Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Romantic, rapey or just rubbish?

Emily Crockett ponders the 1944 Christmastime standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside:"
When you first hear it, the song seems like a cute, flirty call-and-response duet between a man and his lady friend who are debating whether she should stay the night. On the one hand, what would her parents or the neighbors think? On the other hand, it’s just so cold outside. The ending is ambiguous, but it’s implied that she decides to stay after all, keeping them both warm on a cold winter’s night. 
But when you listen closer, the song’s lyrics also seem, well ... a little rapey. The guy ignores his date’s protests and badgers her to stay, which feels a lot like sexual coercion. At one point the woman asks, “Say, what’s in this drink?” — which is pretty alarming to a modern audience that understands how roofies work. The original score even lists the man’s part as “Wolf” and the woman’s part as “Mouse,” making the predator/prey dynamic creepily explicit. 
The song’s legions of defenders argue that those concerns are overblown. They note “What’s in this drink?” was a common joke in the 1930s and ’40s made by people who wanted to make an excuse for something that they knew very well they shouldn’t be doing. And in that more prudish time period, women were expected to turn down sex (at first, anyway) even if they wanted it. 
The vastly different ways people hear the same short song have set off an annual internet battle over its feminist merits. For every think piece calling it a “date-rape anthem,” there’s a corresponding “Oh, come on” take about how oversensitive “social justice warriors” are killing romance and seduction and taking the song’s lyrics out of context. 
Which reading is right? Is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” too problematic to enjoy with a clear conscience anymore, or is our perception of it the real problem?
Crockett goes on to break down the song's lyrics, providing both a "rapey" and "romantic" interpretation of each verse, and then goes into a lengthy discussion about the song, its historical context, its modern interpretation, sexual assault, feminism and affirmative consent. The "romantic versus rapey" debate regarding "Baby, It's cold Outside" is not new, and is culturally important.

However, this debate overlooks the most important and fundamental issue regarding this song, which is that IT ABSOLUTELY SUCKS.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is the Yuletide equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard. Its call-and-response lyrical structure is obnoxious and annoying, and the lyrics themselves are as vapid as they are creepy. The song is melodically repetitive, monotonous and uninteresting; it lacks the most basic elements of songcraft, such as a bridge or a chorus. What's more, it's not even a song about Christmas; there's no mention of anything holiday-related in the lyrics. "It's cold outside" in January, February and even March, too, depending on where you live, so why is this piece of acoustic crap assumed to be a holiday song?

Look, a lot of Christmas songs are utter garbage. Humanity died a little when "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" were recorded, and don't even get me started on the mind-bending stupidity that is "Christmas Shoes." But "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is the absolute worst. It is unlistenable, a crime against music. I don't know it really is a song about date rape, but I do know that I feel like my ears are being raped every time it is played.

So, please: stop playing this song. Better yet, delete or destroy every copy and every version of this song, and for the love of baby Jesus stop recording new versions of it every year.

The best way to resolve the "rapey versus romantic" debate regarding "Baby, It's cold Outside" - and, in the process, to improve Christmas music as a whole - is to simply erase this horrible excuse for a song out of existence entirely.

Seriously. It sucks.

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