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Idina Menzel Says She Owes Career to LGBTQ+ Community, Teases OUTLOUD Festival Set

Idina Menzel Says She Owes Career to LGBTQ+ Community, Teases OUTLOUD Festival Set

Idina Menzel Says She Owes Career to LGBTQ+ Community, Teases OUTLOUD Festival Set
Courtesy of OUTLOUD/WeHo Pride

The music and theater legend tells Out she will preview her upcoming album Drama Queen at WeHo Pride's OUTLOUD Music Festival.


There's a new dancing queen in town, and Idina Menzel is ready to "Move."

The Broadway legend just dropped a groovy new single ahead of Pride season, and she's giving the gays everything they want. Of course, this wouldn't be the first time: Menzel made her Broadway debut in Rent, originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked, starred as the queer character Maureen Johnson in the movie musical of Rent, was in Disney classics like Enchanted and Frozen, and even became the first Tony Award-winning actor to earn a top-10 song on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Let It Go."

Her entire career has been for the gays.

This Friday, Menzel is headlining OUTLOUD, West Hollywood's Pride music festival, alongside Shangela, Jessie Ware, Tinashe, JORDY, Tolliver, and DJ Venessa Michaels. Just ahead of her performance, Menzel had a quick chat with Out about her new album, reclaiming the term "drama queen," the impact of Rent almost two decades later, a fun anecdote about her appearance on Glee, and what we can expect from her Pride set.

Out: Tell me about your new single "Move?" What inspired the song? How did it come together?

Idina Menzel: I just wanted to do music that I really loved without thinking too much about what people expected from me. I wanted to do music where people could get up and dance and celebrate. "Move" is sort of a double entendre. Obviously, it's the literal meaning of people getting up and dancing and, and moving, but also this idea of moving for me, like get out of my way, stop putting me in your shadow.

I like what you said about expectations because I guess most people expect a Broadway classics album.

Sometimes they do.

And I understand there's a whole album coming along?

The whole album is called Drama Queen. I realized that there have been lots of women that I love that have big voices. Donna Summer. Barbra Streisand had her own dance album, you know, Gloria Gaynor then and Cher came out with her dance music. This is music that lays a really good bed and foundation for big melodic voices. I feel like I can be who I am and still have really contemporary, cool grooves. Once you hear it, it's not such a jump. It's a pretty natural transition.

Will it all be disco or will you dabble in any other genres? What can we expect from it?

There's a new genre called New Disco. It definitely has late '70s, early '80s vibes. Nile Rogers is a mentor for me on this album and on a song and he's obviously like the Godfather of Disco. We wrote together and he's playing on it. Then I have Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters who I'm a huge fan of him. And then Justin Trantor is a really good friend of mine. He came in and did a dance song with me. And then there's a bunch of other writers and collaborators that were really instrumental in helping me come up with the sound of the album and the messaging and the lyrics that I want to say. For me, they are things that I need to remind myself of, like real empowerment messages and how to sort of, even though I am on the stage and I do have a spotlight a lot of times, this is sort of finding my desire or will to take risks, to allow myself to be seen on those days where I don't feel completely comfortable with who I am.

Then there's the timing of it coming out during Pride, which I love, because I feel like I owe so much to the LGBTQ+ community for my whole career. They have supported me and accepted me creatively, musically. But most importantly, I feel like I've learned how to be a better human being through their courage and their willingness to live their lives authentically.

What is OUTLOUD your set gonna look like on Friday? What can fans expect?

I'm gonna do my new album. I'm gonna do a lot of my dance music. There might be a few songs people would expect to hear from me, maybe they'll be in a different arrangement. I want to party. I wanna have a great time. There will be a few staples in there, maybe they'll have a house beat to them or a cool groove going on. We'll see.

I'm actually in the middle of rehearsals right now working on what that's going to look like. I'm just super excited to be out there and celebrate and give the love back.

The name of the album is called Drama Queen. It's really putting a positive spin on the word, kind of like how "diva" needs a positive spin. I have played a queen many times. I am a queen in my mind, but also, I know that I'm dramatic. I know that people know me from the stage. I have big emotions, big feelings, a big voice and I don't want to diminish that for anyone. All those moods and all those emotions make up who I am and make me a pretty cool woman.

The gays certainly know a thing or two about a drama queen. It's been 18 years since the movie musical Rent came out and "Take Me or Leave Me" feels like a queer anthem of sorts. I kind of just wondered your thoughts like when you were singing it, when you were creating it and maybe a reflection all these years later.

That was a beautiful time in my life, very significant in the evolution of who I am. It helped me to find who I was as a performer, who I wanted to be. It also taught me a lot about empathy and trying to understand other people's experiences in life, even if we can't be in their shoes, we can foster empathy. What a wonderful show is to see all kinds of love up on stage. Although love is love, right? So I'm kind of contradicting myself, but to see if those three different couples on stage being depicted and how important representation was and how it resonated with so many people, young people, especially in the queer community.

I would get so many letters from young kids saying how they were seeing themselves in the show and how the music helped them and that they weren't feeling accepted in their own families and how this music helped them get through a lot of that. That was an early introduction for me into the danger, actually, that a lot of young LGBTQ+ youth experience. When we were singing that music, it had such importance, it was very profound at the time.

But as I've gotten older, and I sing the music, so many days of the year in my life and on tour and all over the world. And as I'm getting older and the generations, you know, those kids are now parents and they have kids, it's the sort of gift that keeps on giving for me. It's a way that I am able to keep taking a look at how music informs who we are and the circumstances that we're living in now. Have things changed? Have we taken steps back? What are we celebrating? Why are we fighting? Unfortunately, right now, now it feels like we made all of this progress and now there's all of this backlash and all of this fear and vitriol, being directed at my friends.

I say to my son too, he is of mixed race, it's not on the shoulders of those who are being attacked. It's not on them to have to educate the rest of us. It's on us as the allies to be fighting for them. They just need to fight to be who every day to make sure that they're being exactly who they are.

Thank you for sharing that. So I was a choir nerd in the early 2000s so I have to ask about Glee. When you walked into the room and realized you were playing Lea Michele's mom, was there a moment of recognition like, 'Oh yeah, we look do look alike?'

[laughs] Oh, you know that's not what I was thinking of. Do you know what I was really thinking about? I just had my son Walker three months before they called me. I was, for me, very overweight. I was still breastfeeding and I could barely fit in the clothes that they wanted me to fit into and then they called me and asked me to be Lea's mom who's actually not a 16-year-old, but a 27-year-old. I should have been her three-year older sister, but they want me to be a mom. So it's actually a lot of ego and vanity going on.

Y'all's "Poker Face" duet is so iconic amongst Glee nerds. Do you ever do karaoke?

Not usually. I feel like that's the time when people that don't usually get to hold a microphone should have their opportunity. If you give me a couple of drinks I might be known to do Tina Turner for you, "Proud Mary." But I usually try to lay low.

Idina Menzel's new album Drama Queen drops on August 18. Catch her OUTLOUD performance this Friday, June 2nd.

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