Idina Menzel is basically the Queen of the Holidays this year, with her brand-new album Christmas: A Season of Love out now, not to mention another bombastic turn as Elsa in the blockbuster Disney sequel Frozen II in theaters.
So she’s the perfect guest for a special holiday episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below), where we talk all about her festive new duets with Ariana Grande, Josh Gad and Billy Porter; revisiting her icy queen Elsa and tackling the series’ latest power ballad “Into the Unknown”; plus her own holiday traditions growing up that helped inspire her love of the season.
Below, listen to the full episode and enjoy some highlights from our Christmasy chat:
How Her Ariana Grande Duet Came About
“That was written by Bobby and Kristen Lopez, who are the composers of all the Frozen music. … So I called them and I was like, ‘Would you guys write me an original song for a holiday album?’ And they were like, ‘Sure!’ And Kristen came back and she was like, ‘OK, I wrote you a feminist song, a feminist Christmas song that’s called “How About a Hand for Mrs. Claus,” because she never gets any respect.’ And then Ariana [Grande] was so generous in her crazy touring schedule to find time to record this song with me, and I’m indebted to her.”
The Next Best Thing to Recording in the Studio With Ariana
“She would send me like every two lines that she recorded, and she would send like a little voice memo and go, ‘How’s this? Do you want me to do a riff here?’ And I’d say, ‘Just be you! I don’t care, you’re Ariana Grande!’ And she’d say, ‘No, I want you to be happy.’ And then she’d say, ‘What if on this lyric…’ And I’d say, ‘Yes! That’s great.’ And then I said, ‘Wait, we’re going to put in eight extra bars of a drum fill just so there’s room for you to do a crazy Ariana riff.’ It was just so funny, and she’d keep sending me little MP3s of what she was doing and making sure that I was happy. Every time, I was like, ‘I’m happy!’ [Laughs]“
Finding the Perfect Fit for Josh Gad
“I wanted to do a few that maybe haven’t been overly done, and I found [‘We Wish You the Merriest’], which is [Frank] Sinatra and Bing Crosby. And what better song for two Jews to do but a song called ‘We Wish You the Merriest’ where they never actually sing the word ‘Christmas’? [Laughs] But so, it’s a really funny song, they improv it, it’s like they’re hanging out in Vegas, you know, doing their thing. And so I thought, ‘Oh OK, this is a good song for Josh to come in on,’ because he’ll just make it funny and be spontaneous.”
Josh Gad & Billy Porter Rise to Idina’s Level
“I originally put it in a key that I thought was right for [Josh]. It turns out it was completely wrong: He sings in my key. [Laughs] As does Billy Porter, by the way, who’s the other guest on the album [on ‘I Got My Love to Keep Me Warm’]. They both have incredibly high voices. I mean, I knew they had high voices, but I didn’t think it was exactly in my key. And they sing in my key.”
Flipping Rent‘s ‘Seasons of Love’ Into a Christmas Classic
“I was just driving around listening to stuff in my car, thinking about what I wanted to do for the album. I always like to root everything I do from a really true, honest place. And I was thinking about a set list for a concert I was doing, and I was like, ‘Oh, I wanna do “Seasons of Love.”‘ And then I was like, ‘Oh my God! “Seasons of Love”?! I do that song all the time, I never realized it was a holiday song!’ And so I just thought it was perfect. And why not pay tribute to it in the title? Because it’s where I got my star.”
On People Likening Frozen II‘s ‘Into the Unknown’ to ‘Let It Go’
“I like the song even better, to be honest, and then there’s another song at the end of Frozen [II] called ‘Show Yourself’ that I have that I think is beautiful. And I just, I really commend the Lopezes, because they come from story first. It wasn’t about trying to write another big hooky melody. They wanted to make sure that this furthered the story properly and that they deepened and enriched these characters and helped them evolve into the young women that they are. So they always come from story first, which is why I think then that they are so successful.”
Idina Menzel Makes a Bold Statement About Frozen II
“I would just go on the record saying I think that this film is better than the first. I do, I love it, you know? … I just, I love it. I love ‘Let It Go,’ obviously; it’s one of the great gifts of my life to have this song and this character in my life and what it represents and how it’s allowed me to connect with audiences all over the world. It’s changed my life. But I actually really enjoy — except for the really high note that’s going to give me problems on a day where I have a cold — I’ve loved singing [‘Into the Unknown’]. It makes me wanna cry, it gives me goose bumps when I listen to the underscore of it, the rolling bass line and the rhythm and everything. I just love it.“
Also on the show, we talk about other new holiday music making the rounds this season, plus Trippie Redd‘s new No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, Post Malone‘s second week atop the Billboard Hot 100, and TikTok favorite Arizona Zervas bursting into the Hot 100 top five.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard’s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)