‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’: The song’s origins, controversial interpretations and what it means for dating

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Four years after social media debate around the Christmas song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” led to the tune’s paused radio play at select stations, the song still appears to be interpreted differently by listeners.

The 78-year-old song was penned by Broadway songwriter Frank Loesser, and it made its unplanned silver screen debut in 1949 with “Neptune’s Daughter,” a romantic comedy musical released by MGM Studios, according to leading actress Esther Williams.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” replaced the song “I’d Love to Get You (On a Slow Boat to China),” another song Loesser purposely wrote for “Neptune’s Daughter,” but the song didn’t pass MGM censors, because it was thought to be too suggestive, Williams told The New York Times in 1999.

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“Neptune’s Daughter” makes no references to Christmas and instead follows the story of two sisters who fall in love with a polo player and masseur, respectively, but “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” went on to become a Christmas classic after winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1950.

Left to right: This 1949 lobby card of the romantic comedy musical 'Neptune's Daughter' depicts actor Ricardo Montalbán (José O'Rourke) next to actress Esther Williams (Eve Barrett), and actor Red Skelton (Jack Spratt) next to actress Betty Garrett (Betty Barrett).

Left to right: This 1949 lobby card of the romantic comedy musical ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ depicts actor Ricardo Montalbán (José O’Rourke) next to actress Esther Williams (Eve Barrett), and actor Red Skelton (Jack Spratt) next to actress Betty Garrett (Betty Barrett).
(LMPC via Getty Images)

The duet has been recreated and performed by countless fans over the decades. Approximately 475 professional renditions exist, according to SecondHandSongs, an online song cover database.

‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside:’ The radio and social media controversy

Despite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside’s” enduring popularity, the song hasn’t escaped scrutiny.

Pop culture critics and commentators, authors and social activists have questioned whether the song’s lyrics encourage sexual harassment and minimize consent with one half of the duet – “the wolf” – insisting that the other – “the mouse” – stay the night instead of leaving, according to several reports.

Lyrically, the mouse repeatedly tries to deny and resist the wolf’s advances, though the tonality of the performers seemingly suggests there’s playfulness in the duet.

Left: Ricardo Montalbán (José O'Rourke) smiles at swimsuit-wearing Esther Williams (Eve Barrett) in a scene from the film 'Neptune's Daughter.' Right: Red Skelton (Jack Spratt) watches Betty Garrett (Betty Barrett) pour a drink in a scene from the film 'Neptune's Daughter.'

Left: Ricardo Montalbán (José O’Rourke) smiles at swimsuit-wearing Esther Williams (Eve Barrett) in a scene from the film ‘Neptune’s Daughter.’ Right: Red Skelton (Jack Spratt) watches Betty Garrett (Betty Barrett) pour a drink in a scene from the film ‘Neptune’s Daughter.’
(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

Critics have argued that the wolf’s insistence and the presence of alcohol are factors that can pressure the mouse and impair her judgment.

Detractors are particularly uncomfortable with the mouse’s questioning line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” in wake of #MeToo, a social movement against sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape culture, which gained attention after celebrities and high-profile industry leaders shared their experiences in Hollywood and the labor force.

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In 2018, radio stations throughout the U.S. announced that they would refrain from playing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” after some listeners expressed concerns.

Cleveland radio station Star102 FM/WDOK announced that it had ditched the song after receiving listener feedback, as did Denver radio station KOSI 101.1 and San Francisco radio station KOIT 96.5, but the latter two reversed their decisions after polling listeners on social media, according to several reports.

Kentucky radio station WAKY-FM, which serves Metro Louisville, Central Kentucky and Southern Indiana, notably responded to its competitors’ “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” ban in 2018 by replaying the song in a two-hour loop.

At the time, the station wrote in a Facebook post: “BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE! We like it and we’re not afraid to play it on WAKY for the next couple of hours!”

Radio stations Star102 FM, KOSI 101.1, KOIT 96.5 and WAKY-FM didn’t immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the current airplay status of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Susan Loesser, the daughter of Loesser and Lynn Garland, defended “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 2018 in an interview with NBC News, where she said the song doesn’t glorify nonconsensual behaviors.

