Mariah Carey on making a Christmas special in a year that needs it: 'We're getting festive'
Also: See the music video for Carey's new remix of "Oh Santa!" with Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson.
“They call me the Queen of Christmas,” Mariah Carey says (needlessly, because of course we already knew that). “Notice I said they call me, ‘cause I never claimed that name. It is a pretty fun name, though.”
She’s more than earned it. It’s been over 25 years since Carey dropped her first Christmas album, 1994’s Merry Christmas, but on the power of its lead single, the unstoppable “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” her status as a festive icon has only grown over time. Last year, the irresistible holiday track finally hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — bringing her grand total of chart-toppers to 19, the most of any solo artist — and as it held onto that spot in the early days of 2020, she also became the first artist in the chart’s history to score a no. 1 in four different decades.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of Carey’s self-titled debut album, and she commemorated the milestone with the yearlong celebration #MC30, throughout which she shared previously unreleased recordings, compilation album The Rarities, and the instantly bestselling, emotionally raw memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey.
She’s topping off her big year with one final yuletide release: Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special, landing on Apple TV+ on Dec. 4. “I don’t always love the use of the word magic when it comes to Christmas,” admits Carey, chatting with EW over Zoom from a winter wonderland. “But for this… it is. It’s more like, here’s the spirit — what we want to feel right now. We really need to just feel Christmas, no matter if we can’t be with our loved ones.”
In the special, Santa faces a crisis of holiday cheer (how very 2020) so he calls on the only person who could possibly save the day: Mariah Carey, of course. Her spectacular adventure to bring merriment back to the world includes appearances from Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Tiffany Haddish, Billy Eichner, Snoop Dogg, Misty Copeland, Jermaine Dupri, Mykal-Michelle Harris, and Carey’s twins Moroccan and Monroe.
To assemble the all-star group, “I just made a wish and it happened,” Carey jokes. “I was so excited to work with so many incredible artists and just really try to bring [this] to life.” In a particularly magical development, Carey teamed up with Grande and Hudson for a brand-new version of her 2010 holiday bop “Oh Santa!” complete with harmonized whistle notes.
“It really was a special moment. I think people felt it in the room,” she says of their collaboration. “I enjoyed it as a producer and a songwriter. It was cool just to take a new approach with it, because that was always my [original] inspiration, for it to be a girls’ group type of thing. But I layered it and made it my own girls’ group when I first did it, and to reinvent that song with these incredible women was a very special moment.”
The moment happened amid chaos; though she first conceived of the special before the pandemic swept across the world, the production went ahead during quarantine, taking extreme safety measures to meet Carey’s high standards.
“We had so many strict guidelines to be COVID-compliant,” says the singer, a self-professed lifelong germophobe to begin with. “Everybody did their best. You’ve got to follow the rules, that’s the thing. Every day it’s something new.” It was worth the extra effort, though, to make the show go on for 2020: “I’m so thankful that this exists for this year.”
Carey’s early vision for what the special would represent certainly would not qualify as COVID-compliant, but it’s all the more resonant now that we do find ourselves in such difficult times. “From the onset of this, pre-COVID, pre-everything that’s happened this year, we were all talking about and inspired by kind of like a candlelight vigil moment,” she says. “That’s had to be adjusted because obviously, we’re not standing shoulder to shoulder with people right now around the world. But the whole point was to have this kind of feeling of, it’s the light within you and it’s the spirit of Christmas. We know it’s hard, but I believe this happened for a reason — not to get too whatever about it, but it really did. And I’m very thankful for this moment.”
During our Zoom, Carey slyly alludes to the chapter in The Meaning of Mariah Carey wherein she recalls her ex-husband Tommy Mottola yelling, in a moment of fury, that “Thanksgiving is canceled.” (This year, “it kind of is,” she admits.) She spends much more ink in the book, however, on the holiday she’s best known for. “Christmas was always ruined for me as a kid,” she says, citing the memoir. “That’s part of the whole drive behind this push that I have every year, of ‘what exactly are we doing to enhance this already incredible moment?’”
For a year that needs it, she’s doing the most, in hopes that Christmas spirit won’t be added to the list of things we missed out on in 2020. “I just hope that this year people don’t give up and say, ‘Oh, forget it, it’s canceled,’” she says. “Never can be canceled for me. I’m going to enjoy it. Even if I’m the onliest one, sitting in front of my screen, looking at it with the kids, wearing onesies — we’re getting festive. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special is now available to stream on Apple TV+, and the new version of “Oh Santa!” is out now. The full soundtrack is now available on Apple Music and will be everywhere Dec. 11.