Princeton Singers Abandon a ‘Little Mermaid’ Song Over Kissing Concerns

For many years, the Princeton Tigertones, an all-male a cappella group at Princeton University, has had a tradition while performing “Kiss the Girl,” a song written for the 1989 Disney animated classic “The Little Mermaid.”

The singers call up a woman from the audience to do some lighthearted dancing. And then they do the same with a male audience member. As the song concludes, the two audience members dance together — and end the number by smooching at the urging of the singers: The last line of the song is “Go on and kiss the girl!”

But last week, the president of the Tigertones, a senior named Wesley Brown, announced in a letter to The Daily Princetonian that the group would temporarily remove the song from its setlist in response to complaints that it is misogynistic and violates the principle of consent. Brown apologized in the letter and said the group would try to rework the performance.

“Performances of this song have made participants uncomfortable and offended audience members,” which the group regrets, Brown wrote.

There have been other recent instances of artistic flare-ups on campuses. Last year, Brandeis University canceled a Michael Weller play about Lenny Bruce after students and faculty protested its depictions of minorities. Around the same time, the University of Connecticut’s student union axed an appearance by the comedian Owen Benjamin, who had made comments about transgender children and hormone replacement. And in October, Kent State University canceled a production of “West Side Story,” after students were upset by the lead roles not going to people of color.

Amid the #MeToo movement, many works of art are being reassessed for how they discuss power dynamics. Last week, WDOK, a radio station in Cleveland, said it would stop playing the Christmas song “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” written in the 1940s by Frank Loesser. The song has come under fire for lyrics indicating the male singer has pressured a woman into spending the night with him and plied her with alcohol.

Some of Princeton’s a cappella groups, like the Tigerlilies, have audience-participation songs. The objections to the Tigertones were brought to the forefront in a column written by a sophomore, Noa Wollstein, earlier last week, in The Daily Princetonian. Titled “Dear Tigertones, please stop singing ‘Kiss the Girl,’” Wollstein said that the song was “more misogynistic and dismissive of consent than cute” and that “by performing the song multiple times each semester, the Tigertones elevate it to an offensive and violating ritual.”

In “The Little Mermaid,” Sebastian, the crab who often serves as a guardian for the mermaid Ariel, sings the number with the help of other creatures. He exhorts Prince Eric to kiss Ariel, who cannot speak because she has given up her voice to become human. By the end, Ariel and Eric lean in for a kiss.

The lyrics begin:

There you see her, sitting there across the way.
She don’t got a lot to say.
But there’s something about her.
And you don’t know why.
But you’re dying to try.
You wanna kiss the girl.

The song continues:

There is one way to ask her.
It don’t take a word.
Not a single word.
Go on and kiss the girl.

Later, the crab sings: “Don’t be scared/You got the mood prepared/Go on and kiss the girl.”

In her piece, Wollstein wrote that “such expressions imply that not using aggressive physical action to secure Ariel’s sexual submission makes Eric weak — an irrefutable scaredy-cat. Applied outside of the realm of the movie, these statements suggest that masculinity is contingent on domination of women. This attitude can catalyze violent tendencies toward, and assault against, women.”

Wollstein said in a phone interview that while she had never been called up for the kiss, she had seen the performance multiple times and that it made her and others uncomfortable. As she wrote in her column: “I have seen a queer student brought onstage have to uncomfortably push away her forced male companion. I have heard of unwilling girls being subjected to their first kisses.”

“I would technically like to see it taken out period,” Wollstein said in the interview. “But if they’re willing to work on it and get it to a place where it’s not offensive, then I’m all for it.”

In Brown’s letter, he acknowledged that the criticism of the Tigertones, a campus institution founded in 1946 and once referenced on “Mad Men,” hadn’t just come from Wollstein.

“Many of the recent criticisms of this performance reflect on internal conversations our group has been having for some time,” wrote Brown, who did not respond to a request for comment. “In the last few years, we have taken intentional steps towards ensuring that audience participation is more voluntary and consensual. These steps have clearly not succeeded in guaranteeing total comfort for both participants or in obtaining continual consent.”

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