On Thursday night, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Variety teamed up for a panel highlighting some of this year’s Oscar contenders for best original song.
Held at the L.A. Film School, the talk included Common and Diane Warren, who co-wrote “Marshall”s” “Stand Up For Something”; Taura Stinson, who co-wrote “Mudbound’s” “Mighty River”; and legendary songwriter Bill Withers. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote “The Greatest Showman” hit “This is Me,” also video chatted into the discussion.
All three songs are nominated in the best song category, alongside “Call Me By Your Name’s” “Mystery of Love,” written by Sufjan Stevens, and “Coco’s” “Remember Me,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
During the panel, Common and Warren talked about the political and cultural relevance of their song, which has been embraced by #MeToo, ACLU and Everytown for Gun Safety.
Warren, who is nominated for her ninth best song Oscar, noted how the song’s political importance is relevant this week particularly in the wake of the shooting at a Florida high school. “Everyday it becomes more timely,” she said. “Look what those kids are doing right now, you see people standing up.”
Common said it’s been a dream to see people being so impacted by his work, and that he wrote his portion of the song in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“So many people were down and I was like, ‘Man, we have the power as human beings to put the light out in the world, there’s no one man who can take us down, no government that can take us down,’ so this song for me was an outlet,” the musician said.
He agreed that the song was particularly impactful this week, and added that “last night I was watching the town hall on CNN and they were using ‘Stand Up for Something’ for the song…just to have art that’s connected with that is very important.”
Pasek and Paul, who last year won an Oscar for writing “La La Land’s” “City of Stars,” discussed the difference between that experience and working on “The Greatest Showman.” Paul said that on “La La Land,” the music had been entirely written by composer Justin Hurwitz before they signed on, so they were only in charge of the lyrics and had less control over the story.
“It was really about serving Damien [Chazelle]’s vision and Justin’s vision and on ‘Greatest Showman’ we really worked with [director] Michael Gracey over a period of three years developing these songs, throwing songs out and writing new songs, a more old fashioned approach to building a musical from the ground up,” Paul said.
The duo also talked about finding inspiration in “This is Me” singer Keala Settle, who started as more of background character before becoming the bearded lady and delivering the film’s signature song.
“For us, [writing] is really inspired by character and the character in this film is the bearded lady and this group of oddities, and that actor that plays her, who is Keala, and she has such a guts and a ferocity about her and that’s what inspired the song,” Pasek said. “It’s a song about identity and she really represents what the message is about.”
Stinson shared her inspiration for writing “Mighty River” as well. She added that she had performed on stage with Common during their 2015 Oscar rendition of “Glory,” and was so inspired by the experience she vowed to write her own song to be back in that room. For “Mudbound,” she said she needed to create a song that balanced the intensity of the film.
“If you’ve seen ‘Mudbound,’ you know the heaviness of it,” she said. “Just wanting to clean the palate because the movie was so heavy, you want to leave with something that’s a little bit more redemptive, a little bit more forgiving and hopefully setting us on the right path.”