I was a bit shocked that it’s taken until this holiday season for a backlash to start against “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This holiday song seems to actually have actually become more popular in recent years. This is despite its Mad Men/Rat Pack-era imagery of a man trying a number of tactics to keep a potential paramour leaving his apartment. Interestingly, it predates that era somewhat, written in 1944 and winning the 1949 Oscar for Best Original Song.
I’m usually not a person who assigns today’s morals to past pop culture. However, even I have thought the song was a bit creepy if you actually listen to the lyrics. Its general avoidance of #MeToo blowback last year was surprising.
This season, the debate increased. A number of radio stations in the US – as well as large broadcasters in Canada – have withdrawn the song because of concerns about its message. These actions have brought agreement from those who ascribe a negative connotation to the song, and disagreement from those who perceive it as a positive message of female agency.
People selectively hearing what they want from a song brings to mind a number of tone deaf executions in the marketplace. Most recently, I was a little surprised that Acura featured “Sympathy For the Devil” by the Rolling Stones as the theme music in an ad. I guess either no one’s actually listened to the whole song, or else they don’t care about selling to the Bible Belt.
Sean Hannity, to whom I had to occasionally listen (for work reasons) back in the early 2010s, used a clip from “Independence Day” by Martina McBride as his bumper. This song was actually about a woman who killed her husband, an interesting choice for a pro-life conservative. Aside from the one line used as a bumper, this fact was ignored.
Of course, the political arena is full of past occasions when politicos tried to appropriate songs based on a line or two. Perhaps the first notable time this happened was when Ronald Reagan used “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen in rallies and in his stump speech during his 1984 campaign. Reagan focused on the “born in the USA” line and ignored the song actually was about Vietnam vets being let down by their country. In today’s world, Donald Trump has angered many musicians over the past few years by using their music, most recently using “Livin’ On the Edge” by Aerosmith.
If You Hum a Few Notes…
It makes sense in marketing to use songs to which people have an emotional connection. It’s a lot easier than coming up with an original jingle that, in today’s vernacular, will go viral. The trouble is that picking a song based on a snippet of lyric, or musical phrase, can ignore the larger context of the complete song. As with hiring a celebrity endorser, famous songs also need to a background check – perhaps as simple as listening to the lyrics all the way through.
David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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If a song sounds great, people have a hard time just saying no … Listen to any Donald Fagen lyrics lately? My favorite, though, is when they used Thjrd Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” — which talks about crystal meth and oral sex — as the theme song for a Tigger movie. Maybe Tigger is bouncy for reasons we never fully understood!