Everyone got on Mariah Carey earlier this month for her faltering isolated vocals in "All I Want for Christmas Is You" at NYC's tree-lighting ceremony, but the truth is this: Mimi's the last one to have come out with a Christmas classic, and that was two decades ago. That's according to Allison Stewart, who writes for the Washington Post that no one seems to be able to pen an enduring seasonal jingle anymore. According to her analysis, the last 10-year span that produced anything noteworthy was 1984 to 1994, when Wham! came out with "Last Christmas," Run DMC pumped out "Christmas in Hollis," and Carey trilled her way onto the airwaves with her hit. Stewart is baffled as to why even the likes of superstars Taylor Swift, Coldplay, and Beyonce haven't been able to churn out contemporary croonings that last longer than our New Year's resolutions.
Not that holiday classics-writing is an easy gig, Stewart notes. There are rules: Include just the right number of tried-and-true motifs (think snowmen, mistletoe), get religious references in there (but not too much about Jesus), don't attempt depressing or dystopian Christmas songs unless you're Liz Phair, and stay away from "sappy, sentimental" fare, a description used to label a recent Olivia Newton-John holiday album. It's also an exercise in frustration to resist the urge to write an instant hit—you want to pen a piece that has the potential to morph into a monster later on, though listeners may think it's just meh now. As one of the vocalists for Pentatonix (which just put out a Christmas album with one original track) puts it, "It's hard to come up with great lyrics. … It's about a balance between being creative and risky and new, and also keeping that classic nostalgic feeling of what Christmas is about." Click for Stewart's full piece. (Read more Christmas stories.)