TORONTO — A new survey suggests most Canadians have warm feelings for the holiday song “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” despite controversy over its lyrics.
The national poll by Campaign Research found 72 per cent of respondents disagreed with radio stations that pulled the song from airwaves because some listeners found the lyrics upsetting.
Canadians older than 45 were most likely to disagree, with 75 per cent opposed to a ban, while those aged 18 to 24 were most likely to agree, with 26 per cent supporting a ban.
Radio stations owned by Bell Media and Rogers Media pulled the classic duet from playlists earlier this month. Interpretations of Frank Loesser’s 1944 jazz standard often feature a male singer trying to persuade a female singer to stay inside, with lines that include, “Baby, don’t hold out,” “Say, what’s in this drink?” and “The answer is no.”
The CBC temporarily pulled the tune from two holiday playlists, but restored it within days after audience backlash. Corus Radio stations have kept the song on its playlists.
The online study involved 1,494 randomly selected Canadian adults who are members of Maru/Blue’s online panel Maru Voice Canada. The questions were part of a monthly omnibus study conducted between Dec. 11 and Dec. 13. Participants were given incentives to respond.
Culture expert Robbie MacKay, a lecturer at the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University, says unease around the song reflects growing sensitivities to gender politics in the MeToo era.
He’s not surprised that younger people seem most likely to challenge the song’s deeper meaning.
“Especially with millennials, if they’re in post-secondary institutions they’ve been more sensitized recently to the MeToo story and the MeToo idea,” says MacKay, who teaches a course called the Social History of Popular Music.
Nevertheless, he doesn’t believe the song is about consent as much as public perceptions, given that the object of affection continually makes reference to their reputation.
The song is open to many interpretations, he adds, and should not be evaluated solely by its lyrics.
“One thing that I make clear with my students is, when we are trying to figure out what a song means there’s a whole bunch of different elements of the meaning. Not only do we have lyrics, but we have to listen to the music that accompanies the lyrics to find out whether the music suggests that the lyrics are ironic or whether the lyrics are sincere or whether they’re playful,” MacKay says from Kingston, Ont.
“At the same time, all of us as listeners and viewers bring our own perspectives in this mix as well. Whatever a song means is always a co-construction between the creator and the receiver.”
Regionally, the poll found support for the ban weakest in Atlantic Canada and Alberta, where more than 80 per cent of residents disagreed.
The panellists were selected to reflect Canada’s age, gender and regional distributions. The results were weighted by education, age, gender, and region, and in Quebec, language.
MacKay didn’t read too much political significance into a radio station’s decision to play or not play the song.
“We can’t blame any radio station who is worried about the commerce of the situation. There are so many Christmas songs to choose from, why would you bother to air something that you knew was going to turn some of your listeners off?”
But he bemoaned blanket bans that cut off the chance to delve into societal concerns.
“It denies a conversation that maybe has to happen. It’s an important conversation,” he says.
The Canadian Press