BUT BABY, IT’S WOKE OUT­SIDE

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When it comes to pop songs that are deemed of­fen­sive, it’s all about con­text.In the case of Baby, It’s Cold Out­side, the 1944 duet re­cently pulled from ra­dio sta­tions and mu­sic streams be­cause of in­ap­pro­pri­ate lyrics, it’s an ar­ti­fact of its time, says Rob­bie Mackay, a lec­turer at Queen’s Univer­sity’s Dan School of Drama and Mu­sic.“There’s that one line about what’s in this drink,” Mackay said in an in­ter­view. “We can get dark about that and think about roofies or chem­i­cals, but my sense of the his­tor­i­cal con­text is maybe that the drink is stronger than she thought it would be.”Of course, lyrics are sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which of­ten de­pends on the de­liv­ery of the song.“If we see the peo­ple singing it, are they both smil­ing? What’s the body lan­guage? If we’re only read­ing the lyrics we might get an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mes­sage than we do if we see the full pic­ture,” Mackay says. “If the woman is smil­ing as she sings the lyrics back the mes­sage to her suitor and to the rest of us is that she is play­ing along. If we don’t see body lan­guage that sug­gests she’s un­com­fort­able, we un­der­stand this is se­duc­tion, not co­er­cion.”To test how con­text af­fects pop mu­sic, we looked at the con­tenders for this year’s Grammy Awards record of the year and came up with a po­ten­tial “chill fac­tor” for each one.I Like It: Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J BalvinAmong the things that Cardi B likes are dol­lars and di­a­monds, but she isn’t look­ing for a su­gar daddy. In one of the big­gest songs of the sum­mer, the for­mer strip­per from the Bronx glo­ri­fies her­self and her money-mak­ing abil­i­ties in an im­pres­sive (and, with its trap-salsa beat, catchy!) dis­play of boast­ing, a time-hon­oured tra­di­tion for male rap­pers.“In this case, we let a woman say things we’re tired of hear­ing men say,” Mackay said. “We’ve nor­mal­ized ma­te­ri­al­ism in a lot of pop mu­sic. Sex and money, they’re the eas­i­est things to sing about.” Chill fac­tor: Low to medium.The Joke: Brandi CarlileThis pow­er­ful coun­try-rock bal­lad packs an emo­tional punch, with plenty of com­pas­sion for young peo­ple deal­ing with to­day’s world, in­clud­ing boys who don’t fit in to mas­cu­line stereo­types, girls dis­cour­aged by the pa­tri­archy and dis­placed refugees. It car­ries a mes­sage of hope and sur­vival on a gen­tle cloud of piano and strings, topped off by a pas­sion­ate vo­cal per­for­mance. “That’s a much more pos­i­tive mes­sage,” Mackay said.Chill fac­tor: Low.This is Amer­ica: Child­ish Gam­binoDon­ald Glover’s mu­si­cal al­ter ego com­ments on Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, and what it’s like be­ing black in Amer­ica. To get the full im­pact, watch the racially charged vi­ral video for a sur­real por­trayal of gun vi­o­lence, gang cul­ture, pol­i­tics and drugs, jux­ta­posed with the end­less dis­trac­tion pro­vided by pop cul­ture. “It’s a bru­tally violent video, and to take the video or lyrics out of con­text, you don’t get the protest be­hind the song,” Mackay noted. “It can look like he’s giv­ing in to thug hip hop, but the whole pack­age looks to me like a lament. He’s clearly hurt­ing on be­half of a por­tion of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.” Chill fac­tor: High.God’s Plan: DrakeDrake be­came the Robin Hood of rap in 2018, when he spent a mil­lion-dol­lar bud­get for this song ’s video giv­ing out money to less-for­tu­nate folks in Mi­ami. While the song it­self is un­der­stated to the point of bore­dom, the video went vi­ral as the feel-good ges­ture of the year. As for the lyrics, there’s a big red flag in the line, “81, they’ll bring the crash­ers to the party,” for its ap­par­ent coded ref­er­ence to the Hell’s An­gels. It didn’t help when Drake wore an 81 sweat­shirt in an In­sta­gram post. But it seems Drizzy is such a big celebrity that he can do what­ever he wants. “That’s the thing,” Mackay ob­served. “He is so pop­u­lar. I don’t know if his lis­ten­ers would care about the Hells An­gels. And maybe it’s a mat­ter of Drake try­ing to push into a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent peo­ple’s playlists.” Chill fac­tor: Low.Shal­low: Lady Gaga and Bradley CooperThe first sin­gle from the sound­track from A Star is Born is a big acous­tic bal­lad. The ro­man­tic duet be­tween Lady Gaga, who sings her heart out, and co-star Bradley Cooper cap­tures the mo­ment when they get se­ri­ous about each other. As a re­make of an iconic movie, it’s aimed di­rectly at the main­stream.“Lady Gaga was not go­ing to be Lady Gaga. She had to be rea­son­ably tame. It’s gotta be as broad as pos­si­ble,” Mackay said.Chill fac­tor: Low.All The Stars: Kendrick La­mar, SZAPulitzer Prize-win­ner La­mar joins forces with singer SZA to de­liver a song that hits all the bases for com­mer­cial suc­cess. It’s a big bal­lad, a hope­ful duet and it came from a sound­track (Black Pan­ther). It’s also one of La­mar’s less in­ter­est­ing pieces of mu­sic, but we shouldn’t hold that against him, Mackay said. “He’s a guy who’s been break­ing a lot of rules about hip hop. In this one, it’s harder to say. But to imag­ine that we have one Kendrick La­mar is a re­ally tough job. It makes me re­spect his artistry a lit­tle more in that he doesn’t have to have one pointed mes­sage or style.”Chill fac­tor: Low.Rock­star: Post Malone fea­tur­ing 21 Sav­ageA sludgy tune with misog­y­nis­tic lyrics that also glo­rify drugs and vi­o­lence. Al­though it has been in­ter­preted as a trib­ute to for­mer AC/DC singer Bon Scott, that doesn’t get the scruffy rap­per off the hook. “It’s so in­cred­i­bly cliché that I won­der that any­body even both­ers with it,” Mackay said, not­ing “a cer­tain racist el­e­ment be­cause white guys al­ways get away with more than black guys, es­pe­cially in the me­dia and es­pe­cially in pop mu­sic.”Chill fac­tor: High.The Mid­dle: Zedd, Maren Morris and GreyAn elec­tro-pop col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween DJ/pro­ducer Zedd, coun­try singer Maren Morris and the duo Grey, The Mid­dle chan­nels the per­spec­tive of a woman who wants to smooth things over. The line that they “got so ag­gres­sive” hints at do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, but there’s a sense of want­ing to meet in the mid­dle. “It sounds as though the singer is try­ing to make up af­ter a fight, which is lovely,” Mackay said. “It doesn’t sug­gest who started it. We as­sume a man, but it could be two women. We don’t know.” Chill fac­tor: Medium [email protected]­media.com

Child­ish Gam­bino is nom­i­nated for mul­ti­ple Grammy Awards for his highly po­lit­i­cal protest song This is Amer­ica. The pow­er­ful video for the song adds im­por­tant lay­ers of con­text to the lyrics.

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