Idina Menzel on Crossing Over and Breaking Out
This weekend, Broadway megastar Idina Menzel was given Billboard’s “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” award, thanks in large part to her epic hit “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. I’m proud to say that I loved Idina before she was cool, in those years when she was trying to cross over from originating great roles in shows like “Rent” and “Wicked” to being a singer-songwriter. Her “I Stand” is still one of my favorite anthems.
In her acceptance speech, she said something that I identify with so hugely:
You get dropped from enough labels and told countless times a Broadway singer can never cross over. ‘You’re too expressive, you’re too dynamic, you’re too presentational, you have too much vibrato, can you play the guitar while you sing, don’t play the guitar while you sing, what kind of artist are you?’ Well, I’m a cross between this and – ‘you should write your own music, don’t write your own music, well who are you? Who are you?’
And the answer to that question at the age of 43 is a resounding, “I don’t know.”…it’s taken me this long to realize that if you can easily describe and categorize yourself, you’re probably adhering to others’ opinions of who and what you should be.
I’ve been getting a lot of advice from people in the music industry to just “pick one.” Either be a recording artist who writes her own material, or go act in musicals. “It’s not possible to do both, so don’t try.” I’ve had hipster musicians decline to play with me because I sound “too Broadway,” (read: not cool enough), and industry consultants tell me that I have to have a clearly defined signature sound that is easily described to a record executive in 30 seconds or less. And yet here is an artist who said “fuck you” to all of that, grew that thick skin, and did it her way.
Just like Idina, I’m still figuring out who I am; and just like her, I’m reluctant to put myself in a box when I’m just starting to figure out the story I’m trying to tell with my music. I’m so honored to be in her company.