Twin Cities musicians Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski were discussing holiday songs at a St. Paul ice-cream shop last week when Lemanski asked, “You know what song is awful. …”
The answer was, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which the musical couple rewrote and recorded that night to remove its sexually aggressive, 1940s-era lyrics, which they believe sounded “date rape-y.”
A week later, their playful yet topical remake has been posted via Soundcloud and gone viral, with stories on news sites such as CNN, Time and the Huffington Post. The singer/songwriters, both in their early 20s, are using the attention to “promote consent” among young men and women.
“It’s been on people’s minds more this year, and I think we just struck a chord with it,” Liza said, referring to how the subject of sexual assault became prominent during the presidential campaign.
Written by “Guys and Dolls” composer Frank Loesser, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is traditionally performed as a duet between a man and woman, the latter of whom is trying to leave the scene of a pending intimate rendezvous. Questionable lines in the original tune include, “Say, what’s in this drink?” and “Sweetheart, what’s your hurry?”
Recorded versions over the years have included Dinah Shore with Buddy Clark, Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Jordan, and Dean Martin with a whole flock of women. Like many people their age, Liza and Lemanski best knew the song from a sweetly innocent scene in the movie “Elf,” when Zooey Deschanel sings it to an eavesdropping Will Ferrell.
In their reworked version — recorded in only 15 minutes and since played 360,000 times on Liza’s SoundCloud web page — the man in the song immediately accepts the woman’s desire to leave.
“I’ve got to go away,” Liza sings, to which Lemanksi responds, “Baby, I’m cool with that.” And when she says, “I ought to say no, no, no,” he replies, “You reserve the right to say no.” As for when she asks what drink he’s serving her, the cheeky answer is, “Pomegranate La Croix.”
“It’s not even an actual flavor,” Liza laughingly confessed about the mineral water brand, “but it fit the syllables we needed.”
“We had fun with it, but we also thought it an important topic to raise,” said Liza, aka Lydia Hoglund, who became a Twin Cities fixture in her teens with the band Bomba de Luz.
The couple have been using the sudden media exposure as a pulpit to promote consent. “I don’t think I can think of one friend of mine who’s a woman who hasn’t been in dangerous situations with men,” Liza told CNN. The Huffington Post’s write-up on the song says they took “a really screwed-up tune … and decided to revamp it for a modern audience.”
On Tuesday, Liza and Lemanski went over to Pearl Studio in northeast Minneapolis to record a more polished, radio-friendly version of their remake. They plan to sell the new recording through local nonprofit record label/promoter Rock the Cause, with profits going to a women’s shelter or some other fitting charity to be named.
Here’s an original version of the song used in the 1949 movie “Neptune’s Daughter,” which pretty well captures its seediness.