Welcome to "Behind the Lyrics" with Elise Chandler. Each week, I find a song that I feel is understated both musically and lyrically, and I analyze it through several critical lenses.
This week, I decided to go the Christmas song route in celebration of the upcoming holiday. First of all, no matter what holiday you celebrate, I want to wish you a happy, relaxing time.
I recently read a really interesting NPR article on my favorite Christmas song "Baby, It's Cold Outside". I'll post the link here for your perusal: https://www.npr.org/2018/12/05/673770902/baby-it-s-cold-outside-seen-as-sexist-frozen-out-by-radio-stations
I'm sure you all have heard the recent controversy over this song. With the #metoo movement, many radio stations have decided that this song is too much for today's listeners, and several stations have pulled the song from rotation, lighting the controversial Christmas tree.
While I am sensitive and supportive to the #metoo movement and the feminist movements that find this song offensive, all I ask is that we look at it from the time period it was written in. In college in all of my English major classes, the professors insisted that when we read a piece, we needed to have a knowledgeable basis of the time period that piece was written in. No matter what - the art that comes out of a time period is some sort of commentary on that time period. Because of this, we should look at art through a critical lens to see what the society was like at the time. We must understand that what we see as today as offensive, at the time would be quite different. Let's take a walk down memory lane.
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written in 1944 by a man by the name of Frank Loesser. In the 1940s, WWII is just beginning to wind down. This means, many men would be returning from war, trying to readjust to "normal" society and possibly find a wife to start a family with. Fashion and food were all rationed because of the war effort, so creativity could not be found there. However, in the arts, film, literature, and music, people found ways to be creative and fun. Much of the money funding these projects came from the government because of all the war film and propaganda these arts services provided. It was through art that the American public could begin to feel "human" again. Woman during WWII found a new-found freedom in the workforce. They could find independence and voice like never before; however, society would still strongly frown upon the woman who was openly sexual.
The lyrics in "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that typically disturb people are the following:
"Say, what's in this drink?"
"I wish I knew how to break this spell"
"I ought to say no no no, sir"
"At least I'm gonna say that I tried"
Alone, I agree. These lyrics do appear quite disturbing. But, we must remember in the first verse our female narrator is more concerned with what the "neighbors", her "mother", and her "father" might think. Leading again to this idea of society pressuring her to suppress her sexuality. Instead, in the second stanza, it sounds like she looking for ways to tell her nosy neighbors what actually happened -- the drink was too strong (so I had to stay to sleep it off), I was under a spell (he was just so charming), I tried to say no (but it is cold, no cabbies to be found, etc). All of this is just affirmed through both parties coy, cheerful voices. She knows she cannot just stay, not in those times. She has to come up with a good reason.
However, another reason I stand behind this song is it has been used in reverse, not just making it about the "woman" being pressured, but the man is also being pressured (Wiki). While not as common, it has been recorded in this format.
Finally, there are many "Christmas" songs that have a romantic flirtation behind it -- "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm", "Santa Baby", "Wrapped in Red", and many more. We could look through any of this songs and find things that would be questionable.
One thing I would concede to this is I agree that "Baby, It's Cold Outside" does have a totally different message to today's audiences then back in the day. Because of this, I'm not sure if I was a current artist, I would choose this song to cover. However, Dean Martin? Ella Fitzgerald? Louis Armstrong? Those versions should remain because it is a classic from their time.
So, all I ask is next time it pops on the radio, take yourself back to the 1940s and listen to the piece of art in the time frame and mindset it was intended for. Escape from today's problems for just a little while, but again, I thank and respect each of you who fight for equality and safety for all. Happy Holidays, folks.