“I mean, she NAILED it on the first night.” “Really? I don’t know…”
“Oh, we’ve been here every night. We’re Mariah stans.”
“Have you seen her in Vegas? You should totally go see her in Vegas.”
“What’s your favorite thing about Christmas?” “Muh-RYYYYYYY-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!”
I’m not one for eavesdropping, but I’ve made more of an effort to refrain from tuning out surrounding conversations as Mariah continues her All I Want for Christmas Is You concert series at the Beacon Theatre. My optical memory has been letting me down for the last week and change, too, as I’ve been scanning the crowds in hopes of recognizing a familiar face, a repeat offender who made themselves known in the hordes of people flocking to the Beacon each night. I figured Mariah’s diehard fans would be easy to spot, that they’d be louder than the rest or clad in vintage tees of tours past, or that the same folks turning around and snapping selfies in the front row, aiming to fit a windswept Mariah into the frame, would be easy to find after the show. I figured the Lambily was just like any other fan army: You show your devotion with your sing-along skills, your merch collection, and your intense encyclopedic knowledge of Mimi both pre- and post-emancipation, like my friend Nat. You show it with fierce, fabulous pride.
And then I realized that that’s super dumb. Not only is everyone wearing a damn Charm Bracelet tour tee, but like Love Actually — the seasonally appropriate rom-com responsible for stoking “All I Want for Christmas Is You” ‘s eternal flame — the Lambily are all around. By stepping across the threshold of the Beacon Theatre, you’re not going to just any Mariah show: You’re forking over at least $60 to watch your favorite pop star sing a program of predominantly lukewarm material; most of the songs on the docket aren’t even hers. You’re paying to witness a very specific, unusual spectacle as far as typical pop productions go — and in doing so, you’re cementing your status as a Lamb, because you’re basically coming to Mariah’s Christmas party solely because she wants you to show up. Fans from China are flying from one hemisphere to another for the sake of a run-of-the-mill holiday special made momentous by Mariah breathing life into tired standards. If that isn’t a testament to Mariah’s gravitational pull and the unique circumstances that shift the context of her fans’ devotion, I don’t know what is.
Let’s think about this from an economic perspective. Say you wanted to see Mariah in her butterfly-flanked glory, and you were of the mind to show up to a venue and dedicate a couple of hours of your time to full-on Mariahdom complete with dance parties, sob-fests, and revelatory ballads for the sum of $70. You should book a ticket to Vegas, hope that an hour on the floor at Caesar’s Palace allows you to break even, and file into the Colosseum: That’s where Mariah will return for #1 to Infinity, her residency at the famed spot on the Strip that plucks from her greatest hits, of which there are eighteen Billboard-topping singles, in February.
Those tickets — which range from about $70 with fees to north of $270 for the best available seat on any given weeknight in February — fall within more or less the same range offered to those coming to the All I Want for Christmas Is You series. This is kind of remarkable considering that you’re getting either a great or disappointing deal here. On the one hand, you’re not experiencing the evergreen hits at the Beacon — the paltry “Emotions”/”We Belong Together”/”Hero” portion is hardly a sampling of her triumphs — but you are getting what feels like a lovingly crafted Christmas playlist that favors Mimi’s favorites over anything else, along with the juggernaut of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Mariah makes a point to let us know just how much she loves Christmas — she doesn’t just love it; she really, really loves it, as her sincere banter reveals — and that in itself lends a softer, more personal touch to the proceedings than a behemoth of a Vegas super-show. You’re not getting “Fantasy” and “Heartbreaker” and a career retrospective (or even a fraction of one, really) at the Beacon, nor are you receiving an introduction to Mariah’s greatness. You’re expected to roll in to the Beacon with that need for the hits satiated, and you’re encouraged to take yourself — and Mariah — less seriously for an hour and fifteen minutes because there are grown dudes dancing around in teddy bear costumes during the grand finale.
Mariah isn’t catering to just any audience: She’s catering to the audience that knows her best, and at her favorite time of year — and that’s what sets her holiday special apart from the rest. This isn’t about celebrating her career or the wild success of her Christmas albums, darlings. This is about the unquantifiable, wildly endearing aspects of Mariah and her relationship with her fan base, here bedecked in festive attire.
Maybe that’s why I wasn’t picking up on obvious symptoms of extreme Lambliness — I’ve been basically steeped in it, to the point where I’m singing along to songs that I’d never listened to before December 8. If I were to fly to Vegas and overdose on #1 to Infinity, I’m honestly not sure if I’d embrace it on the same level, because I already know what to expect as far as that program’s concerned. While the songs of Mariah’s holiday revue are predictable and debatably stale (save for “Oh Santa!” which is still my runaway fave, and “O Holy Night,” which is straight-up transcendent), she’s not. Girlfriend whipped out an improvised, r&b-laden version of the goddamn “Dreidel” song the other night, for pete’s sake. It’s one thing to keep multiple nights of a greatest-hits show interesting, but to take on some of the most timeless tunes in existence and keep them from feeling boring night after night? That’s a challenge that only Mariah can trump.