In a bizarre turn of events, the songs I have listened to most this year are from Disney musicals. Picture the scene – I, a 28-year-old woman, am blasting children’s songs in my flat, twirling around the room, wagging my finger as I wail along with princesses Elsa, Ariel and Jasmine. Perhaps I could pull it off if I had stunning vocal abilities, but, sadly, this is not the case. I’m no Snow White – even pigeons flutter away from my attempts to mimic the American twang of these characters. I’d like to say I’m listening ironically, but really, what difference does that make? And my tastes aren’t limited to the animated films – the Hannah Montana and High School Musical soundtracks are also on regular rotation.
My enjoyment of Disney is odd because I tend to struggle with wholesomeness; I have been known to wince in the presence of Christmas carollers, and I usually need to give myself some stern self-talk in order to relax into a musical. I’d like to ask a therapist whether it is my predilection towards cynicism and making fun of things that creates this Mickey Mouse-shaped space in my life for unadulterated earnestness. Or is it because I have a tendency to see things in black and white? I wonder if my brain is slowly degenerating; as if I’m a child who can only process the world through Disney’s simplified lens: “bad person die make Pravina happy”.
I suspect it has something to do with how bleak the world has become. My brain is so full of political chaos on any given day that it can no longer process even contemporary pop artists such as Lewis Capaldi or Lizzo. In a post-pandemic world of economic crisis and global disruption, Disney music has a nostalgic, triumphant appeal. These songs provide a cartoonish enemy to defeat, together with a familiar narrative arc where good prevails in the end (and the journey along the way is still pretty joyful and twinkling).
When I asked my male friends for some sort of validation, hoping this trait might be considered “cute” or “quirky”, they suggested that, unfortunately, being into Disney as much as I am is “a bit of a red flag”. It makes it obvious you’re obsessed with fairy-tale endings, I suppose – it’s like wandering around with a flashing sign on your head saying that as soon as you fancy someone, you are picturing marriage and babies. Which might be true – but the point is, we’re supposed to keep that bit to ourselves. And so, you can tell how far along I am in dating someone by the incrementally increasing volume of the Tangled soundtrack I sing along to in the shower.
Men I’ve dated generally treat me as an equal, but when it comes to what songs we play in the car, I have no agency. They respect me as a woman, I am told, they just can’t respect my music choices – which seems fair enough in light of the latest developments. I can’t help but invest hope in the heroine of Enchanted, the semi-satirical Disney film. She’s a wide-eyed romantic who breaks out into song frequently, but ends up in the arms of her polar opposite, a cynical divorce lawyer played by Patrick Dempsey.
Is it hypocritical that I’d be alarmed by a man who likes to listen to Moana? I definitely don’t want to date someone who shares my music taste. But the way our generation bonds is over music, particularly on dating apps. I find myself, paranoid, checking that I’ve turned off the setting on Hinge that displays your top ten artists on Spotify – I’m hardly going to attract anyone cool by declaring my love for Elton John. Guys describe wanting to “find their Phoebe Bridgers” – no one wants to find their Mulan.
It probably is a symptom of what my generation call “main character syndrome”, I think, staring at my face in the mirror as I whirr my electric toothbrush around my mouth in an attempt to produce a Christina Aguilera-style vibrato while singing along to “Reflection”. This feels very pure and self-affirming, until I remember an episode in the sitcom My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: the lead starts singing a song as though she were a Disney protagonist, and slowly realises how self-obsessed she is, singing: “I told myself I was Jasmine/But I realise now I’m Jafar.”
The other day, I caught myself thinking that it would be nice if I decided to have children because then I would be able to play Disney music at maximum volume without shame. “Ah, you know what three-year-olds are like!” I’d say, ruffling my kids’ hair as I closed the front door on any neighbours who came to complain. But then I realised my children would probably want to sing along, and I wouldn’t get the glory of the solo part in “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”.
This article appears in the 19 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, State of Emergency