#MeToo rewrite is a turkey, critics fume

Lyrical? Some of the new lines from the mouths of Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán (1949).

Is ‘wokeness’ destroying Christmas? John Legend has rewritten controversial lyrics from Baby, It’s Cold Outside for the modern era. It’s not the only Christmas song to come under fire.

Like mince pies and mistletoe, it’s becoming a Christmas tradition to argue about the lyrics of Baby, It’s Cold Outside — one of the most enduringly popular and controversial tunes in music history.

To its critics, Baby, It’s Cold Outside is about a man pressuring an unwilling woman into staying the night. “Say what’s in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there),” goes a line which could have connotations of date rape.

But US singers John Legend and Kelly Clarkson have given the song a woke re-write for the #MeToo era. In a cover interview with Vanity Fair, Legend said he has given the song a “newfound sensitivity”.

Lines from the new lyrics include: “What will my friends think? (I think they should rejoice) / If I have one more drink? (It’s your body, and your choice).”

But are their efforts commendable or cringe-worthy? Opinion is split.

“I support the #MeToo movement, but this is taking political correctness to a ridiculous extreme,” wrote one music fan on Twitter.

Others dispute that the song is problematic at all, with Chris Willman arguing in Variety that the song’s flirtatious, wry tone amounts to “a witty, ahead-of-its-time avowal of women owning their own sexual agency.”

Written by Frank Loesser in 1944, Baby, It’s Cold Outside won an Oscar for Best Original Song in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter.

Since then, the Christmas classic has been covered by mega-star pairings like Michael Bublé and Idina Menzel; Cerys Matthews and Tom Jones, and Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside is far from the only Christmas song to fall foul of 21st-century morality.

The Fairytale of New York, sung by Shane McGowan and Kirsty MacColl, has been called out for including a homophobic slur.

And, last year, US academic Kyna Hammill was harassed on social media for her article about the racist origins of children’s favourite, Jingle Bells.

“I was told that I was trying to ruin Christmas for children who weren’t allowed to sing the song any more,” she complained.

Is wokeness destroying Christmas?

Jingle bans, jingle bans

Not according to Glenn Anderson, whose Ohio radio station refused to play the song last year. While he concedes that 1944 was “a different time”, “in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place”. These outdated perspectives on gender, race or sexuality are uncomfortable and harmful; they have no place today.

But these re-writes put wokeness at-all-costs ahead of the charm and wit that made the song so beloved in the first place. The new lyrics are excruciating. As Jessica Goddard writes for CBC: “Nothing says ‘happy holidays’ like the death of nuance and frantic institutional overreaction.” By erasing or re-writing these songs, we’re failing to engage with the thorny, challenging conversations they could spark today.

You Decide

  1. What is the best Christmas song?
  2. Should songs ever be banned?

Activities

  1. Draw the single cover illustration for John Legend’s version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside.
  2. Take a verse from a popular Christmas song and rewrite it with a modern twist.

Some People Say...

“There is no measure or moderation to wokeness. It’s always good to be more woke. It’s always good to see injustice in maximalist terms.”

David Brooks, New York Times writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
US singers John Legend and Kelly Clarkson will record a new version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside, with some controversial lyrics rewritten by Legend. The song will appear of Legend’s new Christmas album, to be released later this year. The song had previously been banned from a number of radio stations following complaints that the song promoted sexual harassment.
What do we not know?
Whether the song truly is about a man pressuring an unwilling woman into sex. There’s a lot of disagreement. In a Variety piece, which positions the song as a feminist classic, Chris Willman argues that the song is “the story of a woman doing battle — not with a guy who won’t take no for an answer, but with the expectations of a society that won’t take yes for an answer”.

Word Watch

Connotations
When a word or object suggests another idea.
Date rape
The line could be taken to suggest that he has put something in her drink to make her more susceptible to his advances. On the other hand, she may be joking about it to make an excuse for her attraction.
Woke
Awareness of injustice in society, particularly related to sexism and racism.
#MeToo
A movement in which women publicly declared their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, which led to a number of powerful men being accused.
Commendable
Deserving praise.
Political correctness
The criticism and removal of speech and other things that oppress marginalised groups.
Wry
Drily witty.
Avowal
Declaring something that you believe.
Agency
Independence; free will.
Racist
She discovered that in its early days the song was often performed in blackface at racist minstrel shows.
Nuance
When an issue has fine distinctions; is subtle.

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