Disney's Frozen is having a big January. Last week, the animated musical about two sisters based on the fairy tale "The Snow Queen" topped the box office, six weeks after it was originally released. Its soundtrack, featuring 10 original songs, is the best-selling album in the country, toppling Beyonce's self-titled album last week.
That run of success might have something to do with the fact that two different versions of one of those songs — the inspirational ballad "Let It Go" — are currently climbing Billboard's Hot 100 chart. In the film, it's performed by the Broadway veteran Idina Menzel, who voices the character of Elsa, the sister isolated by her tragic gift: Everything she touches turns to beautiful crystals of ice.
Ann Powers, NPR Music's pop critic, tells Morning Edition's David Greene that the song's dual success makes sense when you consider the movie's young target audience. The songs on the Frozen soundtrack hang together "as a narrative of not only self-empowerment but love between sisters, and those are themes that resonate heavily with tweens," she says.
The second version of the song, a pop production sung by the former tween star Demi Lovato, underscores the themes that make "Let It Go" resonate with tweens, in and out of the movie. "What I hear is the fact that every 10-year-old girl is coming out of her shell and coming into her own, and she needs this kind of song to grab onto," Powers says. "And it's really important that it not be overly sexual or sexy. These are girls that have been heartbroken by Miley Cyrus and her transformation. They need these kind of pure emotional songs."
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The animated movie "Frozen" is having a huge January. Last week, it was the number one movie in the country and the soundtrack is the biggest-selling album in the United States. That might have something to do with this...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT GO")
IDINA MENZEL: (Singing) Let it go. Let it go, can't hold it back anymore. Let it go...
GREENE: "Let it Go," it's the big inspirational ballad in the movie, sung here by Idina Menzel. She's the voice of one of the movie's animated characters. And here's the amazing thing. This and another poppier version of the same song are both on Billboard's Hot 100 list right now.
We've brought in NPR's pop music critic, Ann Powers to talk about how rare this is. Ann, good morning.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Good morning, David. Are you frozen today?
GREENE: Not as frozen as I was a few days ago.
GREENE: But we're talking about "Frozen," so maybe the memories are going to come back. Before we get to the song, can you just remind people what this movie is about?
POWERS: "Frozen" is an animated musical about two sisters who live in a far northern country. One of them has a kind of tragic gift, everything she touches turns to ice - beautiful ice but ice that isolates her from everyone else. The song we're talking about, "Let it Go," is her big moment when she claims her talents and decides that she is going to be herself.
GREENE: Is it really unusual for a movie to have two versions of the same song doing so well on the charts?
POWERS: It is unusual but it's not unprecedented in Disney movies to have a pop version and then the version that appears in the film. Idina Menzel, of course, is a Broadway star and to sell the song to the tween audience, they enlisted Demi Lovato who's one of the biggest stars among the 8 to 12 set.
(SOUNDBITE OF "LET IT GO")
DEMI LOVATO: (Singing) Don't let them in. Don't let them see. Be that the good girl you always had to be. Conceal, don't feel. Don't let them know. Well, now they know. Let it go...
GREENE: So, Ann, did Disney probably expect that this poppier version would be the one that would do well, and they might be surprised if actually the one sung by the animated character that is actually higher up on the charts?
POWERS: I think they might have. The whole "Frozen" soundtrack is doing well. And I think all the songs together kind of hang together as this narrative of not only self-empowerment but love between sisters. So those are themes that resonate heavily with tweens. And parents love this music, too.
GREENE: You being a parent, as I understand it, right?
POWERS: Oh, yes. I think as my daughter and I were walking out of the movie, she declared her new favorite song having displaced a Beyonce ballad.
POWERS: And she's also invoked it in arguments. You know, when she feels she can't talk to me about something and we've just reached the limit, she's actually said, Mom, just listen to this - put on the song and walked out of the room.
GREENE: So telling you, Mom, let it go.
POWERS: And she's going to let it go. She's going to be herself. You know, my daughter says there are three kinds of songs: songs about romance, songs about standing up for yourself and songs about everything else.
GREENE: I gather your daughter would put this in the standing up for yourself song category.
POWERS: Absolutely, David, and that's the central category in the tween anthem style. Some people have heard "Let it Go" as a coming out anthem and, in fact, have read the whole movie as a celebration of LGBT liberation. But what I hear is the fact that every 10-year-old girl is coming out of her shell and coming into her own, and she needs this kind of song to grab onto. It's really important that it not be overly sexual or sexy. And these are girls who have been heartbroken by Miley Cyrus and her transformation. They need these kinds of pure emotional songs.
GREENE: All right, we've been talking about the song "Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen," with NPR's pop music critic Ann Powers. Ann, thanks as always.
POWERS: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT GO")
MENZEL: (Singing) Let it go. Let it go and I'll rise like a...
GREENE: This is NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.