For the Record

Is 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' Really the Creepiest Song of All Time?

Shutterstock

The song drops us right into the action. A man and a woman, sing-song counter-blows, pivot around the quintessential question every romantic pursuit hits at some point: should I stay or should I go? In this scenario, it’s the damsel -- who may or may not be in distress -- who gets cold feet, only to have her male pursuer remind her with increasing aggression that she might as well hang out, since those feet would only freeze more if she ventured out into the elements.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is re-promoted and plopped into our consciousness every Christmas season (even though it has zero relation to the holidays and never mentions anything associated with Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Diwali, aside from snow), and has a decidedly mixed history. When the song was first released in 1944, it was seen by some as a beacon of female empowerment. Predictably, everyone on the Internet now has an opinion, most of them vitriolic. There have been immeasurable think pieces and take-downs and academic arguments that decry the ditty as encouraging creepy misogyny at best -- and at worst, peddling a misguided joke that makes light of date-rape culture. That’s a pretty heavy accusation for a song you probably hear decking the aisles at Kmart. Has anyone ever considered that this guy is just a desperate loser, trying his hardest to lay down cheeseball pickup lines while his date does her best to slide out the door -- even if it means facing a blizzard?

So, is the Frank Loesser tune an anthem for strong-willed women? Is it an ode to obtuse, unabashed sexism? A vignette of a lame, pseudo-ladies man, striking out hard? Or ultimately, is it just a stupid little Christmas carol that doesn’t even matter, so everyone just stop forcing their over-entitled opinions on us every December and just lighten up? You might as well stick around and find out as we examine the lyrics. It’s cold out there on the rest of the Internet. Plus, we have booze!

I really can't stay (But, baby, it's cold outside)
I've got to go 'way (But, baby, it's cold outside)
This evening has been (Been hoping that you'd drop in)
So very nice (I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice)

Ignoring the constant barrage of “baby,” which just reeks of ham-fisted frat-boy charm, this situation starts innocently enough. I think most guys (and probably most women, too) can relate to the experience presented here: you want the person you are interested in to stick around just a little while longer, but he/she is starting to feel the heat. Usually, it starts with the buildup of, “Well, tonight was fun,” with a glance at a watch or a cellphone screen -- maybe a forced yawn, for dramatic effect. It seems like, creepy usage of the word "baby" aside, this dude is just making one last-ditch effort at keeping the object of his affection around. So far, so sorta okay.

My mother will start to worry (Beautiful, what's your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (Listen to the fireplace roar)
So really, I'd better scurry (Beautiful, please don't hurry)
Well, maybe just a half a drink more (Put some records on while I pour)

This is where things get a little murky. She reverts to bringing up her parents after minimal pressure. How old is this girl? The guy has his own place (and easy access to alcohol) and this girl is worried about her parents? And what's with these lines he's spewing? “Listen to that fireplace roar” sounds like something a Disney villain would say just before launching into a musical number; referring to her as “Beautiful” two sentences in a row is the kind of tactic saved for guys who owns more than four Ed Hardy shirts -- as is the clear reliance on alcohol to lubricate the evening.

"Put some records on while I pour"? Take it easy, buddy. Why do you want her distracted while you pour? Are there any "special ingredients" in this drink that you had to buy from that old guy who wears sunglasses indoors and likes to go to the local bowling alley just for the bar?

Shutterstock

The neighbors might think (But, baby, it's bad out there)
Say, what's in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (Your eyes are like starlight now)
To break the spell (I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell)

OK, this is where shit gets intense. Re: "Say what's in this drink?" and "I wish I knew how to break the spell" -- what kind of fucked-up Rohypnol/love potion mash-up did this dude dose her with?! Is that Christmas tree in the corner getting a little blurry? And “No cabs to be had out there” -- how would he even know that? He's basically telling her she is trapped and will be forced to hear lines like, "Your eyes are like starlight now," possibly for the rest of her life. It's like hearing an episode of Dateline unfurling before our ears.

