Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on

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The Biebs Proves to Have Survived Puberty on His Mariah Carey "All I Want For Christmas Is You" Duet

Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.

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The hit: "All I Want For Christmas Is You (SuperFestive!)," Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey (off Bieber's Under the Mistletoe).

Current chart position: This "All I Want For Christmas" revamp is charting at #20 on Billboard's seasonal Holiday Songs chart (Carey's 1994 original is at #1). The original is also charting on iTunes, as it does every year around the holidays; right now it's at #29. Thus the people have spoken, and I agree--the original reigns supreme. But in the interest of currency, let's talk about the Bieber version.

The team: Carey co-wrote "All I Want For Christmas" with close collaborator Walter Afanasieff, who won a Grammy in 1999 for producing Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" and has worked extensively with Carey since her 1990 self-titled debut. For the "SuperFestive!" duet, Bieber's team brought in more of Carey's key players: the new version was co-produced by James "Big Jim" Wright, who worked on 2000's "Can't Take That Away" and 2002's "Through the Rain"; American Idol's Randy Jackson, who's written songs for Carey, served as her musical director on several of her tours, and played in her backing band; and RedZone Entertainment's Kuk Harrell, who engineered Carey's 2008 hit "Touch My Body" and has worked as a vocal producer for a jaw-dropping set of smash contemporary pop records, including Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad and Loud, Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, Britney Spears' Femme Fatale, Beyoncé's I Am... Sasha Fierce, Chris Brown's F.A.M.E., and Bieber's own My World 2.0. Unsurprisingly, Harrell's a five-time Grammy Award winner, thanks to his hand in composing and producing Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains, and Rihanna and Jay-Z's "Umbrella."

Breakdown: When I first heard Bieber was covering this song, I thought the idea was silly, the way it's silly to remake Point Break when the original Point Break only came out twenty years ago. But the truth is, "All I Want For Christmas Is You," more than any other pop Christmas song, belongs in the canon of holiday classics--it's that cemented in our Christmas consciences. So in the same way that it's natural for pop singers to do reworked classics of "Blue Christmas" or "Santa Baby," it seems permissible and will probably be only the first of more major covers that will come in the future. (Lady Antebellum, Michael Bublé, and Miley Cyrus have all covered the song, just less notably).

It's a huge score for Bieber to have gotten Carey to personally remake her song and a shoot a new video with him, and their voices actually sound great together. (Yeah, Carey's Santa-slut outfit in the video is a ridiculous thing, but so are Bieber's earrings. And I don't know why everyone's making a fuss about the 41-year-old Carey collaborating with such a younger performer; isn't her husband like the same age as Bieber?) Carey sounds impeccable--when does she not?--her vocal performance on this song remains one of her most iconic. I do miss the drawn-out chorus she sings at the opening of the original, but other than that it's nice that they didn't change much else of her part, and the splashy drums and jingling sleigh bells remain much the same as well.

The biggest change here is obviously Bieber's parts, and there's something interesting going on with them. Bieber's Christmas tunes on Under the Mistletoe (which went straight to #1 on Billboard, natch) are the first recorded material we've heard from him since 2010's My World 2.0, and in between these two records, The Big Change happened. He hardly sounds like the high-pitched tween singer of "Baby" or "One Time" anymore. Historically, this can equal disaster for boy child singers, going back to the Byzantine choir castrati, but Bieber proves to have survived puberty with his vocal skills intact. On this song, his voice is obviously huskier and has lost a lot of its baby-cuteness, but it's also taken on more interesting (dare I say manly?) depths, and the fact that he can still easily and charismatically carry a tune makes him sound strong next to a pro like Carey and bodes well for his future career longevity. Thank God. A Bieber-less pop music scene is just not one any of us want to imagine.

 
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