Diane Warren has an unmatched reputation for composing ear worms for movies. With “Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights,” she has returned to the Oscar race with her seventh nomination after a 13-year absence. HitFix recently spoke to her about work on that film, her previous nominated songs and her return to the race.
HitFix: What”s it like to be back in the Oscar race?
Diane Warren: It”s awesome. I love it. There have been songs I”ve done since [my last nomination] – I wrote a song for Cher, “You Haven”t Seen the Last of Me,” that won the Golden Globe. It didn”t get nominated [for the Oscar] and I thought it would. This year, the night before the nominations, I thought, “There”s no chance. Look at the list of superstars.” No one really saw this movie, as amazing as it is, but I kind of pushed on my own because I take matters into my own hands. But still, after all that, I thought, “I”m not going to wake up at 5:30.” But 5:30, I got up, and I started getting emails and texts and I was like, “Are you kidding me!?” I was lying in bed with my cat and I flew out and my cat flew with me!
How did you end up composing original songs for films?
A lot of things I do are for movies but a lot of things I do aren”t for movies. When I was a kid, my Dad said he would support me if I went to college. I didn”t want to go to college so I took a bunch of film courses at college in California. I sat at the back of class watching these amazing movies and knew that”s what I wanted to do.
Does your approach change depending on who is singing the song?
I always just try to write a great song. None of these songs I”ve been nominated for did I know who I was writing for. A great song can be sung by different artists.
What was your first Oscar nomination like for “Mannequin?”
It was a long time ago and it was the only one I didn”t write myself; I had a co-composer. How do you get inspired to write a song about a guy that”s in love with a mannequin and that”s the movie”s story?? I never saw it coming as a “classic.” I never thought of that at all. Another one like that was “Coyote Ugly” – it”s become a kind of cult classic and I never saw that coming.
Did you expect any of your songs had the potential to be massive hits? How about “I Don”t Want to Miss A Thing” in particular?
I knew that was possible but a lot has to happen for that to be the case. With Aerosmith, I got so lucky. Kathy Nelson was a good friend of mine and suggested Aerosmith sing the song. I never thought it was going to happen. They had never done a song they didn”t at least co-write (except “Come Together,” a Beatles song). I was shocked when they decided to do the song. I was sitting at the piano, teaching Steven Tyler to sing the song, hearing that voice, and I never thought that would happen…I didn”t write it for them!
What about “How Do I Live” from “Con Air?” That was the year that “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic” won…
That was the year that everybody went to the Oscars and, though I don”t drink much, we all could have gotten drunk. Nothing against that movie was going to win. There was definitely mock surprise from Madonna when she opened the envelope. The funny thing is Trisha Yearwood sang [“How Do I Live”] in the movie and Leanne Rimes had a pop hit and Trisha had a #1 Country track. It sold close to 50,000,000 singles. It had all these lives to it, that song. Both [the Yearwood and Rimes versions] were examples of records/artist companies being smart – that”s what having that “Oscar moment” does for a song.
What inspired you to write “Grateful?”
Seeing this movie! A friend of mine had told me about it and said, “You”re going to get an Oscar for this. It”ll be the one.” I saw the movie and I loved it and I thought, after all [the character] goes through, she finally finds who she is, and that inspired me to write “Grateful.” The thing is, when I do a song for a movie, it has to resonate first and foremost for that movie. But I want people to embrace it [outside the movie] as well.
How would you compare it to other songs you”ve been nominated for?
I think it”s as good as any of these songs. I love this song, what it says, its point of view. You can go through the worst shit imaginable in your life but you can still be grateful.