Don’t listen too hard to festive lyrics: they’re always creepy
The world can be roughly divided into two sorts of people: those of us who pay attention to the lyrics of songs, and the others, who risk finding themselves in couples whose “our tune” is all about a breakup or a stalker. This is how some people end up enjoying the first dance at their wedding to a song about a bitter divorce, and why bookish types can be seen twitching at nightclubs as they try not to dance to the infuriatingly catchy Blurred Lines, with its lyrics that make even a “good girl” start to feel a little bit violent towards the songwriter.
To those of us who listen to the words, the recent shock and horror over the Christmas favourite
Baby It’s Cold Outside came as a surprise. Some of us have been aware for ages that the lyrics can be read as slightly problematic – from the man’s huffy suggestion that his date should stay the night to avoid “hurting [his] pride”, to the woman’s question, “What’s in this drink?”
Some radio stations have banned the song, saying that the lyrics feel “manipulative and wrong” in the post-#MeToo era. As with most songs, however, much of its intent is delivered in its performance. The original version, in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter, is slightly creepy. Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton’s 1951 version, on the other hand, portrays a woman in full possession of her own sexual agency.
The drawback to being a words person who can’t help analysing the lyrics is that songs other people find romantic often take on creepy and sinister undertones. If Aerosmith lay awake just to hear me breathing, kissed my eyes while I was sleeping, I would definitely send them to kip on the sofa. I’d soon get sick of
Bruno Mars telling me I’m beautiful every day. And as for Adele – if that woman turned up at my house out of the blue, uninvited, and said that for her, it isn’t over, I’d think it might be time for a restraining order.
And if we’re really going to scrutinise Christmas tunes for their inappropriateness, where do we stop? Good King Wenceslas glorifies a patriarchal definition of charitable giving that belittles the value of a properly funded welfare state. The 12 Days of Christmas, with its celebration of the senseless carnage of literally dozens of innocent game birds, is offensive to vegans. We Wish You a Merry Christmas alienates people without kin. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (“he’s making a list, he’s checking it twice …”) directly contravenes GDPR rules.
Look too hard into Christmas, and it all starts to seem a bit creepy: an elf on a shelf spying on your children; an old man coming down your chimney; mistletoe. But if anything, Christmas is a time to stop overanalysing and take some things at face value. If some Louis Armstrong character wants to take my hat this Christmas, I might just stay for half a drink more. But if he kissed my eyes while I was sleeping, I’d probably throw a Christmas punch in his face.