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Songwriter Frank Loesser (right) and his wife, Lynn Garland, (left) reportedly sang "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to entertain party guests who attended their 1944 housewarming gathering in New York City.

Songwriter Frank Loesser (right) and his wife, Lynn Garland, (left) reportedly sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to entertain party guests who attended their 1944 housewarming gathering in New York City.
(John Swope/Getty Images)

“Way before #MeToo, I would hear from time-to-time people call it a date rape song,” Loesser told the news outlet.

“I think it would be good if people looked at the song in the context of the time,” she continued. “People used to say ‘What’s in this drink?’ as a joke. You know, ‘This drink is going straight to my head, so what’s in this drink?’ Back then it didn’t mean ‘You drugged me.'”

Approximately 475 professional renditions of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” exist.

Still, some musicians and media companies have opted to not play “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in its original form and have instead modified the lyrics for audiences who want clear-cut lines that the wolf is being mindful of the mouse’s desire to leave. 

Singers Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski recorded a rewritten “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 2016, as did John Legend and Kelly Clarkson in 2019. Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang sang it in 2021 for the Netflix romantic comedy “Love Hard.”

Kelly Clarkson (middle) and John Legend (far right) sing 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' with rewritten lyrics during a stage performance they recorded for ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show’ (Episode 3072) on Nov. 18, 2019.

Kelly Clarkson (middle) and John Legend (far right) sing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ with rewritten lyrics during a stage performance they recorded for ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show’ (Episode 3072) on Nov. 18, 2019.
(Adam Christopher/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

The remakes further stirred debates online and in Hollywood on whether “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a song that needs to be rewritten.

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Little to no debate has been had on social media regarding subversive recordings of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” including versions of the song where the wolf’s lines are sung by a woman, and the mouse’s lines are sung by a man, or where both lines are sung by the same sex, such as Jimmy Buffett and Nadirah Shakoor’s rendition from 2016, or Bing Crosby and James Stewart’s live radio rendition from 1949. 

‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside:’ What exactly happens in the film ‘Neptune’s Daughter?’ 

“Neptune’s Daughter” stars Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalbán, Betty Garrett and Red Skelton.

Williams plays the role of Eve Barrett, an aquatic ballet dancer who owns the fictional Neptune swimsuit design company, while Garrett plays the role of Betty Barrett, who is described as the “scatterbrained sister,” according to the synopsis published to IMDb.

Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán sing the man-pursues-woman version of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' in the 1949 film 'Neptune's Daughter' as their characters Eve Barrett and José O'Rourke.

Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán sing the man-pursues-woman version of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ in the 1949 film ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ as their characters Eve Barrett and José O’Rourke.
(FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)

The movie follows the Barrett sisters as they live their lives in a small town in California. Their lives reportedly take a turn when a South American polo team visits, and Betty makes it a goal to date one of the players.

A case of mistaken identity leads Betty to believe she’s dating the team’s polo captain, José O’Rourke, played by actor Ricardo Montalbán, when she’s actually dating a local masseur, Jack Spratt, played by actor Red Skelton.

In an attempt to protect her sister from heartbreak after hearing rumors about José’s playboy ways, Eve goes on a date with José to prevent him from pursuing Betty.

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Eve attempts to sabotage her date with José, but she ends up being charmed by the visiting athlete, which leads the pair to their duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

José sings the song’s the wolf’s lines while Eve sings the mouse’s lines.

Betty Garrett and Red Skelton sing the woman-pursues-man version of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' in the 1949 film 'Neptune's Daughter' as their characters Betty Barrett and Jack Spratt.

Betty Garrett and Red Skelton sing the woman-pursues-man version of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ in the 1949 film ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ as their characters Betty Barrett and Jack Spratt.
(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

In a “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” reprise, Betty sings the song’s wolf lines to Jack and insistently pursues him, while Jack sings the song’s mouse’s lines and repeatedly says that he has to leave.

