You Can Listen to "Baby It's Cold Outside" Without Shame Now

By: Angelique Nguyen

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People often say that growing up is when you learn that Santa Claus isn’t real. To me, growing up is when you learn that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” isn’t actually a socially acceptable song to listen to.

Unlike most Christmas songs that continually cycle around this time of year, I have  always had a poignant emotional connection to the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Something about a jazzy ensemble and the snappy back-and-forth of the two main singers is something so distinct from all of the gimmicky tropes of Saint Nicholas or presents under the tree. It’s a palate cleanser, a refreshing introduction to the holiday cheer if you will. It’s funny because when I was younger (and certainly a lot more impressionable), I have memories of the radio blasting this familiar tune yet again, and wistfully gazing out my window at the minimum 50 degrees Fahrenheit weather, Californian sun out in full glory, all while mouthing the words to myself, It’s up to your knees out there. But what can I say? It’s an absolute bop.

Upon closer inspection, however, things aren’t looking so good.

Everything from the lyric “Hey, what’s in this drink?” (suggesting the use of the date rape drug), to it being a series of polite but adamant excuses in an attempt to leave, and finally, much, much coercing done from the typically male singer’s part places the song into a considerable amount of scrutiny.

The prospects of this song being banned from mainstream media forever is something very immediate to us. This year, radio stations like Cleveland's WDOK or Denver's KOSI have decided to not play the song any longer due to its negative interpretation and the culture surrounding this song, like the #MeToo movement raising issues of sexual assault. Such difficult decisions, however, didn’t come without major backlash. After banning the song, KOSI opened the poll to ask what listeners thought they should do; with 15,000 respondents, the support of continuing to play the song as per usual turned out to be overwhelmingly agreed upon, and they decided to keep “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on their program. As for WDOK, their listeners have until December 15 to cast their vote in a similar poll.  

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The fact of the matter is, at face value, the lyrics are too ambiguous of what actually transpired during the course of the song in order to make a clear verdict of whether it’s acceptable or not. Moreover, context does matter. In the 1940s, it was common for a woman to refuse a man multiple times in order to not seem desperate, whether she actually wanted to be with him or not; this whole song is a thinly veiled code from the woman saying that they should be together, but only in fear of the public might think of them. We see this when she mentions that the “neighbors might think,” or that “my sister will be suspicious” to avoid a scandal with staying the night. As for the line, “Hey, what’s in this drink?” it was a way for women to blame their precocious behavior on or a way to diverge from the accountability of their actions due to the drink. In reality, these drinks probably had little alcohol, leaving them to be in total control.

Perhaps this song is a sign of change. Hypothetically, maybe it can be agreed on that wasn’t intentionally written as a song highly implicating rape, but shouldn’t be played anyway because every interpretation matters, well-intentioned or not. Or maybe the opposite could be said in that before movements like #MeToo, there weren’t many women who could speak up about being raped, and this was what the culture was like regarding these issues—that it was acceptable behavior to expect from men. Whether this song will continue to pass the test of time is not for certain, especially with such controversial lyrics, but it’s up to what the majority thinks now with a modern perspective. With each passing year, only time will tell.

In the lens of the twenty-first century, it’s disheartening that we can’t enjoy things without fear that they may be deemed “problematic” by the public eye. While there is a place for censoring media or language in pursuit of an equitable society, such critics should consider all factors individually and not just jump on the hate bandwagon before yet another holiday jingle gets the ax.

Because there aren’t many good ones out there, to be honest.

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