Songwriter Calls Out Mariah Carey For Her Story On How 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' Was Written: ‘It’s Kind Of A Tall Tale’

Mariah Carey in All I Want for Christmas Is You music video.
(Image credit: Vevo)

It’s once again Christmas Season, which means it’s once again time for Mariah Carey to shine. The popular singer’s eternal pop culture phenomenon “All I Want For Christmas Is You” races up the charts everytime December rolls around. It’s currently sitting at number 1 again on the Hot 100 charts and with good reason. It’s a festive feel-good anthem, but unfortunately, those good vibes don’t warmly extend to those involved in creating the song.

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” was co-written by Mariah Carey and veteran songwriter Walter Afanasieff but what exactly co-written means depends entirely on who you talk to. Carey has given interviews over the years in which she’s talked about putting the song together and figuring out the melody. Typically the story involves her fiddling around with a keyboard, but if you ask Afanasieff, that’s a “tall tale.”

The producer and songwriter appeared on the Hot Takes & Deep Dives podcast, and he was extremely dismissive of Carey’s claims of having figured it out on the piano. In fact, he said her story doesn’t hold up because she “doesn’t play anything.” Here’s a portion of what was basically a good five minutes of him calling BS…

She doesn’t play anything. She doesn’t play keyboard or piano. She doesn’t understand music, she doesn’t know chord changes and music theory or anything like that. She doesn’t know a diminished chord from a minor seventh chord to a major seventh chord… To claim she wrote a very complicated chord structured song with her finger on a Casio Keyboard when she was a little girl, it’s kind of a tall tale

Now, in the interest of fairness, there are a few things in Mariah Carey’s favor here too. Both she and Afanasieff agree she wrote basically all the lyrics and contributed to the melody, which, any way you look at it, is a significant contribution to the song. She’s also credited Afansieff in interviews and when she told the story to Amazon Music back in 2019, she very directly said she’s not very capable on the piano.

Still, Afanasieff clearly feels she minimizes his role in “All I Want For Christmas Is You”’s creation, and he claims the songwriting credits explain that better than he could. 

It’s not like we’re Lennon and McCartney and we had some kind of written agreement that no matter if you write it or I write it, we’re gonna be the two of us.

It should also be noted here that there's a whole lot more to this backstory than just some disagreements over this song. Carey and Afanasieff worked together extensively during the early part of Carey's career, co-writing dozens of songs together. At the time, she was married to music mogul Tommy Mottola, who was 21 years her senior. The marriage went south by the late '90s amidst a stream of accusations, and Afanasieff continued working with Mottola, while Carey moved on to new producers. The co-writers didn't speak for over twenty years, which is likely how their stories have drifted so far apart.

Once you remove all the discarded wrapping paper and get all the shiny presents (and lawsuits) out of the way, both Carey and Afanasieff still admit the other played a role in shaping where the song ended up, and in the spirit of Christmas, that’s what matters. 99.9 percent of all musicals struggle their entire lives and never create a song as listened to and widely beloved as “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Everyone involved should be enormously proud of themselves for creating something that lasts and brings happiness to so many people, no matter if one wrote 51% and the other 49%.

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Mack Rawden is the Editor-In-Chief of CinemaBlend. He first started working at the publication as a writer back in 2007 and has held various jobs at the site in the time since including Managing Editor, Pop Culture Editor and Staff Writer. He now splits his time between working on CinemaBlend’s user experience, helping to plan the site’s editorial direction and writing passionate articles about niche entertainment topics he’s into. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English (go Hoosiers!) and has been interviewed and quoted in a variety of publications including Digiday. Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.