Some of the Oscar contenders for Best Original Song share a common thread, according to Harry Gregson-Williams: they’re all songs about wanting to feel seen and heard.
Songwriters Daniel Pemberton (“Hear My Voice” for “The Trial of the Chicago 7”) Diane Warren (“Io Sì (Seen)” for “The Life Ahead”), John Legend (“Never Break” for “Giving Voice” and “Make It Work” for “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”), Leslie Odom Jr. (“Speak Now” for “One Night in Miami”), Gregson-Williams (“Loyal Brave True” for “Mulan”) and H.E.R. (“Fight For You” for “Judas and the Black Messiah”) took part in TheWrap’s Oscar Contenders Showcase: Best Original Song on Thursday and spoke about how timely and important their songs feel, even though some were written for movies set in different eras.
“Every single day, we fight to be ourselves, and the reason we are all here today is because we made these songs that complement the movie … It makes us feel even more hopeful and even more inclined to do something about what we just saw [in the film], it’s a continuation of these films and our take on them, and music speaks to people in a different way than movies do,” H.E.R. told TheWrap’s Steve Pond. “Movies wouldn’t have the same effect without music … There is definitely something in the air right now where these songs and music that we’re all creating is necessary, and people need it and it’s giving people the substance that’s been missing in 2020.”
Gregson-Williams agreed, and noted that although his song is part of a film that’s set in ancient China and is about a girl who just wants to be “recognized for the power of her personality, not for her sex. It’s a common thread that’s running through all the songs — an uncertainty and a need to be heard and seen.”
Pemberton also chimed in and said that all the panelists wrote songs that still “connect to people because the message behind them is still important.”
For Pemberton, it was important for him to record a song for Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” that left viewers feeling hopeful, given that the film is “intense.”
“For me, the most important thing was figuring out how to encapsulate the whole idea of this film into one song — Aaron wanted the ending to be cathartic and leave it open for optimism because the film is quite intense, and he wanted to pass it on to the next generations to say, look, we can do something,” he said. “Deep down, this film is about protest and democracy and justice, but it’s like, why do people protest? People only protest because no one is listening to them.”
Warren said she’s written many songs in her career that have taken on a life of their own outside of the movie. In particular, she spoke about “‘Til It Happens to You,” a song she co-wrote with Lady Gaga for the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which deals with campus rape. She said she hadn’t talked about her own assault experience until she was on a panel talking about the film.
“That’s the power of songs — they make even the writer able to talk about stuff,” she said. “There is nothing more powerful than song and music when it bypasses your brain and goes right to your heart and soul, you can only respond. And when you combine that with the right movie, you can change a lot of stuff in the world.”
Legend’s song “Never Break” from “Giving Voice” had “quite a journey,” the singer and songwriter said, as he wrote it in 2019 but the song has continuously evolved and has taken on more meaning as things in the world kept happening.
“There were so many challenges in our lives that were giving the song new salience for me and made me reassess the song in a new light given the new circumstances that we were facing in the world,” Legend said, speaking about the pandemic, the protests, and even losing a child last year with wife Chrissy Teigen. “The song just came coming back to me as something that felt important to sing to the world, and to remind myself that even though we go through all these challenges, we can get through them together and it’s been quite a journey living with this song and having it evolve in the way that its meaning has changed for me over time.”
Odom Jr. said he originally was asked to write and record four songs for Regina King’s “One Night in Miami,” which he was grateful for because he felt he didn’t need to “cram all of your feelings into one song.”
“We all felt like we were in service of this tremendous material that Kemp Powers had given us and we all wanted to honor the legacies of these giants, and I wanted to bring as much of myself to Regina’s work and her vision as possible,” he explained, adding that he had two weeks to write and record the songs. “I was actually looking back on it, and it was a good thing for me to write a few songs, so no one song had to say everything that I wanted to say … We thought about how those four men could share the space … and hold our space. We thought our song could be an offering and that it could occupy its own space.”
Other songs on the shortlists for the 93rd Oscars are “Turntables” from “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” “See What You’ve Done” from “Belly of the Beast,” “Wuhan Flu” from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest,” “Rain Song” from “Minari,” “Free” from “The One and Only Ivan” and “Green” from “Sound of Metal.”
Watch the full panel above.