Diane Warren Is Back in the Oscar Song Race, But You Probably Could Have Guessed That

TheWrap magazine: “He wants a friend,” says Warren of the Honorary Oscar she received last year after 14 nominations without a win

Diane Warren photo by Erik Melvin

One year ago this month, Diane Warren did something nobody had ever done before: She accepted an Honorary Academy Award for songwriting. The award had been bestowed on her by the Academy’s Board of Governors after she’d received 13 competitive Oscar nominations without ever winning, and within a couple of months she’d racked up her 14th nomination and, yes, her 14th loss.

But she now has the first Honorary Oscar ever given to a songwriter, which is significant compensation for all those nominations without a win.

“It was the coolest thing ever,” she said, thinking back to the Governors Awards where she received her Oscar. “It was cool, and so surreal.”

She paused. “But he wants a friend. Oscar wants a friend.”

So to the surprise of absolutely no one, Warren is back in the Best Original Song Oscar race this year. In fact, she’s in the race twice, with “Gonna Be You” from Kyle Marvin’s football-themed comedy “80 for Brady” and “The Fire Inside” from Eva Longoria’s Hot Cheetos origin story “Flamin’ Hot.”

“Gonna Be You” came out first, with the song playing off the fact that the movie starred Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Rita Moreno and Lily Tomlin as diehard football fans who make it to the Super Bowl in 2017.

“It’s these legendary divas, so what’s the music version of that?” Warren said. “Start with Dolly Parton, because it doesn’t get better than that. I was working with Belinda Carlisle, so let’s get Belinda. What about Cyndi Lauper? What about Debbie Harry? What about Gloria Estefan? And everybody said yes.”

The song was written to be a tribute to friendship, but the recording took place at different locations around the world: Parton recorded her vocals in Nashville, Estefan in Miami, Lauper and Harry in New York City and Carlisle in Mexico City. “It was kind of crazy to get all those vocals done,” the songwriter said. “But somehow it came together and became a really fun record.”

As Warren talked about the song on a Zoom call, her cellphone erupted with a Latin beat. She laughed. “You like my ringtone?” she said. “It’s ‘The Fire Inside.’” Maybe the phone was a tip-off to Warren’s favorite between her two contenders this year. At any rate, the message of her “Flamin’ Hot” song clearly means a lot to her with lyrics like these: “They will tell you you’re crazy/They will call you a fool/They will think they can stop you/But there’s no stopping you.”

“I wrote it for the movie, but I felt like that’s me, too,” she said. “I’m from Van Nuys and I knew no one in the music business. Everybody basically shut doors on me, so I know what that feels like.

“My first nominated song was (Starship’s) ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,’ which is basically this song. I’ve gone from ‘nothing’s gonna stop us’ to ‘nothing’s gonna stop me because I have the fire inside.’”

She wrote the song with a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos sitting on her piano, waiting until later to eat them. And as she does on the majority of her songs, she wrote the music and lyrics by herself, a relative rarity in today’s pop songwriting by committee.

“Isn’t it weird that that’s weird?” she said of her solo songwriting. “I don’t know anybody anymore who sits in a room and writes songs by themselves like I do. I met the Weeknd last year at an event, and he said, ‘You’re great, you write great top lines.’ I was like, ‘Well, thank you. I write the bottom lines too, you know?’”

A laugh. “I do the music and I do the lyrics. Whatever you call it, it’s still a song. You still gotta write great songs.”

This story about Diane Warren first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Read more from the Race Begins issue here.

Sandra Huller Race Begins 2023
Sandra Huller shot for TheWrap by Jeff Vespa


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