The song depicts ‘sexual tension,’ singer-songwriter says

Lizzie LeBontemps, a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, California, said she understands the concerns around “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in terms of sexual harassment and rape culture, but she believes the song is nuanced and portrays “tantalizing sexual tension.”

“The most interesting tension the song depicts is not the one between the man and the woman,” LeBontemps told Fox News Digital. “It’s the woman’s own internal conflict, as she’s imagining the expectations of her family and the culture at large pitted against her own private desires.”

“Look at the lyrics: through most of the song, she isn’t describing her own reticence about staying late and having ‘half a drink more.’ She’s talking about the judgments her mother, her father, her brother, her maiden aunt, even her neighbors might have about her,” LeBontemps continued.

 “She’s been taught that she ‘ought to say no, no, no, sir,’ an act which would please her family. But, what about pleasing herself?”

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Dating etiquette from the mid-20th century is very different from what's common today.

Dating etiquette from the mid-20th century is very different from what’s common today.
(iStock)

LeBontemps said the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” version where a woman sings the mouse’s lines likely signifies the “heavy load” that women of the mid-to-late-1940s were carrying.

She went on to say that women of the time were expected to be “good girls” who were “gatekeepers of sex,” and they were expected to “fend off men’s amorous advances.”

The desires of women weren’t often taken into consideration, according to LeBontemps.

LeBontemps argued that people who denounce “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” today fall into the “same 1950s-era trap of assuming that the man in this song is the only one who has an interest in getting more intimate, and she has no desires of her own.”

Jennifer Hudson and Michael Bublé singing 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' and ‘Let It Snow’ during an 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' television special that aired on the evening of, Dec. 14, 2009.

Jennifer Hudson and Michael Bublé singing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ and ‘Let It Snow’ during an ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ television special that aired on the evening of, Dec. 14, 2009.
(Matt Dinerstein/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images.)

The female-led mouse’s lines sung throughout the song could be interpreted as a woman being coquettish, because cultural pressure from the 20th-century-discouraged promiscuity, LeBontemps said.

LeBontemps noted there’s also the possibility that the female singer could be intentionally toying with the male singer’s emotions, “so she can have the pleasure of making him beg,” or she could be taking a moment to weigh her options.

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“It’s impossible to say for certain, because the only one who knows what’s on her mind is her, and she’s not laying all of her cards on the table,” LeBontemps said. “And that moment of ambiguity and tension, just before the first move is made, can be delicious.

“There are many possible interpretations of the moment depicted in this song,” she continued. “But to jump to the conclusion that this woman has no power, no agency, no complex internal conflicts and no desires, but is instead solely a victim, is a truly disempowering way to look at male-female relations.”

The song is a ‘product of its time’

Shana Sanders, a film and music educator in Atlanta and CEO of multimedia marketing firm Bold Creative Brand, said “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a classic song that’s been enjoyed by generations of music lovers.

“Despite some recent controversy surrounding the lyrics, it’s important to remember the historical context in which the song was written,” Sanders told Fox News Digital. “The song was written in the 1940s, a time when societal norms and attitudes towards dating and consent were very different from today.”

Shana Sanders, the founder and CEO of Bold Creative Brand, says listeners of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside' should consider the song's historical context.

Shana Sanders, the founder and CEO of Bold Creative Brand, says listeners of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ should consider the song’s historical context.
(Shana Sanders)

“The song is a playful and lighthearted exchange between two people who are clearly enjoying each other’s company, and does not promote any non-consensual behavior,” Sanders continued. “It’s a product of its time, and should be appreciated as such.”

Sanders noted that the song has been covered and performed by many artists over the years, which she considers a “further testament to its enduring popularity and appeal.”

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Sanders said she thinks “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a song that should be celebrated and enjoyed rather than criticized and censored. 

Rapper Rick Ross apologized in 2013 for offensive lyrics he contributed to ‘U.O.E.N.O,’ a song led by rapper Rocko and also features the rapper Future. The lyrics Ross raps describes a man dropping ‘molly’ (MDMA, also known as ‘ecstasy’) in an unsuspecting woman's champagne glass and taking her home to 'enjoy' while 'she ain't even know it.' Critics say the lyrics describe date rape, but Ross claims the lyrics were misinterpreted. Sporting goods company Reebok dropped its partnership with Ross after the controversy.

