Just as we can count on religious backlash over Starbucks Christmas cups to come like clockwork every year, the discussion over whether Frank Loesser's Christmas classic "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is "creepy," "predatory," and/or "rapey" makes the rounds each winter, and while we're still in October, this year's conversation has already begun. John Legend announced in a recent Vanity Fair cover story that for his upcoming Christmas album, which will be released on November 8, he and Kelly Clarkson reworked "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with lyrics that take into account conversations about consent.
When Clarkson sings the line "…if I have one more drink?" in the new version, for example, Legend will reply, "It’s your body, and your choice." Further changes received by People in a press release include: "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)." The updates are certainly more thoughtful than the original, but here's a question: Do we really need this particular song at all?
What if instead, we just left "Baby, It's Cold Outside" behind us and acknowledged once and for all that the song's real problem is that it's not that good? Its constant interjections toe the line, in terms of effect, between flirty quips and someone repeatedly interrupting you mid-sentence. It's not that catchy or bouncy or soulful, and it continuously serves as a platform for every sappy couple at karaoke who can't sing anywhere near as well as they think and leaves everyone pleading "please, get a room." Worst yet, basically every version of it is by someone who either is or sounds like Michael Bublé.
Reworking the song is a well-intentioned step, but we're certainly past the point at which those changes will be easily accepted. Last December, after a Cleveland radio station pulled the song from air, several versions of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" experienced boosts in both sales and streams, according to Billboard, with sales of Dean Martin's version alone rising by 70 percent. Whether that was simply an effect of it being peak holiday season or an actual response to the ban, the correlation was seen as a win by conservative media. With the song now standing in for a culture war over content, it seems pretty unlikely that those folks will be equally stoked to see Legend and Clarkson's version even if it has the potential to propel "Baby, It's Cold Outside" into new relevance.
As for everyone who finds "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to be creepy and off-putting, the song's more established iterations could prove hard to forget. Originally sold to MGM for use in the 1949 romantic comedy Neptune's Daughter, the song has had a 50-year hold on our collective Christmas consciousness, which means that lines like "I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)" will likely remain well-remembered.
In a world in which Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" already exists, this particular Christmas song isn't worth all the hand-wringing. Have we considered just writing a new holiday jam? Or, if all else fails, the NSYNC holiday album still slaps.