It was about a year ago that my now–4-year-old daughter first got hooked on “Let It Go,” the pop juggernaut from Disney’s 2013 hit Frozen. Mary picked up the song at nursery school, and soon she was requesting it in the car and before dinner, scream-singing it around the house and in the bath. At the time, it felt like a milestone: “Let It Go” was baby’s first fandom—a cultural product she discovered by herself, outside our home, and sweetly shared with the people she loved most.
Like I said, that was about a year ago. My back-of-the-envelope math suggests I’ve had time to listen to “Let It Go” (run time 3:44) about 140,160 times in 365 days, which is odd because it feels like it has to be more. It’s not just us, of course. A “Let It Go” period has become something of a rite of passage among preschoolers since the movie arrived six years ago. The clip where Queen Elsa sings “Let It Go” has been viewed more than 2.9 billion times on YouTube alone, and that’s not counting the covers—oh, are there covers. (The song hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped make the soundtrack the bestselling album of 2014.) The good news is that if “Let It Go” is addictive to preschoolers, it’s at least survivable for adults. It’s more tuneful than “Baby Shark,” less insipid than “The Wheels on the Bus.” Really, I told myself during a low period in February, it could be so much worse.
Enter “Into the Unknown.” “Into the Unknown” is the marquee ballad from the forthcoming guaranteed blockbuster Frozen 2, in theaters Nov. 22. Disney has teased the song in trailers, and on Monday morning it released a full version recorded by the band Panic! at the Disco, which will play over the movie’s credits. (Demi Lovato performed the credits version of “Let It Go.” The YouTube video for her version has been streamed another half-billion times.) Disney is obviously hoping that “Into the Unknown” will imitate the earlier song’s success: It’s a power ballad written by the same songwriters, the wife-and-husband duo of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and sung in the movie by the same actress, Idina Menzel. I viscerally hate the Panic! at the Disco version. I am experiencing Panic! at the prospect of having this song infect my home the way “Let It Go” did. But it seems similarly poised to tear through the preliterate set like a baby sharknado.
Plot details of Frozen 2 are sparse, but the gist of it seems to be that Queen Elsa and her sister, Anna, embark on some kind of adventure outside their kingdom of Arendelle. They’re heading … you know where. The emotional momentum of “Let It Go” came from Elsa’s shift from suppressing her magic ice powers to embracing them. “Into the Unknown” apparently tracks her attempt to silence an inner voice urging her to wildness. (“Every day’s a little harder as I feel your power grow/ Don’t you know there’s part of me that longs to gooooooo/ INTO THE UNKNOOOOWN!”) Without knowing exactly what role the song will play in Frozen 2, it’s safe to say “Into the Unknown” has been engineered to deliver the same euphoria of internal struggle followed by cathartic release.
If there’s one thing small children love, it’s cathartic release! They live for that shit. Sure enough, over the weekend, my daughter started to sing some unfamiliar phrases around the house: “Every day’s a little harder as I feel my power groooow,” she murmured, spinning around in the kitchen in sock feet. “What’s that song?” I asked absently. It turned out my husband had been showing her the trailer featuring an “Into the Unknown” clip and she was already hard at work memorizing it. In preschool, having Disney songs memorized is a kind of currency.
Within the next few weeks, I suspect I’ll look back on that moment as if I was asking, “Huh, what’s that chunk of ice?” from the deck of the Titanic. “Into the Unknown” is coming for us, and it’s coming hard. The most we can do is enjoy the quiet pause before impact.