Those who know nothing about songwriting already understand that there seems to be a secret formula to writing songs that assures they’ll become earworms. While most of that secret is simply coming up with melodic riffs that go to the heart of the listener, the effect of lyrics should never be underestimated. Some songs lean heavier on their sound over the lyrics, and others would probably be nothing without the compelling words. Likewise, those lyrics may also be virtually lifeless without having the music complement.
This may be the best way to simplify the essence of the song “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” It’s likely going to become one of the most studied songs in history based on its addictive qualities and timeless message. But how much thought was really put behind the song? Was it a happy accident of songwriting by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, or was there true attention to the psychological universality of both the music and lyrics?
The Melody of “Let it Go”
When you play “Let it Go” as just an instrumental, it sounds like a Disney song, and as well as one from Broadway. It has those magical harmonics that helps conjure the old essence of classic Disney films “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” from over 20 years ago. At the same time, you immediately think of Broadway when you hear that soaring chorus. Broadway has its roots in those soaring choruses that are meant to pack a wallop into the balcony. It’s a genre of song we never thought would end up on Top 40 radio again, and yet “Let it Go” did.
Mind you, Demi Lovato’s alternate pop take on “Let it Go” proves the melody was customizable to something sounding more contemporary. Regardless, you can still call it a power ballad, and Top 40 power ballads seemed to die out after the era of Whitney Houston went decidedly more Hip-Hop.
There seems to be more of an emotional connection with Broadway sounds now, though. Whether “Glee” has helped evolve this recently for Generation Y, or if NBC’s “Smash” helped it along even further, the contemporary sounds of Broadway have made some inroads again to the mainstream. Even so, even the Lopezes must have thought it was a gamble to write a Broadway song in a Disney movie when many people before “Frozen” released thought those sounds were archaic.
The Lyrics of “Let it Go”
Would the lyrics to “Let it Go” stand alone as poetry if they didn’t have the compelling music to go along with them? It’s worth a thought that they could, because many psychologists are saying the lyrics tell you considerably much about controlling emotions. And you don’t hear many songs any more that get into complicated psychology. Despite many rulebooks on songwriting telling you to write something everyone can relate to, we don’t see songs very often that tap into deeper levels of what it’s like to be a human being. That type of intelligence in a song goes back years, at least in those that make it to the Top 40. Most songs in the mainstream now aren’t going to be talking about anything other than something superficial, unless you include some social examinations in perceptive Rap and Hip-Hop.
“Let it Go” helps the psychological angle by telling people to let their feelings out when necessary and not repress them. In a time that tells far too many people to withhold emotions due to cultural standards, it’s no wonder that mental illness is still such an issue in our country.
In that regard, try reading “Let it Go’s” lyrics alone without hearing the music. You’ll see why those lyrics may end up being the most studied by the newest generation of songwriters. Those new songwriters may gain some kind of epiphany in realizing how thoughtful mainstream songs can be again for staying power.
Outside of all the jokes about having “Let it Go” being so addictive that it requires some kind of earworm removal intervention, you should get used to the sounds. It may be the building blocks of what you’ll be hearing a lot more of in coming years. For those who care about the quality of songwriting, it may be a sign of hearing songs again that last beyond just a year in everyone’s memory.