Rapper Rick Ross apologized in 2013 for offensive lyrics he contributed to ‘U.O.E.N.O,’ a song led by rapper Rocko and also features the rapper Future. The lyrics Ross raps describes a man dropping ‘molly’ (MDMA, also known as ‘ecstasy’) in an unsuspecting woman’s champagne glass and taking her home to ‘enjoy’ while ‘she ain’t even know it.’ Critics say the lyrics describe date rape, but Ross claims the lyrics were misinterpreted. Sporting goods company Reebok dropped its partnership with Ross after the controversy.
(AP Photo/Keystone/Ennio Leanza,)

“It’s too much to filter through, and we have tons of songs that are exploitative of women, directly stating how pills and other drugs are used for sexual exploitation,” Sanders said. “A whole time period in music would be eliminated if we used some of the popular songs within the last decade to make an example.”

Some say the song can be evolved just as other tunes of the past have

Nicole Russin-McFarland of Los Angeles, a film music composer who founded Lucky Pineapple Films, a production company that works with live-action and animated projects, thinks “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a song that can be changed for modern audiences.

“The song should be played on the radio with adjusted lyrics for the times,” Russin-McFarland told Fox News Digital.

Nicole Russin-Mcfarland, a film music composer and founder of Lucky Pineapple Films, says music can be modified and reimagined over time.

Nicole Russin-Mcfarland, a film music composer and founder of Lucky Pineapple Films, says music can be modified and reimagined over time.
(Nicole Russin-Mcfarland)

Russin-McFarland noted that songs of the past have been successfully updated for new listeners. Examples include “Turkey in the Straw,” a 20th-century American folk song that’s linked to minstrel show performances of the 1800s.

Performing arts records published by the Library of Congress show that “Turkey in the Straw” was created in 1920 and was adapted from an 1834 song under a different title that included a racial slur and was often performed by actors in blackface. 

“With old American songs like ‘Turkey in the Straw,’ we update them for new audiences by removing the racism,” Russin-McFarland said.

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“Music is ever evolving,” she continued. “You don’t ‘cancel’ a song. You work within it.”

The song has been used in children’s programs with rewritten lyrics, including “Barney & Friends,” “Sesame Street,” “Mickey’s Fun Songs” and “The Wiggles.”

‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is still up for interpretation – good and bad

According to Jonathan Ambrose, cofounder of GoodMuse Digital Media, a U.K.-based DJ locator that matches clientele to disc jockeys based on personal music taste, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was composed during “an age of relative innocence.”

Songs created from the 1940s to the 1990s and onwards have a stark contrast, Ambrose told Fox News Digital.

Much like other art forms, music is up to individual interpretation.

Much like other art forms, music is up to individual interpretation.
(iStock)

He went on to note that critics can have negative interpretations of songs made in the last three decades when taking a look at lyrics alone.

“Many R&B song lyrics of the nineties spoke of buying expensive material gifts, such as jewelry, big houses and expensive cars, for women in return for staying in relationships with them, which could be viewed as blackmail and coercion causing anxiety and intimidation, something that is overlooked and widely not generally thought about,” Ambrose offered.

“Female artists such as Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj owe their success to sexual imagery and highly sexualized song titles, such as ‘WAP,’ ‘Rich Sex’ and ‘Sex Talk,’ to name a few,” Ambrose continued. 

“Further scrutiny of the lyrics would be deemed by some as highly inappropriate, but to the others, a celebration of female independence,” he said.

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Cardi B (left) and Megan Thee Stallion in the music video for 'WAP.' The song has been criticized for its explicit lyrics.

Cardi B (left) and Megan Thee Stallion in the music video for ‘WAP.’ The song has been criticized for its explicit lyrics.
(Atlantic Records)

Ambrose said he thinks music airplay shouldn’t be restricted based on some listeners’ dissenting opinions, and instead the general population should be allowed to interpret the art for themselves.

