Is It Finally Brenda Lee’s Year to Be ‘Rockin’’ Atop the Hot 100?  

Is It Finally Brenda Lee’s Year to Be ‘Rockin’’ Atop the Hot 100?  

Music

The Contenders is a midweek column that looks at artists aiming for the top of the Billboard charts, and the strategies behind their efforts. This week (for the upcoming Billboard Hot 100 dated Dec. 9), the now-annual holiday rush has begun on the Hot 100 – but for the first time, the usual pace-setter is in danger of being passed for the top spot. 

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Mariah Carey, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (Columbia): Since the chart dated Dec. 12, 2015, Mariah Carey’s signature Yuletide tune has reigned atop Billboard’s Holiday 100 listing — 43 consecutive weeks (of its total 58 weeks at No. 1 among the chart’s 63 weeks of existence, dating back to 2011). And every December since first reaching the Hot 100’s apex in 2019, “All I Want” has returned to the top of the chart, most recently spending four weeks at pole position, from the surveys dated Dec. 17, 2022, through to Jan. 7, 2023. In all, it has spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, belatedly making the 1994 release the third-longest-reigning single of Carey’s storied career, and arguably her all-time signature hit.  

Once again this year, Carey’s pop perennial begins the holiday season in the lead. It returns at No. 1 on the first Holiday 100 of the 2023 season (dated Dec. 2) and also zooms from 17-4 on the Hot 100, in its 60th total week on the listing. As per tradition, Mimi has come out in full force to re-promote the seasonal staple (and her own Queen of Christmas status) this month. That includes sharing a video of her being “defrosted” at midnight on Nov. 1, starring in a holiday-themed Victoria’s Secret campaign, debuting new themed merch, and of course performing “All I Want” on the Billboard Music Awards (while also accepting the Billboard Chart Achievement Award for the song’s longtime success).  

“All I Want” returning to No. 1 on next week’s Hot 100 would be no surprise at all — the song has been one of the great inevitables on the Billboard charts for nearly a half-decade now. However, this year it might be neck-and-neck with another holiday fixture, one that’s been gaining on it in recent years and may finally be in position to pull ahead.  

Brenda Lee, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (Decca): While Brenda Lee’s Christmas classic is 36 years older than Carey’s, it has nonetheless been building steam over the past half-decade, firmly establishing itself as the perennial silver medalist of Yuletide pop. As “All I Want” has reached No. 1 on both the Holiday 100 and the Hot 100 every year since 2019, so has “Rockin’” climbed to No. 2 on both charts — returning to the runner-up spot on this week’s Holiday 100, while also re-entering the Hot 100 at No. 8, as the second-highest-ranking holiday title. And each of the last few years, the gap in performance between the two songs has shrunk, though Carey’s has thus far remained the decisive leader. 

This year, however, the competition has gotten legitimately tight. While Carey remains the leader of the two in sales and official on-demand U.S. streams through four days of this tracking week, Lee is slightly ahead in official U.S. streams, per preliminary tracking data for next week’s charts, according to Luminate. Lee’s song is also growing in streaming at a faster rate than Carey’s — and does in fact lead it comfortably on Spotify’s Daily Top Songs USA chart.

With the distance between the two songs looking increasingly climbable, and with “Rockin’” celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, Lee and her UMG label family have increased their promotional efforts to get the song over the top. Earlier this month, a new music video for the song (with cameos from country stars Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood) premiered on CMT, while Lee will perform the song on NBC’s Christmas at the Opry special on Dec. 7. Lee also released the five-track A Rockin’ Christmas With Brenda Lee EP, featuring a new remix of “Rockin’” by dance producer Filous, and — of course — recently joined TikTok, where she’s been sharing daily posts reminiscing about the song and her career, and sharing her reactions to some of the new feedback and acclaim the song has garnered. (Lee even hopped on the plane intercom on a recent flight to perform the song, as captured by video shared on TMZ.)  

With this major promotional push and an increasing public sentimentality behind the 78-year-old Lee — who, as one of the biggest pop stars of the pre-British Invasion ’60s, did top the Hot 100 twice, with 1960’s “I’m Sorry” and “I Want to Be Wanted” — this year should mark her best chance yet of returning to the top spot. If “Rockin’” doesn’t get there this week, it should be a week-to-week battle with “All I Want” throughout the holiday season — one that Lee herself recognized in a recent New York Times profile, quipping, “Now I gotta worry about Mariah… Get outta here, girl!” (She also added: “Oh, there’s room for everybody. Her song’s good, too. I love her singing.”) 

IN THE MIX 

Jack Harlow, “Lovin on Me” (Generation Now/Atlantic): Back in the secular music world, the reigning Hot 100 topper should still be a force to be reckoned with. Harlow’s “Lovin on Me,” his third No. 1 on the chart in three years, remains atop both the Spotify Daily Top Songs USA listing and Apple Music’s real time charts, and it also debuts at No. 32 on Billboard’s Radio Songs rankings this week, as it continues to grow on the airwaves, claiming top Airplay Gainer status on the Dec. 2 Hot 100. It may soon be buried under the holiday music avalanche, but Harlow and “Lovin” won’t hand over the reins to the chart without at least a bit of a fight.  

Wham!, “Last Christmas” (Epic/Columbia): It’s not quite as exciting as the Mariah/Brenda showdown, but there’s also a race for No. 3 on the Holiday 100. That’s between Bobby Helms’ country-rock classic “Jingle Bell Rock,” which has been the annual No. 3 on the holiday Hot 100 since the 2019-20 season, and Wham!’s synth-pop staple “Last Christmas.” Wham! has creeped closer to the Big Three each year since singer-songwriter George Michael‘s death in 2016, hitting a new peak last year of No. 4 on the Hot 100. This year, it’s nipping at the heels of “Jingle Bell Rock” — they’re Nos. 13 and No. 12 on this week’s Hot 100, respectively — as it narrowly trails Helms’ hit in streams, and also follows in airplay, while leading it in sales, so far this tracking week.

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