‘A window into society’: ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ pulled from some Canadian radio stations

Cultural and societal trends at a given moment in time inform the way people view popular music from eras past and present, so it’s no surprise that songs like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” may have fallen out of favour this holiday season.

So says Brad Mahon, a musicologist and head of the Mount Royal University Conservatory, as Canadian radio stations announce they won’t be playing the 1944-written duet on their airwaves.

With exchanges that include, “What’s in this drink?” and “Baby, don’t hold out,” the song has been scrutinized over lyrics which some feel are inappropriate, especially in the wake of the “Me Too” movement.

While the song may have originally been meant as a “very lighthearted, cheeky flirtation between husband and wife,” people’s perspectives can’t be separated from the social environment of their own time, according to Mahon.

“It’s impossible to do that with music. You can’t put it into a bubble. It always is going to be that reflection of what’s going on around us right now,” said Mahon. “A different generation looks at it with a different lens.”

CBC Radio said Tuesday it’s joining at least two other broadcasters in the country, Rogers Media and Bell Media, in pulling the controversial Christmas favourite out of their rotations this year.

CBC spokeswoman Nicola Makoway said the public broadcaster had “no plans to play it going forward.”

Earlier this week, Cleveland radio station WDOK-FM announced it would no longer play the song in response to listener feedback.

Rogers Media runs a number of all-Christmas music stations, including 95.9 CHFM in Calgary. Spokeswoman Caitlin Decarie said the broadcaster removed the song this year, but declined to outline how it reached the decision.

“There are so many wonderful songs that celebrate the holiday season,” she said.

Bell Media spokesman Scott Henderson said the company, which runs two 24-hour Christmas stations in Vancouver and Ottawa, also chose not to include the Christmas tune on its playlists this year.

“The song wasn’t scheduled for airplay on any Bell Media Radio stations and there are no plans to play it in the future,” he said in an emailed statement.

Mahon said popular music gives listeners “a window into society.”

“There’s more than just the notes on the page,” Mahon said. “It often does give us a window into a certain time. When I look at, for example, ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ that type of music was really written for its own contemporary audience and when it’s recorded, it kind of becomes a time capsule for that period.

“And then what happens, though, in our own present day society, we listen to that music and evaluate it with a different filter.”

Related

For Christian radio station ShineFM in Calgary, which plays a mixture of various Christmas songs around the holiday season, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has never been a part of its playlist because it’s about “the guy and the girl planning to spend the night.”

“That song… kind of never really played with the values most of our listeners have about family values,” said program director Mountain Mike, who declined to give his last name.

“I understand the controversy’s out there now for people, but we’re a family-friendly radio station. Not that that song is like, terrible, but I thought there’d be some listeners in the past, years ago, that might have a problem with a guy trying to convince the girl to stay the night kind-of-thing so we just never ever played that one, though I hear it all the time everywhere else.”

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been considered a holiday classic ever since it won the Academy Award for best original song in the film “Neptune’s Daughter.”

It’s since been covered countless times by singers including Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Idina Menzel and Michael Buble, as well as Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart.

Concern over the song has existed for years, leading to many reinterpretations of the lyrics.

Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt flipped the gender roles in a performance for the pop singer’s 2013 holiday special with the Muppets.

And two years ago, Minnesota couple Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski rewrote the lyrics to include lines about consent, such as a response to the woman’s line “I ought to say no, no, no” with the man saying: “You reserve the right to say no.”

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