Let It Go is one of the more interesting Frozen songs, because while it was originally conceived as a villain song, it ended up with an empowering edge and became a power anthem to a lot of its audience. So which is it: villain song or empowerment anthem? I say both. Why? Let’s dig into the lyrics and find out.
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation
And it looks like I’m the queen
As Mic once said, one of Frozen’s themes is about isolation, but I’m going to go deeper and say that it’s more than that: it’s isolation and fear vs. community and love. In my Children’s Lit class, my professor went into literary themes and talked about how adolescent boy leads often deal with isolation and standing alone as themes, while adolescent girl leads often deal with community, and their bonds with friends/family. For example, Hatchet has a male main character stranded in the wilderness who needs to learn how to survive on his own (isolation/standing alone). Meanwhile, Walk Two Moons has a female main character who goes on a road trip with her grandparents in search of her mother (community/family-oriented). Looking at it that way actually makes Frozen intriguing, because they deal with both isolation and community. Anna is the one seeking community; she wants a closer relationship with Elsa. Elsa goes against the literary norm and is the one seeking isolation. At the start of this song, she finds her “kingdom of isolation” far from the rest of Arendelle.
The imagery at the start of “Let It Go” really plays into the feeling of isolation: we pan in on a lonely cliff, with no one for miles around it, and Elsa trudging through the snow by her lonesome. The melody is soft, almost mournful. Being isolated is not a fun thing, guys.
The wind is howling like the swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried
Here we get to delve into Elsa’s true issue: her powers, and how she’s been holding them back for so long. At this point in the movie, we’ve seen Elsa struggling to keep her powers in check in different way: wearing her gloves to center herself, staying away from Anna so she doesn’t hurt her again, staying up in the palace so she can avoid any triggers. That hasn’t really worked out, but here, Elsa has found somewhere that her powers can roam free, and the outside terrain reflects how she feels inside.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well now they know
Society is really weird about emotions, so I feel like this is a verse that a lot of people can relate to. Women are often criticized for being overemotional or too clinical and “icy” while guys are told to be stoic and hold their emotions in. Elsa has done both of these things: her icy reputation comes from her holding her emotions in deep in order to keep her powers in check. “Be the good girl you always have to be” is really interesting, because it speaks to the high standards Elsa is held to: she needs to be good, to maintain her reputation as a queen, and because women are held to high standards in society, especially women in places of power.
However, everything she’s been holding back is already known, so all of her concealing is kind of moot at this point. Thus, we get to the chorus (aka that part that gets stuck in everyone’s heads):
Let it go, let it go; can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go; turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on;
The cold never bothered me anyway
Let’s talk about what “let it go” means, because that can be a good thing, and a bad thing. On the positive end, “let it go” can mean letting go of negative influences in your life, like people who don’t have your best interests at heart, or things that don’t make you happy. It means you can “turn away and slam the door” on the people who talk crap about you and move on from them. Example: if Gaston had let go of his vendetta against the Beast, he might have survived the battle at the end of Beauty and the Beast. Instead, he literally lost his grip.
On the more negative end: Let it go” can tie back to isolation, though. Someone can let go of positive elements in their life as well, like family. Here, Elsa is letting go of the people in her life by isolating herself up on the mountaintop, and leaving her sister behind. Isolation is a solution for Elsa in the moment, but it’s a Band-Aid fix; it’s only temporarily going to work out. (We see that later on, when Anna comes looking for Elsa.)
The last two lines are interesting, because while the chorus initially feels like a power anthem, it takes a darker town at the end.
“Let the storm rage on” means that Elsa doesn’t care about stopping the chaos she’s caused; she’ll let it keep going for as long as she wants. And “the cold never bothered me anyway”…
There’s a very selfish feeling to the phrase, because Elsa is putting herself above other people’s needs. It’s good that she’s expressing herself, and not letting people hold her back from that, but it’s bad that she doesn’t care about the welfare of all of the people freezing in Arendelle. It’s also weirdly out of place, because Anna’s appearance later on implies that Elsa had no idea this was even happening. Still, her lines suggest that even if it did, she wouldn’t care, which is pretty callous.
