UPDATE: The song is out, and you can check it out below.
My quick review is that despite the lyrical adjustments, the song stays very true to its flirtatious beginnings. The difference is that John Legend is teasing her by saying he'll get her a ride home -- i.e., knowing that is exactly not what she wants. It's actually kinda cute and largely does justice to the original. That said, was it necessary? My original blog post is below.
It's almost the holiday season! And while most of us simply want to enjoy ourselves, others will desperately feel the need to keep fighting the culture wars. We've seen a manufactured "War on Christmas" for years, an outrage campaign that reached Peak Ridiculous with the Starbucks red cup controversy in 2015.
This year's controversy appears to be an extension of last year's, the battle for the soul of a holiday classic. The new album from John Legend features a brand new version of Baby, It's Cold Outside with Kelly Clarkson; but it's got some big lyrical adjustments.
Check out some of the changes:
Her: What will my friends think?
Him: I think they should rejoice
Her: If I have one more drink?
Him: It's your body and your choice
-- or this --
Her: I really can't stay
Him: Baby it's cold outside
Her: I've gotta go away.
Him: I can call you a ride
At some point, a few people decided that the Frank Loesser song in its original form was offensive, or at least sexist. And at its worst, the lyrics of "say, what's in this drink?" might have pushed the line toward date rape. If the song had been written today, that would probably be true. But that's also where critics of the tune have missed the point.
The song wasn't written today. It was written in 1944, and the culture was quite a bit different back then.
That was a time when women were supposed to resist a man's advances and their own feelings, even when they didn't at all feel like resisting. Baby, It's Cold Outside lives in that era. The song is about two people who clearly want to take the next step in their relationship. But back then, it wasn't something you'd just do. So a ritual was born, and the song is about that ritual. The man has to "convince" the woman to stay. It's not manipulative on the man's part, because he knows the score as well as she does. Nor does the woman really have any intention of leaving, so long as he makes it clear he'd like her to stick around. Even the seemingly problematic line ("what's in this drink?") is part of the playfulness. She already knows alcohol is in that drink, and she's happy to give herself one more excuse for staying at his place.
Last year, several radio stations decided not to play the song -- although not playing it backfired in many instances. Listeners complained a lot more to stations that decided not to play the tune than those that did. Here at Mix 99.9, we never stopped playing a few different versions of the song. But we occasionally heard from people who hadn't heard it lately and wondered why? (Answer: they just happened to miss it).
Back to the new version, with the cleaned up lyrics. It's got a lot of critics, from Sharon Osbourne to Dean Martin's own daughter Deana. Among the countless versions of this song, Dean Martin has arguably the most famous rendition. And his daughter told Good Morning, Britain that the new lyrics are "completely absurd:"
"You do not change the lyrics to the song. [John] made it more sexual with those words that he has just said. It’s absolutely absurd. I think what he’s done is, he’s stealing the thunder from Frank Loesser’s song and from my dad. He should write his own song if he doesn’t like this one, but don’t change the lyrics. It’s a classic, perfect song."
This isn't the first time the lyrics to a song have been adjusted for the times, not even the first time the lyrics to Baby, It's Cold Outside have been changed. More recent versions have typically gone with the woman agreeing to stay for "maybe just a half a drink more," instead of another cigarette. The change, of course, because of the dangers associated with smoking cigarettes.
I'm not really going to get upset about it either way, because this too shall pass. But why the controversy? The song was just fine to begin with, and even won an Oscar for Best Original Song. Maybe the real reason is because a little controversy never hurt album sales. I hate conspiracy theories, but the reality is that we now all know John Legend has a new holiday album coming out -- and it's available Friday.