Mariah Carey Christmas Queen lawsuit: Elizabeth Chan interview.

Although Mariah Carey’s beloved 1994 hit “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is widely accepted as the single most popular original contemporary Christmas song, Carey herself isn’t accepted as the single dominating contemporary Christmas musician—at least not legally. After the singer filed to trademark her well-known moniker “Queen of Christmas” in March of 2021, fellow holiday queens, like Darlene Love, expressed their disapproval.

The most proactive of them, Elizabeth Chan, a former media executive turned singer who styles herself as the Christmas music genre’s only full-time musician, filed to oppose Carey’s trademarking attempts earlier this year. On Nov. 15, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board sided with Chan, officially rejecting Carey’s attempt to singularly hold court over the holidays.

Slate spoke with Chan as the holiday season swung into its last few weeks, to fully understand what this win meant for not only the Christmas music genre but also our expression of holiday love overall. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nadira Goffe: When did you first start using the phrase Queen of Christmas?

Elizabeth Chan: Growing up, my grandmother was definitely the Queen of Christmas. When you’re the most prolific artist in a certain genre, you’re either the Queen of Soul, the Queen of Jazz—and for me, I started being called the Queen of Christmas in 2013–14, after my second song on the radio. Anytime I would walk into a room, radio executives would be like, “Oh, this is Elizabeth. She’s the Queen of Christmas! She only does Christmas music.” I mean, I have emails from my entire career [of] people introducing me as the Queen of Christmas, because even if it’s March, even if it’s April, I’m still doing Christmas music. Do you know what I mean? It doesn’t just turn off. No, this has been my lifelong commitment for 12 years now. I literally have given up everything, and anyone that works with me knows that I am someone that is so committed to the genre of music that I’m in. As a Christmas musician, there’s very few places that I can… I mean, I’m not going to be on, like, any American Music Awards. I’m never going to have the same kind of accolades that other artists might have.

What made you decide to contest Mariah Carey’s trademarking of Queen of Christmas? And what was that process like for you?

I never wanted to be in the position that I was forced to be in this year.

And what position was that?

I’m not a litigious person. All we have is time when it comes to going after our dream. And when I found out that Mariah Carey had filed for the trademark, what that meant was that all the time that I had spent, all of the accolades from others, would’ve been erased. A lot of people think it was a me vs. Mariah thing, but it wasn’t. It’s not about that at all. It was a Mariah vs. everybody thing. Because what she was actually taking away was even your right to call me the Queen of Christmas, or your right to call anybody else the Queen of Christmas.

The Queen of Christmas is a generational thing. Even before me, there was Brenda Lee, there’s Darlene Love, and after me there’s going to be someone. No one is queen forever, not even Queen Elizabeth. Somebody was trying to outright own a term in the public domain that many people have used for many, many reasons and have a right to call whoever they want to call the Queen of Christmas. And what she wanted was to stop that.

She was going to stop time. No one after her. I mean, that’s not fair.

What does queen mean to you?

So for me to be the Queen of Christmas, it doesn’t mean that you’re wearing a crown on your head. It doesn’t mean that you’re the most wealthy, most famous person in the world. To be queen means that you’re giving to people and you’re bringing people together during the holiday season. That’s what it means to me. It’s not how much you have; it’s how much you give that makes you become recognized as a queen.

So, how difficult was it for you to stop this attempt to trademark the term?

I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no idea about the process at all. I literally called dozens and dozens of lawyers and they said to me, “Well, this is going to be a two- to three-year process and trial, and it’s going to cost you at least $200,000 to $250,000, minimum.” That’s for one mark. And there were four that I was opposing: Queen of Christmas, Princess Christmas, QOCand Christmas Princess. That’s a million dollars.

But do you know how general those terms are? My daughter was known as the Princess of Christmas because she was born into my world. [Chan’s daughter, aptly named Noelle, is self-credited as the “youngest Christmas songwriter ever to get one of her songs played on the radio” and inspired an upcoming book by Chan, titled The Princess of Christmas.] I literally had an Excel spreadsheet where I would just collect names of lawyers and I would call them and I would just cross them off the list, until the very last call was my friend, who was a Boston University professor. And I called him up and said, “Hey, do you think your students can help me file a motion just to buy me some time? I have to do something called opposing a trademark.” And what he did was he asked his law firm if he could represent me for free.

He knew that [Carey winning] would be a detrimental thing not only for my career, but also for the future of Christmas and Christmas culture. Trademarking the word Christmas is tricky in the way that she had filed for so many classes and so many products. It’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of things that she was filing for. Hundreds, not dozens. So, conceivably, if somebody wanted to make a dog collar [with QOC or any of the marks on it] and she decided, “Well, I don’t know—I don’t think you should do that,” she could take you to court for two years. Any trademark owner could take you to court to litigate it out. Most small businesses would lose because they couldn’t afford the kind of litigation that she could. [In addition to dog collars, the filings also included oddball items such as various milks (including dairy-free versions), massage oils, and eyeglasses/sunglasses.]

You mentioned your identity as an Asian woman, and I can’t help but notice that Christmas music is a small field. How does your identity impact your position within Christmas music and your decision to fight the trademark?

Totally. I mean, I’m half Filipino, half Chinese, but I’m an all-American girl [who grew up in the States]. And it wasn’t until I went to the Philippines [that I] realized that as Filipinos it’s okay to listen to Christmas music from September to January. It’s very culturally acceptable to do it, right? And also, being Filipino, having this enormous faith and belief in better days is just part of our culture. I mean, it’s indoctrinated in our culture to always be helpful to others and help others and treat others kindly. It’s just part of who we are.

My godparents were Italian and Greek; I went to Quaker school; I grew up celebrating so many bar and bat mitzvahs. For me, the holiday season and Christmas are not just about your religion or your class or your creed. They’re for everybody. Christmas belongs to everyone who believes in the spirit of the holidays. And so I think it’s had a tremendous impact on why someone like me would be so committed to Christmas music in a way that others aren’t. That’s something that I want, is to be able to remind people during the most beautiful time of the year to remember what matters most: love, family, home, togetherness. I don’t think there are enough messages about that. And Christmas music is really that genre of music that allows us to put our walls down and celebrate those things. Everyone is willing to be open to hear the message during this time. Whereas 330 days of the year, we’re not.

What’s one thing that frustrates you about the narrative of your “fight” against Mariah Carey?

One of the most frustrating things is that everyone thinks that I’m trying to compete against somebody that I wasn’t ever in competition with. What I was trying to do is protect Christmas. You know, it’s not about a competition. It’s about protecting Christmas.

And if it was somebody else, I probably would’ve done the same thing. You know what I mean? Because it has nothing to do with her. I think what I really want to clarify is that it’s not about me vs. anything. It’s about me for Christmas.

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