No one has to wait till December for a holiday squabble. Mariah Carey’s attempt to register the term “Queen of Christmas” as a trademark only she can use is meeting fierce resistance from two singers who have also been associated with that term over the years, Darlene Love and Elizabeth Chan. And the latter caroler has gone to court this week to try to stop Carey from monopolizing it.
Love’s music has been a holiday staple ever since she sang several songs on what many people consider the greatest Christmas pop album of all time, the collection best known as “Phil Spector’s Christmas Album,” back in 1963. Chan has built up a following and strong media profile as the only singer-songwriter who devotes herself to releasing exclusively Christmas music every year; she even released an album called “Queen of Christmas.” And neither of them is having Carey’s attempt to claim the honorific — and myriad attendant merch rights — exclusively for herself.
Chan’s attorney filed a formal declaration of opposition to Carey’s trademark claim Friday. Love caught wind of Chan’s possibly impending court battle with Carey, and spoke out Monday with her own outrage over the pop superstar looking to legally own the term.
“Is it true that Mariah Carey trademarked ‘Queen of Christmas’?” wrote Love. “What does that mean, that I can’t use that title? David Letterman officially declared me the Queen of Christmas 29 years ago, a year before she released ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You,’ and at 81 years of age I’m NOT changing anything. I’ve been in the business for 52 years, have earned it and can still hit those notes! If Mariah has a problem call David or my lawyer!!”
(Love’s association with Christmas music actually stretches to almost six decades, and snowballed as Letterman had her on his program to sing the classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” every year from 1986 through 2014, a tradition that has subsequently been carried on on other TV programs.)
Chan and her lawyer — Louis W. Tompros, of Boston-based WilmerHale — spoke with Variety over the weekend and shared the argument they are making to the trademark trial and appeal board to stop Carey in her snow tracks.
“Christmas has come way before any of us on earth, and hopefully will be around way after any of us on earth,
says Chan. “And I feel very strongly that no one person should hold onto anything around Christmas or monopolize it in the way that Mariah seeks to in perpetuity. That’s just not the right thing to do. Christmas is for everyone. It’s meant to be shared; it’s not meant to be owned.
“And it’s not just about the music business,” Chan continues. “She’s trying to trademark this in every imaginable way — clothing, liquor products, masks, dog collars — it’s all over the map. If you knit a ‘queen of Christmas’ sweater, you should be able to sell it on Etsy to somebody else so they can buy it for their grandma. It’s crazy — it would have that breadth of registration.”
Carey’s representative did not return a request for comment last week about Chan’s legal filing.
Chan started to be called “queen of Christmas” in the press before she adopted it herself and used it for a 2021 album title. She says the first time the media used it for her was when “All Access” applied it in 2014, a few years into her 11-year recording career. But it really picked up when the New Yorker profiled her in 2018 with the simple headline: “The Queen of Christmas.” The article described Chan as many others before and since have, as “America’s most successful, and perhaps only, full-time Christmas-song singer-slash-composer.”
Meanwhile, Chan’s declaration to the trademark appeals board points out that Carey has said in interviews that she doesn’t want the title. In an interview Carey did as recently in late 2021, she again resisted it. “That was other people, and I just want to humbly say that I don’t consider myself that,” she told the Zoe Bell Breakfast Show in the U.K. “‘I’m someone that loves Christmas, that happened to be blessed to write ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You.’ And a lot of other Christmas songs. And let’s face it, you know, everybody’s faith is what it is. But to me, Mary is the Queen of Christmas.”
“It’s classic trademark bullying,” Tompros says. “What they’re trying to say is we want a monopoly over a queen of Christmas in these 16 different classes of goods and hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of products. And so the idea that she’s saying that they haven’t used it before and have even rejected the title before, on the one hand, but now ‘I want it for everything’ on the other hand, is really inconsistent.”
Says Chan, “In the Christmas music space, I’ve had top 10 singles (on AC charts) for the last eight years. That’s nothing to sniff at, and that’s hard for someone like me who is always up against the major labels. I’ve put so much into my dream and my career and trying to make something out of like nothing. I have none of the resources, but I have all of the heart, and I think that’s what’s helped me.” She says the trademark filing is “daunting and it’s scary, because I love what I do.
“But I think people may think that it’s just this artist versus this artist. That’s not what this is about.” In her mind, by fighting to keep the terminology legally open to all, singers and civilians alike, she’s saving —if not Christmas — then a small part of it.
Tompros took the case on pro bono after Chan spent much of the last year calling trademark lawyers that told her it would be too tough to fight without hundreds of thousands of dollars at her disposal. “They were giving me condolences for my career. They were telling me, ‘You have no chance. You can’t afford me.'” Compounding the challenge is that Chan is challenging not just one but four trademarks for which Carey filed: Queen of Christmas, QOC, Princess of Christmas and Christmas Princess. Chan has previously called her eldest daughter the Princess of Christmas, and wants to stop Carey in her tracks on that, too.
Why didn’t Carey apply for a “Christmas Queen” trademark, while she was looking to make a claim on several other phrases? Tompros says records show someone else already tried to trademark that, and failed.
Tompros says a long period of discovery will come next. “The right thing for them to do, having seen the opposition, is to abandon this,” says the attorney. “If they want to start selling ‘Queen of Christmas’ merchandise, fine — they can do it without the trademark.”
Chan explained what led her to pursue such an unusual recording career in a Variety profile last December titled: “Elizabeth Chan, Pop’s Only Full-Time Christmas Singer-Songwriter, on Why the Season Is Her Reason for Making Music.” That story began by imagining a purely tongue-in-cheek competition for the title, with little foreknowledge of how serious it would soon become: “Fandoms like to argue over whether Mariah Carey or Darlene Love is the true queen of Christmas. But can you really be queen if you aren’t doing Christmas music full-time?”
These aren’t the only three who’ve been named as Christmas royalty in the past. Brenda Lee recorded multiple Christmas songs in the late ’50s and ’60s, and her 1958 recording of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” has peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 the last three years in a row, held back from the top only by Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Lee, 77, could not be reached for comment on whether she, too, has a beef with Carey wanting to legally lock down the moniker..
Is Tompros worried about the reaction that might come from Carey’s very, very devoted lambs? “No, I was joking with Elizabeth earlier that if I’d taken on the Alt Right/Infowars militants and Alex Jones in one case” — he has represented the creator of Pepe the Frog in copyright cases protecting the cartoon character from being co-opted by the far right — “then we’ll be OK here.”