“Baby It’s Cold Outside” is one of the most controversial casualties of the #MeToo movement. Calls to cancel the classic wintertime duet over its outdated lyrics — like “Hey, what’s in this drink?” which connotes date rape more than snowbound flirtation these days — have reached a fever pitch in recent holiday seasons. A number of radio stations banned the song last year — though a few brought it back after listeners made it clear they weren’t here for “Baby’s” erasure.
This Christmas, John Legend is attempting to fix the song a different way: by swapping all the rapey lyrics in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” for respectful alternatives. Here’s a selection:
What will my friends think… (I think they should rejoice) / ...if I have one more drink? (It’s your body and your choice)
Legend penned the updated version with Natasha Rothwell, a breakout star of Insecure, and recorded it with Kelly Clarkson, a fellow judge on The Voice. It’ll appear on his new holiday album, A Legendary Christmas: The Deluxe Edition, out November 8.
All the fuss over “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is tiresome, though. Legend’s modern revision (updated to include references to ride-sharing) has already begun feeding the outrage machine. And for all the fuss about updating the song for the #MeToo era, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting genuinely excited about a politically correct “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which begs the question of whether we needed this rewrite. Why aren’t we okay with letting an old song be enjoyably outdated?
People who love the song don’t necessarily argue that it holds up by modern social standards. They get bent out of shape when “social justice warriors” and the “PC police” try changing or erasing a beloved classic, instead of acknowledging problematic themes and maybe even igniting a dialogue about them.
People started widely discussing the song’s problematic lyrics around 2007, when social media made it far easier to distribute ideas and content. It’s become a divisive pawn in the nation’s culture wars more recently, however; last year, the Wall Street Journal framed the controversy over “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as a brand-new scandal to emerge out of the Trump era.
Vanity Fair’s December cover story on John Legend and Chrissy Tiegen frames them as America’s rightful first family. Legend has done admirable work in criminal justice reform, and the couple has drawn the ire of Trump on Twitter. (They’re both outspoken critics of his administration; Trump actually blocked Tiegen early on.) But while Legend may be the “woke bae” of the nation’s dreams, the new lyrics he wrote for “Baby It’s Cold Outside” are a weird allyship flex.
I really can’t stay (Baby, it’s cold outside) / I’ve gotta go away (I can call you a ride) / This evening has been (So glad that you dropped in) / So very nice (Time spent with you is paradise) / My mother will start to worry (I’ll call a car and tell ’em to hurry)
As the daughter of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” songwriter Frank Loesser has pointed out, the original was penned in 1944 as a call-and-response duet for her mother and father to perform. “It was a different time,” Susan Loesser told NBC News in 2018. "People used to say 'what’s in this drink' as a joke. You know, this drink is going straight to my head so what’s in this drink? Back then it didn’t mean you drugged me."
Loesser also said she thinks her father would be “furious” that his song is now associated with sexual assault — but added that backlash to the song is the fault of one bad man in particular. "Bill Cosby ruined it for everybody," she told NBC News. “Way before #MeToo, I would hear from time to time people call it a date rape song. I would get annoyed because it’s a song my father wrote for him and my mother to sing at parties. But ever since Cosby was accused of drugging women, I hear the date rape thing all the time.”