“The diva lives inside of me / Just like it does in you,” proclaims Idina Menzel on her new studio album Drama Queen, her seventh LP of original material. While a career as a recording artist was always one of the singer’s goals, the massive success of the musical Wicked and the Disney animated film Frozen put Menzel on the map as a Broadway and Disney legend. But she was always writing and recording her own music, dating back to a 1998 indie rock release that the singer jokes “only like three people bought”.
Even as her stage work overshadowed the release of further studio albums like I Stand or the eponymous Idina, Menzel always possessed a knack that her Broadway contemporaries lacked: the ability to let loose while staying true to her performance power. That power is on full display on Drama Queen, her first record in nearly seven years and one that veers away from the adult contemporary vocal pop of her previous releases and into a sound familiar to the dancefloor at a gay club: disco-infused dance-pop.
While, on the surface, Drama Queen reads as merely the latest attempt by a Broadway diva to dip her toes into mainstream music, the fact that its cover art displays Menzel laying against the backdrop of a dancefloor that resembles the main stage of RuPaul’s Drag Race indicates immediately that this is a record that will appeal to a specific niche and demographic of pop listeners (read: homosexuals).
Indeed, support from the gay community for Menzel’s foray into dance-pop appeared proximately after the release of several TikTok videos displaying the singer bopping to her music in what’s been interpreted as an unconventional fashion. Either way, the videos met their goal of creating hype for Menzel’s latest work, and rightfully so: the minute I happened upon a clip of Menzel in full diva mode mouthing along the chorus to “Beast”, a power anthem about reminding yourself who you are, it was all I could think about for days.
“I’m tired of adhering to a formula and to what people think that I should be doing,” Menzel told The Washington Post. “Because I got my start on Broadway, people just assume that you can’t do anything else. This album is about saying, ‘Screw all of that.'” That message shines through on Drama Queen, a record that, to a mainstream audience, may be easily dismissed as a stage diva just wanting to sing and dance—a concept that pop culture doesn’t take very seriously in the long run. If anything, this album emphasizes the importance of throwing caution to the wind and being who you are.
Menzel collaborated with everyone under the sun to achieve the sound she was going for. This included but was not limited to Nile Rodgers to accomplish that old-school disco feel, Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters to make sure it had that unique queer cherry on top, and Sir Nolan, whose past credits include songs by Selena Gomez and Carly Rae Jepsen, to give it a modern feel. Despite being rooted in dancefloor influences of the past, Drama Queen sounds acutely contemporary.
Whether it’s the groove of lead single “Move” or the fact that, at two minutes and 21 seconds, “Beast” was clearly made for TikTok, Menzel created a short and simple body of work that singlehandedly proves that women don’t stop being interesting or having fun past the age of 50. In an era where record labels are looking for streams by way of short videos on social media apps like TikTok or Instagram, Menzel took that and rolled with it in a way that’s uniquely her own. Gen Z kids might laugh at the singer touting her music in her backyard on their feeds, but its camp value works in a way that is exactly on brand for Menzel.
Some attempts at deeper feelings on Drama Queen, like “Funny Kind of Lonely”, fall a bit flat in the face of her gay club-hopping alter ego for this album cycle, but it doesn’t take away from the value of the record. Menzel hopes she can put a positive spin on being a drama queen. “What’s wrong with having big, bold emotions? What’s wrong with being passionate and fiery and then very sensitive and vulnerable? What’s wrong with being theatrical at times? [All] of those emotions are what makes us who we are and what makes us interesting. I’m reclaiming the word.”