that she has to belt out a song to get the message across, then maybe the Occupant just isn’t interested? It happens to the best of us, no shame in it. Look, all I’m saying is, you might just have to fall back on that magic wand after all.

“All the lights are shining so brightly everywhere

And the sound of children’s laughter fills the air

And everyone is singing

I hear those sleigh bells ringing”

We’ve got reason to be worried here. We can also perhaps conclude that there’s a good reason the Occupant doesn’t return Passionate’s affections. She seems to be spiralling into a depressive state at this point. In fact, we’re almost seeing the stages of grief here – we’ve got denial underpinning the entire premise of the song. Passionate just won’t accept that the Occupant wants to shag someone else. Hot on the heels of that we’ve got depression exhibited here – a self-defeating self-renewing comparison between this obsessive hole and an outside world which they are projecting an idealised fantasy Christmas onto.

“Santa, won’t you bring me the one I really need?

Won’t you please bring my baby to me?”

Then at the end we’ve got bargaining mixed with anger. I don’t think, despite the framing, that this is really a request. At this point it’s more than clear that her “baby” doesn’t want to be brought. They’re not stranded and pining somewhere across some vast gulf for reasons beyond their control. Truth is, the Occupant is probably just watching bollocks films with someone else. Hasn’t really thought about Passionate since that awkward incident with the mistletoe… In this light, ‘bring them to me’ is not so much a joyful reunion as it is more implied to be a ‘dragged against their will’ scenario. Passionate’s viewpoint is now obviously unhealthy.

Combine this with that initial failure to distinguish between a want and a need. From the very outset we’ve witnessed either a disjointed understanding of her own differentiation between wants and needs or an escalation in her thought pattern.

Wanting and needing are two linked, but fundamentally different, concepts. Confusing them can have disastrous effects. Passionate either doesn’t distinguish between wanting and needing, or has gone from wanting to needing in the space of ten words. An inability to distinguish between want and need could signal she is relatively emotionally immature. A sudden switch from want to need signals a far more concerning volatile emotional dependency. Either scenario offers up yet more evidence for why the Occupant isn’t interested in her.

“Oh, I don’t want a lot for Christmas

This is all I’m asking for”

Does anybody else see this as manipulative now? We’ve established that the Occupant probably isn’t interested, but Passionate doesn’t seem to care. She’s repeatedly framing this unwilling relationship as no big deal or not a lot… but for something that ‘isn’t a lot’, she sure is willing to go to some pretty extreme ends to make it happen. Moreover, this easy manipulation can be seen in the overall gloss of the song. I mentioned at the start how it’s a sugar-soaked easy-digest jingle that reflects the optimism of the holiday. Below the surface, however, things are less clear cut.

From here it becomes all too apparent that Passionate has worked herself into a serious, somewhat deranged downward spiral and we just get a repeat of her obsessive mental loop until fade.

So, we can clearly see now that this song isn’t romantic, it’s worrying.

There you have it – this iconic Christmas jingle is actually a tragic tale of unrequited love that has deformed into a self-destructive obsession.

Merry Christmas, people.

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