“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.” For those who have seen Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” those words might resonate with you in one way or another. For those who haven’t seen the musical, there may be spoilers ahead.
In an interview with Hrishikesh Hirway’s podcast Song Exploder, “La La Land” composer Justin Hurwitz and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul break down Emma Stone’s pivotal and passionate scene where she performs the song “Audition,” and how she had to do the whole performance in one take.
“This is not a studio vocal. Emma was not lip-syncing. She was singing it live on set. I was accompanying her on piano, letting her lead the song and take the space she needed to act it,” Hurwitz revealed. “Because I was letting Emma lead the song, I was reacting to her. So a lot of times the piano is a little bit behind the vocal. It sounded like a recital or something where you know the singer is leading it and the piano is there to accompany. That’s what happens when two people make music together; things are not perfectly in sync.”
“La La Land” follows Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress who struggles to make it in Hollywood. Audition after audition, she’s loses motivation and is at the brink of quitting her dreams until she gets one huge opportunity.
“In this audition, she starts talking about an aunt of hers who inspired her to be an actress, who never gave up on her art and always dreamed big,” he explained. “So this song, it’s about this aunt, but it also has this larger theme about dreamers. I went through so many versions of melodies for other songs and pieces of material, but this one came out very easily. And I think that’s because I really connected to the idea of being a frustrated artist, having these dreams.”
“Audition” was the last song Hurwitz composed for the film because he “wanted to understand what the rest of the music was” before he tackled it. He also changed the way the track begins and made it so that the scene slowly bleeds from speech to song.
“The song proper starts when she says, ‘barefoot, she smiled.’ When I first composed that, those were notes, they had pitches,” he explained. “But as we started thinking about actually making the scene, we were rehearsing it with Emma, and Damien was thinking about how the scene was going to be shaped. It became clear that those needed to actually kind of be pitchless; she needed to slip into song.”
The song means a lot to Hurwitz and is exactly what he envisioned for the scene.
“When Damien and I first started developing this, we had this musical we wanted to make. Nobody was letting us make it,” he expressed. “We were so passionate about it and there didn’t seem to be a path to realize that dream of making ‘La La Land.’ So we were feeling a lot of the same things that the characters in this movie are feeling…I still feel like a dreamer. I don’t feel accomplished yet, really. I don’t feel like I’ve arrived. I’d like to think that will always be the case because if I stop feeling like a dreamer, then I don’t think my music is going to be very good.”
Listen to the full Song Exploder podcast below, via Vulture, as well as Stone singing “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).”
“La La Land” is now in theaters.