Satisfying my obsessive compulsions through the pursuit of creativity and personal betterment

Friday, March 28, 2014

Let it Go: Subtly Undermining a Powerful Message

Like every other family that has children, my entire household has been taken over by Frozen lately. Middlest girl minion meets me at breakfast in a blue lace cape and doesn't take it off until school time. We have the soundtrack on repeat in the background. We took the dvd in to the library for movie time to share with any unfortunate souls that have not been bombarded yet. We did not see the movie in the theatre, so when I decided to finally listen to all the “Let it Go” craziness after the Academy Awards, and let the kids listen too, they were ravenous to watch it. Two week of counting down until we bought it, and many tears shed when they had to wait until after showers and breakfast that morning.

I had heard a lot of crazy things about this movie: that it was actually about these two sisters, that “true love” wasn't the focus, and that they imparted common sense advice like not to get engaged to someone you just met. I had a lot of interest in a movie that wasn't all about the girl trying to get the guy, or that true love is immediate and supersedes everything else, or that you fall in love with someone as soon as they kiss you. You know, a movie marketed to children that wasn't over the top, and yet threw out a lot of the anti-feminist mantras that most princess movies shove in your face. I was excited to watch and excited to share it with my girls (and boys!).

Now before I continue I would like to point out that I usually don't consider myself a feminist in the traditional sense. I prefer equality and respect, but I prefer it in both directions, and I feel it is incredibly unhelpful to look down on women who choose to take traditional roles or have traditional families. There is nothing wrong with that. I have a uterus. I make babies. I take care of them. I am a woman, and it is okay that I do that instead of trying to play both the role of a man or a woman. For that matter it is okay if someone chooses to do the opposite that I do as well. When I use the word feminist in this article, I am talking about the practice of treating women like valid human beings instead of property or sex objects. You know, basic human rights.

That being said, “Let it Go” is really a feminist song, in all the best ways. There is a young woman who has spent her entire life trying to conform to very restrictive life by society's norms, and it has continuously grown harder and harder for her to keep her true self hidden. In a moment of weakness, she reveals that self to the rest of the world, and amidst a sea of backlash, runs away. This song is where she finally throws away her attempts to blend in, and is just herself. I recently saw a funny gif where someone had photoshopped the words “fuck off” into the snow magic that Elsa is creating. Crude yes, but also pretty accurate: she is past the point of trying to please everyone, and they can just deal with it and leave her alone.

Although I believe the song translates across all genders and walks of life, it very clearly points at feminine issues. All her life a woman is held to a ridiculous amount of standards: she must be demure or she is called a bitch. She must dress in a certain way or she is called a slut. She must hold certain kinds of jobs or she faces at the least a lower pay rate, and usually harassment or not being taken seriously. In action movies she is relegated to the sex icon or love interest: weak, without personality, and just there to look at. In this song, Elsa throws off the prejudice that society pins on her for her gender, and refuses to play by their rules anymore. She can dress however she wants. She can behave the way she chooses. She can play the hero of her own story.

In a way, every single person that hears this song feels a little bit of this power. Everyone wants to rise above the part of the victim and be heard. Everyone wants the freedom to make their own choices without persecution. More than a song about finding true love, or any other dribble that princesses usually sing about, this song speaks to the heart and soul of everyone and gives them control over their own destiny.

Which in a round-about way finally brings me to the point of this essay: the pop version of “Let it Go” is a sad mockery of the original and shows just how far we still have to go as a society.

Now, the remake itself was not that bad. I am fond of the driving beat they added to it, and they reworked the song to have a true chorus and have more of the traditional structure of a pop song. There were a few lyric changes but they fit in well, I believe. The person that they chose to sing it has the tone quality and obviously has the ability to hit all the notes well and hit it out of the park. The problem with the entire thing though? She chooses not too.

At the end of every phrase, she takes an exaggerated breath. She does not have to do this: there are other parts of the song where she holds notes for longer and strings longer phrases together with no issue. Why would someone have such pronounced breathing in the middle of a hit song then? There's only one explanation for it: she is trying to make it sound more sexy.

That is not the only issue: there are several times in the song that Demi Lovato goes in to hit a note and instead of “letting go” and belting it out, she pulls it back, and sings in this breathy, soft voice. Again, she does not have to do this! There are several times in the song where she hits a note hard, on pitch, with no hesitation. This is all a ploy to make her sound weaker, sexier, and inviting to men.

So here you have a song that is all about throwing off sexist labels and being yourself, and in order to make it palatable to the rest of the world, you take all the power out of it. You rework it so that it sounds like an immature girl trying to engender sympathy to her sad situation (which sounds suspiciously like a breakup that she is trying to get over) by getting the attention of the men around her.

One step forward, twenty steps back.

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