Are we still having this argument over the relative wokeness of … “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”? Yes we are, and thank goodness, because both sides are finally bringing out the big guns. On the Left, we have John Legend and Ruby Turner, who think it’s “perfectly all right” to change the lyrics to reflect the #MeToo movement. On the Right, we have Deana Martin, the daughter of the man who made the most popular version of the Frank Loesser original, Sheila Ferguson, and … Piers Morgan?
Regardless of where you fall on this question, the six-plus minutes of Morgan’s righteous ranting and Good Morning Britain‘s incompetence at making a video call makes this clip a classic, too:
But Deana Martin, the daughter of legendary crooner Dean Martin, who recorded perhaps the most popular version of the song, is critical of the changes.
In an interview with the U.K. TV show Good Morning Britain, she calls the idea “absolutely absurd.”
“You do not change the lyrics to the song,” Martin said. “He’s made it more sexual with those words … and I think what he’s done is, he’s stealing the thunder from [composer] 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.”
“[My dad] would say it’s absurd. I think that John should just have left it alone,” Martin added, while acknowledging that John Legend is “fantastic” and “a great writer.”
If all this sounds familiar to readers, it should. This debate first popped up in 2016, even before Harvey Weinstein catalyst for #MeToo, when Larry O’Connor offered his own righteous rant in defense of the song. This is destined to be a seasonal tradition, in which purists on both sides make everyone else miserable … like talking politics over Thanksgiving dinner.
Needless to say, Morgan, Martin, and Ferguson have this correct, in several ways. The biggest issue is taking issue with the benign lyrics themselves, which don’t detail date-rape or sexual harassment but what used to be called courting by two people who clearly have affection for each other. It’s just suggestive enough to be cute while capturing that sense of tension between longing and social propriety for both voices in the lyrics. Anyone who finds the original offensive needs to grow several more layers of skin.
But if Legend and others don’t like the song, hey, that’s their choice … so why not just ignore it? I do that every year with John Lennon’s dreadful “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” and Paul McCartney’s almost-as-tiresome “Wonderful Christmastime.” (And don’t get me started on “Last Christmas,” a song so bad that Hollywood has apparently made a movie out of it.) Rewriting the lyrics to update for gender or current cultural references would be one thing, but Legend rewrote them as a lecture to shame everyone who might have enjoyed the original. We’re so much enlightened than you are is the lesson. Well, bah humbug to that and to all the rest of Thomas Bowdler’s intellectual descendants.
If Legend is so keen on lecturing people over lyrical non-compliance with #MeToo, Morgan and Ferguson ask, why not start with rap and hip-hop lyrics? Misogyny and violence against women ooze from those genres, and yet Legend feels compelled to posture over Loesser’s corpse? Come on, man. The reason Legend takes his stand on Baby rather than Baby Got Back is because taking on rap and hip-hop will cost him lots and lots of money and any sort of coolness factor he’s generated. And, as Morgan points out vociferously, everyone knows that. Picking on Loesser rather than Snoop Dogg is craven, especially when the people who wrote Baby and made it popular aren’t here to defend themselves.
Deana Martin hits the nail on the head here — it’s “absolutely absurd” to pose as woke over Baby It’s Cold Outside. Legend deserves every ounce of ridicule that Morgan hands out here. He would have been better off heeding Martin’s advice: “He should write his own song if he doesn’t like this one.” Just make it better than “Last Christmas,” please.
Addendum: Please, no one tell Legend about Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” or for that matter, “Good Girls Don’t” by The Knack.