The Oscar-nominated song from “Marshall,” “Stand Up For Something,” composed by Diane Warren and Common, has become a Trump era anthem for social justice, adopted by #MeToo, #TimesUp, the ACLU, and the National Women’s Law Center, among others.
But it’s more of a hopeful call to action in the spirit of ’60s soul music rather than a protest song. “It’s coming from another era but it’s a modern song,” said Warren, the nine-time Oscar nominee in search of her first win to accompany her Grammy and Emmy. “And when Common’s on there, it’s like a mash-up of these genres and decades of music.”
Common (an Oscar winner for “Glory” from “Selma”) said he was inspired to write from the heart. “And I just hope the song inspires hope and to be better human beings so we can better the world for each other,” he added.
A Fateful Flight to Sundance
But it was serendipity that brought Warren together with Common when they bumped into each other on a plane bound for the Sundance Film Festival. Not a week before, she thought about contacting the rap artist/composer to collaborate with her. “I thought, ‘Wow,’ if Common was on this song and did some really cool rap, it would lift it and take it to a whole new place,” she said. “And there we were. It was all meant to be.”
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“I followed in her footsteps,” added Common, “and I was to be able to create something that was simple, beautiful, and of the time. And to be able to stand up and perform [with Andra Day], it’s the best of both worlds as an artist.”
A Bridge to the Past
Warren first came up with the song title when reading the script to “Marshall,” starring Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall during his successful tenure as an NACCP lawyer before becoming the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Then she listened to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and Aretha Franklin’s “People Get Ready” for inspiration.
“I wanted to get that energy from those songs that really want to make you change the world,” Warren said. “That whole chorus just came, every melody and chord, and I just channeled it: ‘It all means nothing if you don’t stand up for something/You can’t just talk the talk/You got to walk that walk.'”
But Warren admitted that it wasn’t an easy song to sing. “And Andra complained about too many words, but once you could nail them, it’s really cool,” she waid. “And then I could hear Aretha Franklin hanging on the bridge and that’s the way Andra did it.”
The Power of Love
For Common, it was important to nail the simplicity because he has a tendency to “write like a jazz artist, going all over the place.” But his proudest lyrical contribution was: “Let the ways of love be the ways of man.”
“By that, I mean men and women,” he said. “Love will overcome the hate, the ignorance, and I’m talking about the action part of love, too. ”
And speaking of serendipity, Warren first thought of Day for the song before she even realized that she appeared in “Marshall” as a Billie Holiday-type singer. “That’s another meant to be thing,” she said. “Crazy, right?”