Don’t lis­ten too hard to fes­tive lyrics: they’re al­ways creepy

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion - Katy Guest

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.

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