It’s lines like these that call into question the morality involved in “Let It Go,” because while it did become a power anthem, elements of when it was a villain song remain. It has the dramatic flair of one, and certain lines and phrases (like “let the storm rage on”) set up Elsa as an antagonistic figure. This is why I classify it as both: it has villainous origins, but is empowering anyway.
(Side note: Mic suggested that “the cold never bothered me anyway” could relate to Elsa’s perception of her powers, and how they never bothered her until she was taught to fear them, which I thought was an interesting take. Who’s right here, guys? Are we both right?)
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
Away from Arendelle, Elsa has some perspective. Here, where she can express herself freely, her fears aren’t there to bother her, and she can truly dig into her powers without worrying that she’ll harm someone.
It’s time to see what I can do,
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
“I’m free” = being free from society’s expectations, as well as her fears and worries. There’s more gray mortality on display (“no right, no wrong, no rules for me”), but there’s also a giddy sense of adventure as she crafts ice bridges and climbs them, lets snowflakes swirl form her fingertips, forms snowmen.
Elsa hasn’t really been a child, not in the sense that most kids were. The second she hurt her sister and the trolls/her parents made her nervous about her powers, her innocence faded and she’s been locked in a constant struggle to keep everything together.
Out here, none of that matters, and she can embrace her childish side again with no consequences. I mean, look at the glee on her face!
I am one with the wind and sky
I love this line, because it brings me back to Pocahontas and Colors of the Wind. It gives the song a more spiritual side, letting Elsa be in touch with the world around her and the power inside of her. Elsa has never felt secure in who she is, but for a brief moment, she feels at peace. She is one with her power.
You’ll never see me cry
Great line, because it shows that Elsa has made progress, but she’s still bottling herself up in a way, and that’s something it takes the rest of the movie for her to deal with.
Here I stand, and here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on
And more isolation! This song is a goldmine for isolation and angst. Even with the empowering melody, there are a lot of lines that are really painful and harsh, like this one. Elsa is at peace with herself and her power, yes, but she’s also alone. She’s still holding herself back from the world and her sister.
My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
First, there are a lot of ice puns (“flurries”, “frozen fractals”, “icy blast”). Second: this is the first time we see Elsa use her power to construct something without fear or anguish. She’s crafting a structure with her power, pushing ice up and out of the earth, letting it spiral into a fortress. She’s creating herself a new home.
I’m never going back; the past is in the past
When Mic did her villain songs meta, she made this really interesting point about how a lot of Disney villains have a point of no return, where they feel they cannot go back, and solidify themselves as an antagonistic force. Here, “I’m never going back” serves to do exactly that. If this were still a villain song, this would be the moment that Elsa sets herself against her sister and cannot be saved. However, because this is a movie built on sisterly love, it doesn’t quite work out that way.
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand, in the light of day
This is such a weird stanza for me, because parts of this feel very heroic. There’s a lot of imagery with light, with rising and being triumphant. But it can be read in a darker way. “That perfect girl is gone” sounds like Elsa shedding her label and making something new of herself, which could be a bad thing or a good thing, really. This song is so confused about what it wants to be.
The ending (“let the storm rage on / the cold never bothered me anyway”) doesn’t help clear things up much better either.
In the end, I think “Let it Go” has strong lyrics, a very catchy melody, and a lot of conflicting elements buried within it. While it might’ve been nice to see the creators ease out some of the villainous edges to make this more of a triumphant hero taking a stand, it’s also nice to see a character steeped in a darker morality, with the potential to be good or evil. Elsa can either give into fear or embrace love, and in the end, she does the latter and allows her power to truly flourish.
What do you guys think of Let It Go? Would you have liked to see Elsa as more of an antagonistic force? Let us know in the comments.