One of the roundtables we attended was for Frozen II is with the award-winning husband/wife songwriting team, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez. We spoke more about their whole process behind coming up with such incredible songs.
How is it working as husband and wife? “When it’s great, it’s great. When it’s rough, that’s when the marital skills of communication really come in handy. You know being able to say, ‘I am feeling scared’ or ‘I am feeling like I’m not being heard’. You know those conversations that every marriage needs to have. It strengthens our marriage to because we’ve learned to communicate very, very closely and intimately when we’re writing a song.
“And you know just disagreements or discussions, conflict always should lead to something better and it all comes from listening and truly never shutting anyone down. And you know the longer we work together, the more I have appreciated the amazing creativity that comes from this woman.”
About having songs removed from the movie due to changes in the story, Kristen said, “I used to really hate when we would have to cut songs and start over but now it’s like it’s our favorite thing to do.” Bobby agreed, “It happens a lot in this process many, many songs are written, and seven songs stay in the movie.”
How did they meet? Kristen answered, “We met in a musical theater writing workshop. And I had just transition from a musical theater actress to sing. Like you know what, I’m playing a lot of nuns in New Hampshire for this and this temping life. And someone was like you’re a writer, and I was like I don’t know what to do with that but I listened to my gut and applied to this BMI reading workshop to get in. If you get in, you get three years of free education to become a writer and I wrote my first song and it really was like this is it.”
“The song is a happy or sad hello or happy goodbye. The song I wrote was a happy kid who is really not popular in high school as a valedictorian saying goodbye to everyone instantly jabbing them with all this passive aggression. Like “How to Say Goodbye to Randall High” wasn’t a great song but it ended up leading to this.”
The first song they wrote together was for Bear in the Big Blue House. It happened when they were dating when Kristen was a teacher in the Bronx and Bobby was watching children’s television as research for Avenue Q. “So, we weren’t seeing each other, and he was like really want to come over and write a song for this.”
They were approached by someone from Disney Parks and asked to help write a Finding Nemo musical for Animal Kingdom. The musical is still running and recently celebrated its thirteenth anniversary. Kristen said that some of the cast has been part of the production for the entire run too, which is pretty awesome.
Was there a song that we should look out for on the Blu-ray? “Yeah, there’s something I think in the DVD there, “Get This Right”, which is a lot of fun. Everyone loves that song earlier and then, it all fell apart when they were in the woods. A proposal of getting everything wrong and a lot of it was so we drew from everybody’s experiences of proposals. It has a Jackson 5 vibe and Chris Buck talked about his proposal which went really badly. And then we talked about our proposal, but I didn’t even know it happened.”
Bobby explained their proposal happened after the opening of Avenue Q. He felt that he “would be able to have a career and so now we can get engaged. And on top of that the producers had given me a ring as a present from the Transit Museum Place. Avenue Q ends, I thought this is a sign. I’m going to propose with this ring later on and it was in the cab ride home. I didn’t want to sort of eclipse the fun of the opening night party with this. I think that would have been really cool.”
Kristen continued, “And he slides this ring on my finger and goes, ‘Will you marry me?’.” But she didn’t know how to tell people that was how the proposal had happened because she was raised to believe that proposals had “like swans and Paris”. Bobby proposed again like a week later with a real ring.
“Like 15 years later, I did it again and we were in a ski chalet. It was a big restaurant and I had to wait. We are going to deliver this other ring. The girls were there, and the girls knew about it and they told everyone in the bathroom.”
Kristen said, “And I realized at that moment, how he proposed the first time with absolutely perfect for me. Absolutely perfect and then the big to-do in a big fancy restaurant was too weird for control freak.”
Do your girls play into any of the music that you write? “Oh, definitely. They’re the first people to hear everything we do and obviously there would be at least on our part, Frozen would not exist if we were not raising two girls at the time. You know it was the idea of Elsa. We found the picture of Elsa throwing snow in the air and the other one was looking at her like she was the most magical things you’ve ever seen. I was like, ‘I know that. I know that second child worship of the first daughter, and I also know that first daughter.’”
One of their daughters sings the first verse of “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” along with Jennifer Lee’s daughter. The line “I don’t see no ring” from “Fixer Upper” was said by their other daughter. They both said their daughters are good with feedback and their 14-year-old particularly enjoyed the ‘80s vibe of “Lost in the Woods”.
What is your writing process like? “I mean, everything is different. Every song always begins with story, talking about story and theme with Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. The story came around at a table like this. Our faces are huge because we’re Skyping in from Brooklyn. We just talk story, story, story and you really get a laser-focused idea of what the song should be.”
“Working together, which is, again a lot of talking and you never know where the where the inspiration will come and whether it’ll be a title, a hook.”
“You know lyrics sometimes Kristin just goes into her room. I actually kind of like this now it’s just kind of in her room and then you know an hour later, half an hour later she comes out with the lyric. And I just get to set that.”
They reminisced about coming up with the Oscar-winning song from Coco. ““Remember Me” happened ‘cause we used to live in a loft in Brooklyn and the piano was in our kitchen. And he was like in his boxers noodling at the piano, while I was making breakfast for the girls and out came the score, melody. It was just me and I had him play that into my phone. I had to go into Midtown for something and I took that melody and wrote the lyrics to “Remember Me” on the F train on the way in the Midtown and then came together. So, you never know when it’s when it’s going to strike, but the story is the most important thing you know it’s happening somewhere under the surface isn’t.”
Kristen was asked about the clip we saw earlier involving her ice skating, which led to her coming up with “When I’m Older”. “For the skating idea, it was that we were under a lot of pressure. We were less than a year from release date. Ice skating helped me deal with my anxiety and get some exercise. And I just kept sort of skating and hearing the melody like, ‘This will all be done in six months. It’s all going to be okay.’ And so, when you find those places where your own experience aligns with exactly what the characters going through, that’s usually where there’s gold.” She also liked ice skating because “it was the being an extreme athlete.”
““Let It Go” was the same way. Talking about motherhood with “Let It Go” and my experience as a woman trying to be like, ‘Make the quinoa and be a good mother and be there for the school trips and be a good wife and stay thin and have a career in my life.’ And then, wouldn’t it feel so good if I could just let it go. A metaphor I just heard that was great about motherhood is they were juggling 50 balls and we have to decide which of those balls are glass and which of those balls are plastic. So is everyone. For everyone, that’s different.”
It was mind-blowing to be in the same room as these two creative geniuses whose songs have never left my brain. They have such a strong partnership and I hope we can hear more of their songs in Disney productions.
Frozen II comes out on digital February 11th and on Blu-Ray February 25th.