An epic snowball fight, powered by current
In 2008, Mariah Carey scored her 18th number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 – “Touch My Body” – breaking the record for most number one singles by a solo artist. And for a good decade it looked like that would be where his peak would be. But then the rules changed.
As early as 2007, Billboard – the American music trade magazine and charting service – experimented with incorporating streaming data into the way it tabulated the best-performing songs in the US market, which until now had been mostly based on sales of copies of physical recordings. It will take some time for streaming to really take off as a measure of music sales: In 2018, Billboard adjusted how much weight streams are given to their calculations. The following year, Mariah Carey scored her 19th number one with a song that had come out 25 years earlier: “All I want for Christmas is you.” Thanks to the new rules, the song broke the record for the longest climb to number one in Billboard history—until that record was broken again this year, by something even older.
You will get a sentimental feeling… if you read.
By the numbers
14: Position where Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree” originally peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960
19: The number of number one hits Mariah Carey has on the Hot 100—the most of any solo artist
30 million: The number of active users Spotify reached its fifth birthday in 2013; now it has half a billion
$0.003-0.005: About the amount an artist is paid every time their song streams on Spotify, and multi-member bands, well…
65: Number of years Brenda Lee’s Christmas classic took to top the Hot 100—longest in history
3: Times Quartz has obsessed over “All I Want for Christmas” before (here is the third onewhich pretty much sums it all up)
The battle for the Christmas throne
2023 was the first year since Mariah Carey’s runaway Christmas success that she had a true challenger for the top spot: one Brenda Lee, who burst onto the music scene in 1957 at the age of 12. Her song “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” has peaked at number two every year since 2019 – behind “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – most likely helped by his starring role in another Christmas classic from ‘ a different stream genre, Alone at home.
This year, however, Lee made a concerted effort to get her track to the top of the rankings. She has given formal interviews in publications such as The New York Times, and she filmed a music video for the song, which helped boost streaming numbers via YouTube (it counts!). She even had her own stan Twitter account (Brenda Lee Charts) to represent the singer’s performance and spar playfully (?) with Carey’s “lambs”. The gambit worked, and in the chart dated December 9, 2023, Lee finally returned to the number one spot for the first time since 1960.
It was a short reign; Carey returned to the number one spot just one week later. But it all goes to show that even as successful as Carey is, the charts are still a game of thrones, and the nature of streaming means winter can always come out on top for the artist. Who are the contenders to watch next year? Beneath Lee and Carey on the Hot 100 are Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” and Wham! ‘s “Last Christmas”. Watch your back, Brenda and Mariah.
Mariah Carey may have the most Hot 100 number one hits of any soloist, but what group holds that honor (and surpasses her)?
- The bugs
- One direction
Hum your way down for the answer.
The Quartz Obsession podcast is back for Season 6!
❄️ In Streaming Music: Track SuccessDrew Gillis takes on host Thomas Germain in the magical land of the music industry during the streaming era— where there’s a Christmas Queen whose throne is anything but secure and entire digital villages of musical artists who must build toys instead of tunes for a living.
Come with us on our journey to a strange new land!
1944: Brenda Lee is born
1958: “Rockin Around The Christmas Tree” is released
1960: Brenda Lee hits her first number one on the Hot 100, with “I’m Sorry”
1969: Mariah Cary is born (although famously it wouldn’t be confirmed until decades later)
1990: Carey Gets Her First Number One Hit, “Vision Of Love”
1994: Mariah Carey Releases “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – It Was Ineligible To Place On The Hot 100 At The Time
2008: Spotify was born
2018: The Billboard Hot 100 his rules change for including streaming songs
2019: “All I Want For Christmas Is You” tops the Hot 100 for the first time
2023: “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” tops the Hot 100 for the first time
With Brenda Lee’s 2023 chart-topper, she has officially dethroned Cher as the oldest artist to ever top the Billboard Hot 100.
Look at this!
65 years after its initial release, Brenda Lee finally recorded a music video for her perennial holiday song to help get it to number one.
Take me in this 🐰 hole!
As the music industry has moved away from sales and towards streaming, artists are making less money from their music. For example, Taylor Swift was Spotify’s top artist of the year, making $100 million from the platform. That may sound like a lot, but that figure comes from more than 26 billion streams, according to People. And most artists aren’t Taylor Swift; an individual stream on Spotify can earn up to $0.005, and only about 0.2% of the artists with music on Spotify past a $50,000 threshold.
Even big stars are looking for other methods of making money apart from music. Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande have all launched makeup lines in recent years, while Beyoncé, Kanye West and Drake have all launched clothing brands. Even if the artist doesn’t actually generate as much revenue as they would like from their music, having a popular song keeps them ahead of the curve. Perhaps Brenda Lee will launch a line of shawls in the coming months—best to strike while the iron is hot!
The streaming gods grant you one wish: to erase a holiday song from existence. What do you choose?
- “Do they know it’s Christmas?” – Plaster
- “Mistletoe” – Justin Bieber
- “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon
Tell us what you would do with this kind of power by taking us 1-question, 30-second survey!
💬 Let’s talk!
🐤 X this!
Today’s email was written by Drew Gillisnews editor at the AV Club, (glad someone is finally listening to his opinions on Mariah Carey) and edited by Susan Howson (will always sneak in Beatles trivia, but will be okay with never hearing John’s contribution to the holiday canon again).
The answer to the pop quiz is of course, A. The Beatles, which has the most number one hits (20) on the Billboard Hot 100 of any artist, solo or group.