“Every nominee, from every movie was there. The guy producing the show (David Hill) stopped the lunch and said, ‘I’ve produced Super Bowls before. I want to give a shout out to Lady Gaga who sang the best version of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ I’ve heard in my life!’” recalls Warren.
The Grammy Award-winning songwriter turns to Gaga, “You were on pitch!” Gaga takes it all in with wide eyed amazement, as though it’s all news to her. Indeed, Gaga excelled at the Big Game. If there’s one blemish a pop star tries to avoid, it’s botching the National Anthem at an event viewed by 112 million people. Look no further than the 2011 Super Bowl when Christina Aguilera wailed “The Star Spangled Banner” to such an absurd extreme, it could have sent a herd of moose running.
“I get a thrill out of pushing the envelope, but I also get a true rush by honoring the classics. I like to bring a little bit of the past into the future,” says Gaga reflecting on the stellar performance she gave only 24 hours prior. The trick to pulling the perfect National Anthem off? Gaga instructed the Super Bowl technicians, “No matter what happens, I don’t care how amazing that crowd sounds, don’t put the sound of them in my ears. If they get too loud, I won’t be able to hear the piano or my pitch.”
Since picking up a Golden Globe actress win for her turn in FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel, it has been the awards season of Gaga, capped off by her first Oscar nomination for the song “Til It Happens to You,” which she co-wrote with eight-time Oscar nominated songwriter Warren for Kirby Dick’s feature documentary The Hunting Ground.
There’s a very good chance that the song, which is an anthem for sexual assault survivors, could win. Academy voters have a history of recognizing songs attached to socially conscious films, and The Hunting Ground explores the injustices faced by college sexual assault victims in the U.S. university system.
You could say that Gaga’s journey to the Oscars literally started last year, when she floored Academy members with her sublime performance of “The Sound of Music” during the Oscarcast. Following the Globes, Gaga’s PR machine kicked into high gear: She performed at the Super Bowl, paid tribute to David Bowie at the Grammys, appeared at New York Fashion Week, and was recently honored with Warren at the 2016 Los Angeles, Italia Film Festival.
A win for “Til It Happens to You” would give Warren her first, well-deserved trophy since her first nomination 29 years ago for the 1987 top 40 hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from the romantic comedy Mannequin. That was an era when the Academy embraced pop tunes, read winners like Stevie Wonder’s ”I Just Called To Say I Love You” from The Woman in Red and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun. During the millennium, the music branch’s attitude toward pop fare changed, putting restrictions on end credit songs and lauding eclectic tunes that truly jibed with their cinematic elements, i.e. “Falling Slowly” from the Fox Searchlight Irish musical indie Once, or “Al Otro lado del rio” from The Motorcycle Diaries. However, in the last three years, pop songs have been breaking through with such winners as “Glory” by John Legend and Common for Selma, “Let It Go” from Frozen and Adele’s 007 theme “Skyfall”.
Below is the video for Lady Gaga and Diane Warren’s “Til It Happens to You”:
Gaga and Warren have yearned to work together for some time. Warren specifically recalls being moved by Gaga’s cover of “You’ve Got a Friend” at a MusiCares Carole King tribute last year. For Gaga, Warren writes the songs that the whole world sings. On penning notes besides Warren, Gaga says bluntly “She doesn’t really co-write with anyone. She’s very her way about things. She’ll tell you ‘This is the melody exactly, this is the chorus, this is the dynamic.’”
Warren was approached by music supervisor Bonnie Greenberg, who was looking for a song in The Hunting Ground. Warren was moved by the girls’ stories in the doc, and realized that the only person who could perform this song would be Lady Gaga. Their collaboration on “Til It Happens to You” has been a cathartic experience for both of them; about two women standing strong: Gaga was raped at 19 while Warren was a victim of child molestation. Throughout their press tour, it’s not unusual for the two of them to break down in tears when discussing the song’s significance.
“Working on this with Diane has helped me relive all of this in a bad way at first. It’s healing, but it’s like a wound that has to crack and be messed up before it heals. I would never have done this without Diane. I would never be able to face it by myself and sing somebody else’s song. It had to be something that I believed in to my core,” explains Gaga.
The twosome enjoyed working together so much, they’re even writing songs together for Gaga’s forthcoming album.
During the course of the last month, Gaga has made a point in her interviews to specify her contributions to the song. Quite often, critics gripe that an Oscar contending song will hook itself onto a performance artist’s image in an effort to boost itself on the ballot. Shortly after being nominated, Gaga came under fire on Twitter by songwriter Linda Perry who ranted that the singer only contributed a few words to “Til It Happens to You.” Perry claimed that she heard Warren’s original demo. Soon after, Perry apologized to Gaga on Twitter: “My sincere apologies. I made a mistake to comment. I wasn’t in the room when the #TIHTY was being written…I wish the focus to remain on the great importance of the song and the message of the film.”
According to Gaga and Warren, the latter wrote the first pass on “Til It Happens to You” and gave it a title among other future adjustments.
“I loved the song, but I didn’t relate to it at first. It didn’t feel complicated to me in the melody, like it went to a sour place,” said Gaga. “It was headed toward being a great pop song. But I wanted it to be something more authentic; a complicated journey with a narrative.”
“I wanted to create falling and jumping,” says Gaga as she sings verses during the interview in a rear conference room at the Beverly Hilton. “Cause when you fall, you gotta get up, you gotta get up and move. Because that’s what the lyrics are doing.”
“I take people down a rabbit hole and wait till it’s done,” she adds about her songwriting process. “I wanted the song to be triumphant. The intent was picking it up and adding some hooks”.
“My biggest contribution was in the chorus because I wanted it to move more. It felt too sad. I didn’t want the phrase to become mundane. It was important to end on ‘How I feel’ rather than ‘How it feels,’” recaps Gaga on her blood, sweat and tears with the anthem.
“She fought me tooth and nail,” replies Warren about their back and forth in writing.
The song has truly touched a nerve with survivors who’ve been approaching the two at events with their stories. “That’s why we did this,” says Gaga about the song. As such, it’s really not about winning on Sunday for the singer.
“Everyone says ‘Oh, an Oscar nomination.’ It’s not about that for me at all. Of course, it’s cool. The Oscars nominated this issue by nominating this song. Now the issue has the media talking about it, hopefully in a way I believe it deserves to be talked about. We can reach more people. When an organization like The Academy that believes in talent says ‘We care about you.’ That means that message is not just sent to me and Diane, but to people that hear the song and who went through something like this.”