The song’s controversy reflects modern-day romantic challenges: Expert

Dr. Chloe Carmichael, a New York City-based clinical psychologist and author who has published books on anxiety management and dating, believes the “fraught dialogue” around “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” reflects the challenges that “men of today” face when trying to pursue a romantic partner.

“If men are assertive and pursue a woman wholeheartedly, they can be labeled as predatory even if they’re merely using persuasive language – yet if they back off and ask for consent every step of the way, they can be rejected as boring or timid,” Carmichael told Fox News Digital.

“The hubbub around ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ captures this dilemma perfectly,” Carmichael continued. “There was backlash about a man simply trying to cajole a woman to stay, and then there was backlash around the politically correct remake as well.”

Dr. Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist from NYC, has authored two books: 'Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety' and 'Dr. Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating.'

Dr. Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist from NYC, has authored two books: ‘Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety’ and ‘Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating.’
(Sophie Sahara)

Daters who need help navigating the early stages of courtship can try using a concept from psychology called “narrating your experience,” Carmichael suggested.

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The technique involves sharing one’s internal feelings with a romantic partner, according to Carmichael.

A helpful script for men, according to Dr. Chloe Carmichael:

“‘I would never want to be disrespectful to a woman, but I also know a lot of women like a man who is comfortable being the pursuer physically. How do you personally feel about that balance? Could I trust you to tell me clearly if you wanted me to slow down, or would you rather I pause and verbally ask you every step of the way?’”

A helpful script for women, according to Dr. Chloe Carmichael:

“’For me, I prefer (and then say whatever you prefer).’”

Dating is an activity that provides individuals an opportunity for romantic partnership. Many view the activity as a vetting process for marriage.

Dating is an activity that provides individuals an opportunity for romantic partnership. Many view the activity as a vetting process for marriage.
(iStock)

Couples who don’t discuss their romantic preferences could put themselves at risk of a misunderstanding, according to Carmichael.

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‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ controversy: Is playful courting a lost art? 

Taylor Carr, a clinical hypnotherapist from Los Angeles who provides feminine empowerment coaching through her Upgrade With Taylor service, said the lyrics of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” would likely be viewed as “very problematic” if the song had been written today.

“However, within the historical context, when we look at the film this music originated from, ‘Neptune’s Daughter,’ we see two very different iterations,” Carr told Fox News Digital.

Taylor Carr, a clinical hypnotherapist and femininity empowerment coach, says the lyrics of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' highlight 'playful courting,' but it's understandable why some critics have concerns about the role of consent in the song.

Taylor Carr, a clinical hypnotherapist and femininity empowerment coach, says the lyrics of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ highlight ‘playful courting,’ but it’s understandable why some critics have concerns about the role of consent in the song.
(Dmitriy Khanzhin)

“One being a man courting a woman who is more concerned about society’s perception of her if she decides to stay, but clearly desires to do so,” Carr said. “The second scene is of a woman aggressively pursuing a man who is uncomfortable and clearly wants to leave.”

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Carr’s opinion is that the scene between José and Eve is presented as a “game of cat and mouse,” and Eve appears to be “loving the courtship” but worries about how her family and friends will view her.

The second scene with Betty singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to Jack seems to be “more inappropriate than the other,” because Jack appears to be uncomfortable with Betty’s advances, according to Carr.

“I find that in this day, we really use the power of perspective to spin narratives that may or may not be true, and this song and topic are a great example of that,” Carr said. “Especially when there are two versions of the song with clear actions from its origin.”

Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán (left) sing the first iteration of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside' in the film ‘Neptune’s Daughter' while Betty Garrett and Red Skelton (right) sing the second iteration.

Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán (left) sing the first iteration of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ in the film ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ while Betty Garrett and Red Skelton (right) sing the second iteration.
(FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

Carr questioned whether the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” controversy could mean that society is losing the art of playfulness in dating.

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“What if courtship in this way was still acceptable?” Carr said. “We get to decide this like we choose to decide everything we perceive in this life.”



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