- While some consider “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a Christmas classic, some radio stations are now banning the song.
- There’s been an uptick in conversation about the song’s language, which some say is predatory, amid the #MeToo movement.
- INSIDER spoke to a music historian who said the song is about female empowerment.
In the years after songwriter Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 1944, he would perform it only with his wife at their home as a cute party trick.
The song was later performed in the 1949 movie “Neptune’s Daughter” and went on to earn an Academy Award, eventually becoming one of the most famous Christmas songs in the US. Since its conception, countless musicians – including Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton, and Idina Menzel – have performed covers. But today, the tune is the subject of a heated culture clash.
In recent weeks, many radio stations – like WDOK in Cleveland – have banned “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from airing, saying the lyrics, which tell the story of a man begging a woman to stay over while she persistently rejects him, are predatory. But according to a music historian, the song is a flirtatious anthem for female empowerment.
Listeners are calling the song’s lyrics into question amid the #MeToo movement
“People might say, ‘Oh, enough with that #MeToo,’ but if you really put that aside and read the lyrics, it’s not something that I would want my daughter to be in that kind of a situation,”a radio host at WDOK said. “The tune might be catchy, but let’s maybe not promote that sort of an idea.”
Supporters of the ban say the song is a story of date rape, as the man begs the woman to stay the night, persisting as she consistently says no and tries to leave. Take a look at the second verse, in which the woman gives excuses as to why she wants to leave, which the man ignores:
“My mother will start to worry (beautiful, what’s your hurry?) My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar) So, really, I’d better scurry (beautiful, please don’t hurry).”
The song continues with similar lines of the man’s, including, “Baby, don’t hold out,” “What’s the sense of hurting my pride,” and “Gosh, your lips are delicious.” At one point, the woman even sings, “No, no, no,” and, “Say, what’s in this drink,” leading some listeners to believe the song is implying that the man may have drugged her.
Music historian Thomas Riis says supporters of the ban have interpreted the song all wrong
At the time of its release, Riis said, the song was revolutionary and had a completely different meaning.
While today we think of the protagonist as a woman trapped in an unsafe situation, at the time, she was viewed as a modern woman acting on her newfound free will, Riis said.
“Even the simple fact of a woman remaining in a man’s apartment unchaperoned or living alone was scandalous in real life, so already, we are looking at a couple who is challenging middle-class values a bit,” Riis, a professor at the University of Colorado, told INSIDER.
In other words, it was scandalous for an unmarried woman to be alone with a man. In Riis’ opinion, it isn’t that the woman doesn’t want to stay, but that she’s worried about how she will be judged for it. In the song, Riis said, she’s toying with the idea of staying and flirting with him in the process.
Lyrics like “Well, maybe just half a drink more” and, “Maybe just a cigarette more” could be proof of her entertaining the idea of staying. Riis said that in the end, the woman gets to do what she wants and not what is expected of her. This was very empowering for a woman in the ’40s, he said.
Others – including the songwriter’s daughter, Susan Loesser – have said the line, “What’s in this drink?” was a common joke in the ’40s and ’50s.
“People used to say ‘what’s in this drink’ as a joke. You know, ‘This drink is going straight to my head, so what’s in this drink?’ Back then, it didn’t mean you drugged me,” Loesser told NBC.
Although Riis doesn’t believe the song was written to be manipulative, he said he understands how the interpretations of songs can shift over time.
“The places where songs are sung and their meanings heard and their contexts understood can change equally fast,” Riis said. “The connotations of single, individual words in the 21st century may be quite a bit different from what they were as few as 20 years ago.”
Riis thinks the ban on the song is a good idea given the debate.
“Too much trouble over a 3-minute tune,” he said. “Just make it go away.”
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