A groundbreaking song recorded for victims of the AIDS crisis has turned 25.
"One Sweet Day," a track from Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, was released in November 1995 as the second single in Carey's album Daydream from Columbia Records. It was an instant success. For 16 weeks, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 — a record it would hold for 23 years, solidifying it as one of the biggest hits in music history.
The song was an important cultural milestone in the AIDS pandemic. "One Sweet Day" was created after the January 1995 death of David Cole, Carey's longtime collaborator, from AIDS complications. Co-written and co-produced by Walter Afanasieff, the song was intended to comfort those impacted by the AIDS crisis and to mourn the dead.
And when Carey's team approached Boyz II Men, the theme also resonated with the group members, who had recently lost their road manager, Kahlil Roundtree, to gun violence. As fate would have it, member Nathan Morris had been writing his own song with similar lyrics.
The chorus states, "And I know you're shining down on me from heaven / Like so many friends we've lost along the way / And I know eventually we'll be together / One sweet day."
"One Sweet Day" was dedicated to the memory of Cole, an acclaimed music producer and member of C+C Music Factory who was behind hits like "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)." However, its significance has grown throughout the years.
Carey and Boyz II Men would perform the song at the 38th Grammy Awards — where surprisingly, it was snubbed — and later as a tribute to the death of Princess Diana. She also dedicated the song to Prince after he passed.
The song continues to find new fans on social media. The music video's YouTube posting has been watched over 215 million times, with commenters sharing how it helped them through grief. Many specifically mention another pandemic. "For COVID-19 victims worldwide that lost their battle with the illness," wrote Chandler Palmer in a comment that has been liked more than 2,500 times.
The video itself remains impactful. At the time of its creation, scheduling conflicts prevented the artists from creating a formal one together. But the spliced footage of them recording the song shifts the focus from the artists to those who had been lost.
The Billboard longest-running record of "One Sweet Day" was, appropriately, broken by Lil Nas X, the groundbreaking Black gay artist behind "Old Town Road."
In July 2019, when that happened, Carey tweeted an image of herself passing a torch to Lil Nas X. "One Sweet Day will always hold a special place in my heart and I want to thank anyone who's ever told me how this song has affected them and their loved ones," she wrote.