John Legend and Kelly Clarkson De-Creepify “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
But how predatory was the song to begin with? A brief investigation.
Hear ye, hear ye: the classic Christmas song with predatory vibes has been updated for 2019.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a beloved duet that was written by Frank Loesser in 1944. It never mentions the winter holiday, specifically—but it’s snowy and cozy, so it’s been a song attached to Christmas through the years. In 1949, the tune was performed in the movie Neptune’s Daughter (watch that scene below) and won an Academy Award. But in the 2000s, complaints began to surface surrounding the song’s sexually coercive undertones.
It’s essentially a conversation between a man and a woman; she is demure and murmuring about how she should be headed home because it’s late and snowy, while he tries to convince her to stay. Criticisms of the lyrics point to her attempts at departing (though she’s coy about it, women often try to extract themselves gently from situations in order to avoid incurring a man’s wrath) and his blatant attempts at creating excuses for her to remain with him.
A sample, with the man’s part in parentheses:
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?)
To be fair, it’s quite possible the woman in this song does want to stay—she implies as much, at certain points—but is afraid of what her parents and the neighbors will think, since overnight visits between unmarried couples were improper in the ’40s. Some lyrics are purely up for interpretation; at one point she sings, “Say, what’s in this drink?,” which might mean she finds it delicious and genuinely wants to know the ingredients, or that she hopes to confirm her suspicions of him spiking it. Sadly, the second scenario is a frequent possibility for women. While the song itself might not have ill intentions, many men who’ve learned their tricks from these cultural touchstones do.
The corresponding movie scene that catapulted the song to further fame features the male character being aggressive with his lady, taking her hat off when she puts it on, pulling her back on the couch when she gets up. It could be read as playful or non-consensual, depending. (And wait, there’s more: another scene in the same film features the song with a different woman character singing the coercive part of the duet, trying to get her man to stay for one more drink. So. I’m tired.)
John Legend, noted feminist, has simplified things and penned new lyrics for the song (along with Natasha Rothwell) and duetted on them with Kelly Clarkson for his upcoming Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas: The Deluxe Edition. The rewrite includes lyrical alterations in which Legend offers to help Kelly get home as soon as she wishes:
I really can’t stay (Baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve gotta go away (I can call you a ride)
This evening has been (So glad that you dropped in)
So very nice (Time spent with you is paradise)
My mother will start to worry (I’ll call a car and tell ’em to hurry)
And according to a recent John Legend feature in Vanity Fair, the song also contains the following charming exchange:
What will my friends think… (I think they should rejoice)
If I have one more drink? (It’s your body, and your choice)
Your favorite new woke holiday record, A Legendary Christmas: The Deluxe Edition, is out November 8 via Columbia.