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Even post-Weinstein, 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' is extremely popular

Broadway composer Frank Loesser and his wife and musical partner Lynn are shown, April 26, 1956, in New York. Their song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was originally a song they performed for friends at their housewarming party. [Associated Press]
Published Dec. 13, 2017

Gifts are wrapped, halls are decked and people are on Twitter calling Baby, It's Cold Outside a "sexual predator anthem." It's a holiday tradition for the social media age.

Pointing out the creepiness of the song — or "rapeyness," to use the preferred digital vernacular — in which a man at one point sings, "Oh baby, don't hold out" in response to a woman's repeated attempts to leave his home, is nothing new. But its spotlight has intensified in this year of #MeToo and cultural reckoning for sexual harassment.

In the newfound spirit of not molesting/sexually intimidating/creeping out women, let's consider cooling it on Baby It's Cold Outside this holiday season.

We've all been enabling Dean Martin in "Baby It's Cold Outside". She said no like a hundred times.

The annual winter flurry of critical takes has come from celebrities, plus parodies of the song's outdated attitude toward consent from Key & Peele, Saturday Night Live and Funny or Die.

Others, like the duo She & Him, have reversed the traditional gender roles, identified as "The Mouse" and "The Wolf" in Frank Loesser's original 1949 score.

Meanwhile, straight-faced, traditional versions of the song have remained immensely popular. Since 2014, new recordings have charted for Seth MacFarlane and Sara Bareilles, Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé, Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow and Brett Eldredge and Meghan Trainor. (Lady Gaga has done it both ways, once with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and once with Tony Bennett.)

Critics thought the song might finally wane in the year of the "Weinstein Effect" and the "silence breakers," women who came forward to report harassment, being named Time magazine's "Person of the Year."

That hasn't happened.

Menzel-Bublé, Eldredge-Trainor and the 1959 version by Dean Martin currently occupy Billboard's Holiday 100, and the song is "extremely" popular, said Chris Conley, program director for New York City's all-Christmas music station Lite FM 106.7.

Would the station stop playing it if people complained?

"Of course," Conley said when asked. "We do a lot of research, and we play what (listeners) want to hear. I have no opinion."

Chadd Thomas, program director at Tampa's all-Christmas B98.7 FM, said it's still considered one of the most classic Christmas songs of all time, but that they'd certainly monitor local and national feedback to determine what happens in the future.

Freshmen girls were scheduled to perform it at Durant High School's holiday concert in Plant City, choral director Susan Durham said.

"They like the song because of the movie Elf, and they ask to do it," Durham said of her students. "I suppose if you're trying to look at it that way, you can make something out of it, but we don't get into that. I've never had a parent or anyone call and say, 'Don't do that.'?"

Ann Adair, choral director at Countryside High School in Clearwater, said no when her students brought it up.

"This comes up every year for choir directors and people involved in performing music. We all talk about it," Adair said. "I just personally don't think I could have students sing 'What's in this drink?' It's an old song, but in 2017, it sounds like a total Bill Cosby moment. It seems inappropriate."

Mark Weiser from Shake Rattle & Roll Pianos, which provides musical entertainment for events across the United States, said the company didn't make its performers stop playing the song, but suggested they might "maybe for this year" voluntarily leave it out.

It came up among some performers recently while riding in a van on the way to a gig in Winter Haven, said Jeremy James from the Orlando-based Caroling Company, which employs around 100 singers for holiday events all over Florida.

"It's very generational," James said. "The women who are our younger singers seemed to be the ones who consider it rapey. They definitely talk about it."

Patricia Fennell, a New York singer who also is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked with sex offenders and victims, recently produced and sang on a version with jazz musician Chris Pasin that swaps the gender roles.

"That song has creeped me out for years. In my career, I've had a lot of experiences very much like what's happening in the tune," she said. "People's reactions to the way we recorded it are fascinating. It actually makes them very uncomfortable to hear a woman be so aggressive."

Not everyone thinks the song has bad intentions. Singers Natalie Cordone and Shawn Kilgore have sung it with the Orlando Philharmonic.

"It's cute and coy as opposed to creepy," Cordone said. "I think it's really important you look at any piece of art in its historical context. None of those things meant what people are saying they mean now. And I hear a lot of modern songs that are degrading to women, but I don't see Facebook posts about them."

"I think older audiences would be shocked to hear that this is even a conversation," Kilgore said.

One "feminist defense" of the song that has spread widely is a Tumblr post from 2016, in which user bigbutterandeggman points out that a woman staying unchaperoned at a man's home in the 1940s would be scandalous, and in that context she'd have to say no, even if she wanted to sleep with him, and that it's actually about a woman "trying to exercise sexual agency."

Still, even bigbutterandeggman concedes, "It's a song about a society where women aren't allowed to say yes … which happens to mean it's also a society where women don't have a clear and unambiguous way to say no."

"There's no doubt that this song is problematic, and reads as coercion," John Spilker, a music and gender studies professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, said. "Does that mean we get rid of it? No. I wouldn't want something to be censored, but that doesn't mean we don't need to talk about it. Part of the cultural climate is that people are finally listening."

Contact Christopher Spata at cspata@tampabay.com. Follow @SpataTimes.

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