‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ Gets an (Unnecessary) #MeToo Rewrite
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a Christmas classic since Frank Loesser wrote it in 1944, has received censure in recent years for celebrating what many call a date rape scenario. In the song, a man tries to persuade a woman to stay overnight at his place, under the pretext of bad weather outside, while plying her with drinks. In the #MeToo era especially, critics have questioned the song’s place in modern society, and in 2018, many radio stations have pulled the song from the air amid growing outrage. Now, Natasha Rothwell, celebrated writer of HBO’s Insecure, is teaming up with singers John Legend and Kelly Clarkson to release a re-imagined, politically correct, ‘with the times’ version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which they say is all about consent.
In the original song, Loesser writes the woman saying, “I ought to say no, no, no, sir,” to which the man asks her to move closer. She says, “My sister will be suspicious,” to which he replies, “Gosh, your lips look delicious.” She asks him, “Say, what’s in this drink?” Many interpreted this interaction in the song as the man trying to coerce the woman stranded at his home into spending the night with him. The fact that she asks what’s in the drink has also been interpreted as an ominous drugging scenario. This original version has been covered by big names in the music industry, such as Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, and Fantasia and CeeLo Green.
In the new version, which will debut in the expanded version of Legend’s first-ever Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas: The Deluxe Edition, to be released on November 8, Clarkson sings, “I’ve got to go away.” Legend responds, “I can call you a ride.” She asks, “What will my friends think?” to which Legend responds, “I think they should rejoice.” “If I have one more drink?” Clarkson asks; Legend responds, “It’s your body, and your choice.”
Legend, Clarkson and Rothwell’s version isn’t the first time an artist has attempted to revise the song: Singer-songwriter Lydia Liza performed another consent-focused version of this song alongside Josiah Lemanski in 2016, in which she changed the lyrics from “baby, it’s cold outside,” to “baby, I’m cool with that.”
Regardless of any version you pick, making cursory changes to this song, which was created and glorified in a time much different from now, doesn’t accomplish much.
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First, and to begin with, it’s arguable whether the song actually describes consent violation and date rape. To be sure, it could easily be interpreted that way. It could easily be interpreted another way: In the lyrics, the woman at no point expresses her own desire to leave — all protestations are about what she “ought” to do, or what family, friends and society will think of her if she chooses to spend the night with a man. (Where is our outrage over that?) At one point in the original lyrics, she suggests half a drink more of her own volition; one interpretation of the lyrics is that the man poured the drink a little stronger than half. Throughout, the lyrics — especially as they have been performed by countless artists — are flirtatious. The subtext is: The woman wants to stay; the man wants her to stay; but she doesn’t feel like she should because log kya kahenge??!!
Ignoring that subtext — or writing it out entirely — ignores a very common and very gray area of real-life sexual interaction. What we want is not always what we feel we ought to do; what we want may not be what we ultimately choose to do. If a rewrite is called for, it should be one that helps listeners navigate this gray area in a more respectful way. And it didn’t need to stray so far from the original lyrics. “I ought to say no, no, no, sir,” could be responded to with something along the lines of, “But what do you want?” followed by the woman actually saying “Call me a cab,” or, more realistically — “I want to fuck your brains out, but I’m worried about what other people will think.” (Look, we’re not lyricists.) But a similar, if more poetic, exchange would have the benefit of both facilitating open communication — essential to navigating scenarios of consent — respecting consent in a way that acknowledges emotions and desires are seldom black and white, and promoting women’s agency to speak up for their own desires, sans concern about how a regressive society would judge them.
Guess we know what we want for Christmas: Nuanced art and cultural conversations, rather than opportunistic capitalism. That will fit in a stocking, no?