I ought to say no, no, no, sir (Mind if I move in closer?)
At least I'm gonna say that I tried (What's the sense of hurtin' my pride?)
I really can't stay (Oh, baby, don't hold out)
Ah, but it's cold outside (Baby, it's cold outside)

No means no, right? Then wouldn't "no no no" mean triple no? Finally, in a fit of short-term Stockholm syndrome, she kind of just gives up and says, "At least I'm going to say that I tried" -- meaning he has fully succeeded in breaking her spirit with a messed-up alchemy of peer pressure, alcohol, and cheese-tastic flattery. Lord knows what else he's been mixing in there.

I simply must go (But, baby, it's cold outside)
The answer is no (But, baby, it's cold outside)
This welcome has been (How lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (Look out that window at that storm)

"The answer is no" is a pretty straightforward way of saying no, in my experience.

Shutterstock

My sister will be suspicious (Gosh, your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (Waves upon a tropical shore)
My maiden aunt's mind is vicious (Gosh, your lips are delicious)
Well, maybe just a cigarette more (Never such a blizzard before)

The main reason this song has been celebrated as an anthem for independent women -- remember, this was in the BB (Before Beyoncé) era -- is that the female protagonist decides to stay past curfew, despite what people might think or, more importantly, gossip over.

So, I get that. But the woman is clearly conflicted. I know this is a different era, and in the 1940s a night spent at a boyfriend’s was cause for scandal. But is this really the reason she is doubting the situation? Or is it because this dude keeps saying things like, "Your lips look delicious" (what is he, Hannibal Lecter?) and the inexplicable, out-of-context, "Waves upon a tropical shore"? Obviously, this woman and all women have the right to do whatever they want, snubbing what people say or think. But is she really wary because of the implications to her reputation? Or is this guy just pouring it on a little too strong -- in the drinks and with his general presence? Everything in her speech suggests the latter, yet she is still sticking around -- and actions speak louder than words. But then again, songs speak louder than actions. But then again, I just made that last phrase up four seconds ago. So who's to say what is right?

I've got to get home (But, baby, you'll freeze out there)
Say, lend me your coat (It's up to your knees out there)
You've really been grand (I'm thrilled when you touch my hand)
But don't you see (How can you do this thing to me?)

Why doesn't she have a coat? If her judgment is poor enough to forget a coat during what the guy is literally calling the biggest blizzard he has ever seen, maybe she isn't well enough to make any decisions in the first place. I would say they just needed a word to rhyme with home -- but coat doesn't even do that anyway. And with, "How can you do this thing to me?" this man has launched into every creepy guy's Hail Mary play: appealing to sympathy, by acting as pathetic as possible. Now that's how you win a lady's heart. At this point, I'm torn: maybe she's just kind of slow. Maybe they both are. Maybe there is something very wrong with both of them that's never explained in the official canon. Is this snowy town unusually close to an unstable power plant?

There's bound to be talk tomorrow (Think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied (If you caught pneumonia and died)
I really can't stay (Can't get over that hold out)
Ah, but it's cold outside (Ah, but it's cold outside)
Baby, it’s cold outside.

And this is where they leave us, with a, “Baby, it’s cold outside” sung in harmonious unison. What happens after that last bar is up to the listener. I'd like to give our female participant the benefit of the doubt and concede that the woman decided she could stay -- if she wanted to -- and that she decided to leave because her Prince Charming is actually a major douche-nozzle. In my own personal opinion, this is the most positive, generous, and egalitarian epilogue, so I'm going to go with it.

In that context, the song doesn't come off as sexist. In fact, it just makes the guy look like a buffoon, a wannabe James Bond with a plastic bar cart and minimal game. You could even argue the song is sexist against men -- painting them as hapless fools in the face of a strong female's brick wall. But really, would any self-respecting lady spend a night with a guy who would attempt to appeal to a woman's empathy by bringing up his "life-long sorrow," or who'd casually assert that she might die if she chooses not to hang out?

Look, you are going to have to make your own decision here. Or don't. I'm not the boss of you. Remember, consent is key -- haven't you learned anything today?

Also, make a note: never distract yourself by putting on records while the creepy dude trying to bang you mixes your drinks. It's just common sense.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He remembers his first blizzard. Follow him: @wilfulton.