ATLANTA, GEORGIA - AUGUST 24: John Legend attends the 2023 Beloved Benefit presented by The Same House at Georgia World Congress Center on August 24, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia and NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 08: Kelly Clarkson attends the SiriusXM Next Generation: Industry & Press Preview at The Tisch Skylights at The Shed on November 08, 2023 in New York City.
Derek White/Getty Images for The Same House/ Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

'Baby, It's Cold Outside': Why John Legend and Kelly Clarkson Put a New Spin on the Controversial Holiday Standard

John Legend and Kelly Clarkson modernized the holiday fixture in 2018.

In recent years, seasonal duet "Baby, It's Cold Outside" has come under fire due to some listeners' interpretation that the man in the song is pressuring the woman to stay with him. Others hear the song as nothing more but a playful duet. Nevertheless, the debate rages on.

Frank Loesser wrote it in 1944. He's best known for writing the music for Tony Award-winning musical Guys and Dolls (1950). He also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961). "Baby, It's Cold Outside" won a major award of its own: the 1950 Academy Award for Best Original Song after it appeared in the romantic comedy film Neptune's Daughter.

The song got further popularized in 1949 when it was recorded by Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and others. That same year, comedic country duo Homer and Jethro cut it with June Carter.

Though the lyrics never mention Christmas, it's frequently played around the this time of year and despite recent controversies, it still pops up on holiday albums by mainstream stars across genres. Another film helped spread the song, with its inclusion in 2003's Elf teaching it to a new generation.

Its call and response structure makes it ideal for co-ed duets, with pairings including Barry Manilow and KT Oslin, Suzy Bogguss and Delbert McClinton, Willie Nelson and Nora Jones as well as Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton.

A Song to Entertain Guests With

Close-up of songwriter Frank Loesser.

John Swope/Getty Images

Loesser didn't write "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with a film or play in mind. Instead, he wanted something fun to sing with his spouse, Lynn Garland, at their housewarming party. A song intended to let guests know that it was time to leave got Loesser and Garland invited to other peoples' parties.

"We became instant parlor room stars. We got invited to all the best parties for years on the basis of 'Baby'," Loessler said (as quoted in his daughter Susan's book A Most Remarkable Fella). "It was our ticket to caviar and truffles. Parties were built around our being the closing act."

In 1948, Loesser sold the song to MGM for the 1949 film Neptune's Daughter. Per a New York Times feature on Esther Williams, the film studio favored the relatively unknown song over Loesser's more suggestive "(I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China."

Garland felt betrayed when the song got sold and likened hearing the song in a movie to catching Loesser cheating with another woman.

Controversies About the Lyrics

American singer, actor and comedian Dean Martin (1917 - 1995), circa 1960.

Henry Gris/FPG/Getty Images

Perceptions that the man in the song doesn't respect boundaries —and the woman's line "Hey, what's in this drink?"— have raised eyebrows in recent years.

Per Market Watch, backlash against the original song caused many radio stations in America and parts of Canada to stop playing it in 2018.

"I do realize that when the song was written in 1944, it was a different time, but now while reading it, it seems very manipulative and wrong," host Glenn Anderson wrote on WDOK in Cleveland, Ohio's website (as quoted by NPR). "The world we live in is extra sensitive now, and people get easily offended, but in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place."

A viral Tweet from 2017 argued from a feminist perspective that the song's not objectionable when viewed through the cultural lens of the late 1940s, when choosing to spend the night with someone other than your spouse was taboo.

"The woman in the song says outright, multiple times, that what other people will think of her staying is what she's really concerned about," the tweet read (as quoted by Bustle). "But she's having a really good time, and she wants to stay, and so she is excusing her uncharacteristically bold behavior (either to the guy or to herself) by blaming it on the drink — unaware that the drink is actually really weak, maybe not even alcoholic at all. That's the joke."

John Legend and Kelly Clarkson's Re-Worded Version

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 20: Recording artists John Legend and Kelly Clarkson speak onstage during the 2018 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 20, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

To amend for the more controversial parts of the song, John Legend and Natasha Rothwell (of the HBO series Insecure) re-wrote the lyrics for the 2018 deluxe edition of the holiday album A Legendary Christmas, with Legend's fellow The Voice coach Kelly Clarkson playing the woman's role.

In the new version,  Legend calls his visitor a ride and even says "it's your body, and your choice" while setting boundaries.

Not everyone's fond of the new version, including Deana Martin, whose father Dean helped popularize the song.

"You do not change the lyrics to the song," Deana said in an interview with Good Morning Britain. "He's made it more sexual with those words... and I think what he's done is, he's stealing the thunder from 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."

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" (Updated Version) Lyrics:

I really can't stay (Baby, it's cold outside)
I've got to go away (But, I can call you a ride)
This evening has been (I'm so glad you that you dropped in)
So very nice (Time spent with you is paradise)
My mom will start to worry (I'll call the car and tell him to hurry)
My daddy will be pacing the floor (Wait, what are you still livin' home for?)
So, really, I'd better scurry (Your driver, his name is Murray)
But maybe just a half a drink more (Oh, we're both adults, so who's keepin' score?)
What will my friends think? (Well I think they should rejoice)
If I have one more drink? (It's your body and your choice)
Ooh you really know how (Your eyes are like starlight now)
To cast a spell (One look at you and then I fell)
I ought to say, "No, no, no, sir" (Then you really ought to go, go, go)
At least I'm gonna say that I tried (Well, Murray, he just pulled up outside)

I really can't stay
I understand, baby
Baby, it's cold outside

I simply should go (Text me when you get home)
On I'm supposed to say no (Mm, I guess that's respectable)
This welcome has been (I've been lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (But you better go before it storms)
My sister will be suspicious (Well, gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (Oh, he loves my music, baby, I'm sure)
My gossipy neighbors for sure (I'm a genie, tell me what your wish is)
But maybe just a cigarette more (Oh, that's somethin' we should probably explore)
I've got to get home (Oh, baby, I'm well aware)
Say, lend me a coat (Oh, keep it girl, I don't care)
You've really been grand (I feel it when you touch my hands)
But don't you see? (I want you to stay, it's not up to me)
There's bound to be talk tomorrow (Well, they can talk, but what do they know?)
At least there will be plenty implied (Oh, let them mind their business, and go)
[The driver] Ma'am, I really can't stay

Baby, just go
It's cold, baby
It's cold, baby
But, ooh, I don't wanna go
It's cold outside

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