Pride Music Selections: "Let It Go" and "Into the Unknown" from the 'Frozen' Franchise
From being unfairly outed, to going after the life you want for yourself, these songs from 'Frozen' perfectly capture the journey out of the closet.
June 15, 2023
It is no secret within the Frozen fandom that protagonist Elsa is coded as queer, even if not canonically so. Most theories argue that Elsa is a lesbian, and a Twitter hashtag was specifically born out of the wish to see her in a lesbian romance! I personally see her as an aroace character (I’m not the only one) and I have plenty of evidence for it, but that’s an article for another time. Today I’m going to decode her defining song from Frozen, “Let It Go,” and its follow up in the sequel, “Into the Unknown.” Both can be interpreted as songs about being queer and closeted.
(SPOILER ALERT for Frozen and Frozen II.)
“Let It Go”
Elsa, the eldest princess of Arendelle, and her parents discovered her ability to create ice out of thin air when she was still practically a toddler. After an accident involving her sister Anna, Elsa was conditioned through her childhood to fear her identity as a magical person. It was a literally internalized phobia of herself that she grew up with. For queer people who are often conditioned into internalizing phobia for their identity, this is an allegory for being in the closet. Elsa grew up with shame and managed to stay hidden by literally physically hiding. As if in confirmation of her worst fears, she gets discovered the one day she finally decided to step out into the spotlight. Going with the allegory, this would be equivalent to never stepping outside the social box, and then getting discovered as queer the one time you finally decide to be yourself, in whatever manner, big or small. You don’t get to come out of the closet, you’re outed and you have to suddenly deal with the judgement, embarrassment, and hate from a whole world of people whose opinions you may respect or are afraid of. That’s when you realize you can no longer “conceal” because “now they know!”
Elsa’s response is to build a castle and seal herself in it! It is kind of a fancy version of a closet for herself which comes with a guard. Inside this “Kingdom of isolation,” she will learn to love herself while the world which isolated her debates about her like a question instead of a human being. As if they get to decide who she is. Quite often, there is a moment of tear-soaked queer trauma after being forcefully outed, you break down as your carefully curated life crumbles in front of you. But then there’s the liberating realization that it’s happened! There’s no more hiding, because “I’m never going back, the past is in the past!” The closet is finally gone, and that deserves celebration, away from the naysayers who you couldn’t care less about in that moment. To quote Elsa, “I don’t care what they’re going to say”. At the end of the day, whether you’re out or not, queer-phobia affects you, and all the internalization, the masking, and the conditioning will normalized it to you. So when one day you’re forcefully outed, your life changed, but you realize at one point that you saw this coming, you knew this was going to happen, and you’ve become used to the world hating you. That’s when you turn to yourself and with all conviction, say “the cold never bothered me anyway.”
In a dramatic fashion, Elsa struts with a flourish that is now iconic for the queer fandom of Frozen. She throws away her scarf and lets her hair down, literally. She runs up the hill, “to test the limits and break free.” Running free from the cishet world which refuses to acknowledge, accept, or sadly enough, stop killing queer people in extreme cases. You find a breath of fresh air. Your life has changed, but you no longer have to fear getting discovered. You can finally find out what life can be like when there’s “no right, no wrong, no rules” for you! Sure, there are new rules the world will try to impose on you now, but all those rules you had for yourself to “keep it in,” they no longer need to be enforced! You turn your back on those who turned theirs to you and you loudly proclaim “you’ll never see me cry.” Even through your pain from getting ostracized, you’re realizing that not having to impose rules on yourself has gradually allowed you to truly accept yourself. Those notions were never yours to begin with and now you can proudly say “here I stand and here I’ll stay” because this is who you are and who you’ll always be. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You have found a love for this new found acceptance for yourself and now you’ll finally “Let It Go!”
“Into the Unknown”
The crisis from Frozen is miraculously sorted! It involved an evil prince and a hug from your sister, but the world you feared would never accept you for who you are, actually has! Elsa now lives happily at Arendelle with Anna, her boyfriend Kristoff, their snowman companion Olaf, and Kristoff’s moose Sven. Arendelle is flourishing and every resident is happy, including their Queen Elsa. But Elsa’s happiness is plagued by a craving for something more. She gets to use her magic from time-to-time, sometimes to perform parlour tricks, or else for other purposes. But she never gets to test her limits and somewhere it bothers her that she doesn’t know if she’s reached her full potential! This is allegorical to the experience of being out of the closet and finding acceptance, but still living in a very cisheteronormative environment which doesn’t seem to be conducive to your queer instincts and interests. You yearn for more, for an openly queer community where cisheteronormativity doesn’t permeate and you get to live according to your own conditions and whims. You find people around you accept you but how much do they accept your identity too? Sure, you don’t feel like an outcast, but are you sure you won’t get that look if you come home with a partner of the same gender, or wearing clothes not traditionally meant for people of the gender you were assigned with at birth?
Elsa hears a supernatural voice which seems to beckon to her specifically. She knows what it might stand for but she tells it, “I can hear you, but I won’t.” No matter how much you yearn for an environment where you can be yourself, you’re afraid of “what you’re risking” if you disturb this status quo born of compromise. You know about other people who went all out, decided that they don’t want to settle for a life where you’re hiding despite being out of the closet. But “some look for trouble while others don’t”. So you find happiness in your situation, and you shut down the voice, with a claim of “I’ve had my adventure”. The sound bothers her to no end, keeping her awake, but Elsa decides to ignore the call for adventure and exasperatedly responds by saying “I’m sorry, secret siren, but I’m blocking out your calls.” But one fateful night, she gets so disturbed by the siren’s whispers that she ventures outside the castle and begins practicing her magic. The excitement takes over as she sings, “every day’s a little harder as I feel my power grow.” She gives into the yearning for a few moments and breaks a powerful spell which releases a seemingly evil spirit. As the film progresses, she realizes it’s not evil. In fact, she already knew, it was a matter of reconciling with the other people in her life.
When you find your community beckoning, there’s only so much you can do to “ignore” the “whispers” which you “wish would go away”. It is your community after all and your identity longs to be expressed. Then one day, you decide to give into the instincts for the “alternative” lifestyle as the people in your immediate surroundings quite problematically call it. You answer the call of your people. You step forward with doubt in your step, and you ask them, “are you someone out there who’s a little bit like me? Who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be?” Your fear of consequences is decidedly less because this feels like a journey of love. Others will call them evil, but you know it’s not true, because you’re like them too, and when you “Let It Go”, you resolved to never think of yourself as evil ever again. You break away from the conventional atmosphere surrounding you and you join your peers, no longer willing to adopt a lifestyle that still makes you feel closeted. Elsa feels a real connection with the mysterious voice, anxiously calling after it, “where are you going, don’t leave me alone.” She loves her family and her kingdom and its people, but she feels stifled and now she’s living for herself as herself. Just like her, you gradually feel a resolve growing to challenge your established status quo because you’ve figured it out. You don’t just hear a call from other people like you. You look at yourself and you realize “there’s a part of me that longs to go Into The Unknown!”