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My Signature Song: 'Defying Gravity'


Kaley Johnson of Fort Worth, Texas, has a dramatic signature song, one so important to her, it's almost part of her identity.


KRISTIN CHENOWETH: (As Glinda, singing) I hope you're happy. I hope you're happy now. I hope you're happy how you hurt your cause forever. I hope you think you're clever.

SIMON: It's "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked." Kaley Johnson has never actually seen the musical, but she says the power of the songs by Stephen Schwartz - that they tell a story in which you can find yourself.

KALEY JOHNSON: In the musical, Elphaba is the Wicked Witch of the West. And she is arguing with her friend Glinda, who is very much the picture of what society wants people to be. Glinda is very popular and does what she's supposed to do. And she's arguing with Elphaba and saying, why can't you just do what people want you to do? And Elphaba is essentially, at this point in the play, she's saying, no, now I realize that that will not make me happy.


IDINA MENZEL: (As Elphaba, singing) I can't want it anymore.

SIMON: Kaley Johnson says she found the song in high school when she was feeling pressure to be popular.

JOHNSON: It's so intense. You think the entire world revolves around whether or not you're liked or not. And, you know, you suddenly realize you're friends with people who aren't really nice to you, or you're in clubs that you don't care about because, you know, your friends who aren't nice to you wanted you to be in those clubs.

SIMON: She became depressed and developed an eating disorder.

JOHNSON: I think that was all cumulated from this disconnect between what I was like by myself and what I was putting on a show for other people. I think that this song, you know, is kind of about Elphaba basically saying, screw it; I'm going to do what I want, and I'm going to defy what people expect of me and what I've been led to believe is how I should live my life, and I'm just going to be true to myself.


MENZEL: (As Elphaba, singing) And leap. It's time to try defying gravity. I think I'll try defying gravity. And you can't pull me down.

CHENOWETH: (As Glinda, singing) Can't I make you understand? You're having delusions of grandeur.

MENZEL: (As Elphaba, singing) I'm through accepting limits 'cause someone says they're so.

SIMON: She would blast the song on her way to school in her 1997 Geo Prizm.

JOHNSON: Turn it up as loud as I could and roll down the windows. And, you know, my car has these crappy, old speakers, but I'm still - you know, my singing is drowning out anyway.

SIMON: And the song followed her as she went off to college, flying. "Defying Gravity" seemed the way to say that she was Kaley, spreading her own wings.


MENZEL: (As Elphaba, singing) Kiss me goodbye. I'm defying gravity. And you can't pull me down.

SIMON: And now as she pursues a career in journalism, Kaley Johnson says "Defying Gravity" continues to inspire her.

JOHNSON: You're kind of questioning the society you're in. And you're kind of asking those questions maybe some people don't want you to. And at this point, maybe some people think you're an enemy. And it might be easier sometimes to stop doing this job and do something easier. And I think that this song - it encourages me to, at some point, kind of just stand up and say, OK, you know, bring it on, and I'm just going to defy it.

SIMON: Kaley Johnson of Fort Worth, Texas, sharing her signature song, "Defying Gravity" from the musical "Wicked."


MENZEL: (As Elphaba, singing) So if you care to find me, look to the western sky. As someone told me lately, everyone deserves...

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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