“Rapey” Songs

A recent article sparked my interest, saying various popular songs such as Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” and Grease’s “Summer Nights” have a creepy tone/implication to them. I felt strange, however, when I scrolled down to find “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

As much as I call myself a critical thinker, I can’t help but wonder: are we overanalyzing some songs by calling them “rapey”?

For starters, we have to remember the background of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Written in 1936 by Frank Loesser, the song is a duet between a man and woman in a style similar to a cat-and-mouse game. The man tries to seduce the woman into staying with him overnight, while the woman refuses for various reasons. With lyrics such as “say what’s in this drink?” and “the answer is no”, the song can easily sound like a tone of rape. However, when you search for an analysis of the song, there are many who believe that the song is just about playful seduction, not to mention it was scandalous for a woman to stay overnight like that, despite how much she may have wanted to.

In the case of “Summer Nights”, the lyric “did she put up a fight?” comes into question. Some believe that it implies putting a fight against being raped, while others claim it’s just poorly worded to rhyme with the rest of the lyric and it simply questions whether or not Sandy rejected Danny and it pokes fun at his possible failed pursuits.

Because I’m no expert on song analysis, I honestly can’t say what each of the songwriters were going for.  Do many of these lyrics sound a bit creepy? Definitely. Is it important to think critically when listening to songs, especially those that might encourage rape or other sexually abusive behavior? Of course. And yet, I hate to automatically dismiss songs just because I looked into them too much, especially if the lyrics were a result of unfortunate wording. The one difficulty with analyzing the lyrics to songs is that we don’t want our findings to ruin the innocent images we may have of them (e.g. when I became old enough to understand that “Magic Carpet Ride” was not in fact about a magic carpet ride). Although we may like a song without thinking about the lyrics, we must remember to think critically and not go out of our way to say a song is something that it is not, especially when the song’s meaning is as controversial as rape.

So what do you think, dear readers? What are your views on these types of analyses, or these specific songs?


3 thoughts on ““Rapey” Songs

  1. I have actually been noticing that about “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” as it is a few days past Thanksgiving I’ve started listening to my Christmas playlists. She & Him have a fabulous Christmas album (not the point of this comment, but it is wonderful) and Zooey Deschanel actually sings the traditionally male part of the song while M. Ward sings the traditionally female part. I listen to it and wonder if this ‘gender-bending’ on their part was deliberate or not.

    Anyways, I think the song may reflect some of the attitudes of the times, with women then (and now, sometimes) needing to feel like they resisted as long as possible to protect their innocence, at the same time the song has strong, icky feelings of coercion. It’s hard to say, but it’s worth discussing and thinking about. The She & Him version is below:

  2. Great post. I actually realized the lyrics of ‘Baby its Cold Outside’ last year… and I gotta say, I don’t think we’d be overthinking it if we called it ‘rapey.’ It’s a little iffy; unfortunately, it’s been one of my favorite Christmas tunes for my entire life so it’s hard to judge it with too critical of an eye.. But yeah, the lyrics? Let’s just say if it was a real conversation between a couple on a date…it wouldn’t sound so charming without music in the background.

  3. I teach high school (in Canada) and hearing the song summer nights today on our sound system with the question, ‘did she put up a fight?’ coming out of the mouth of a simple, not too bright teenage boy, sounds rapey in 2015. In the mid seventies as a child I saw the film in the theatre and of course we were taken aback then by the word “fungu” and “tits” (I was seven years old ). The meat head who utters the phrase is in a sense a foil character to Travolta’s character who is a sensitive grease. The line though is rapey all the same in itself. But it is like asking if the commandant in Schindler List is an anti-Semite. Of course it is rapey like so many words uttered by meat heads.

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