“I’m still blown away. It hasn’t hit me yet. It hit me like, ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m getting an Oscar,’ but I think the night of the event, it’s gonna really be emotional. I mean, it was emotional when I found out. I cried when I heard about it,” said Warren during an interview with IndieWire in her Hollywood recording studio.
The songwriter has built up enough of a reputation at the Oscars, famously going zero for 13 in the Best Original Song category. It’s a feat she’s still proud of because “it’s pretty hard to get nominated for an Academy Award,” but the honorary Oscar she is being given this year sets her apart as the first songwriter to ever win.
“I’m the fourth music person now, too,” she said. “But the first songwriter, so that makes it even more amazing than it is. It’s gonna be the biggest, most incredible night of my life.”
Reflecting on her Oscars past, specifically the five nominations she received from 1997 to 2002, Warren can see that there may have been an issue with her songs outshining, or becoming disassociated from, the films they were written for. Sure, people can easily recall “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” scoring the blockbuster “Armageddon,” but few remember that Celine Dion’s timeless ballad “Because You Loved Me” was actually written for the Robert Redford-Michelle Pfeiffer romance “Up Close & Personal.” And “How Do I Live” by Leann Rimes is a record-breaking hit that transcended its ties to “Con Air.”
Though she jumped back onto the Academy’s radar in 2015 with “Grateful,” her song for “Beyond the Lights,” Warren has still become a little more savvy about choosing which artists she works with for her Best Original Song hopefuls. Now she only wants to make music that raises the profiles of the films it was written for. She uses “‘Til It Happens to You,” performed by Lady Gaga, as an example.
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“Not a lot of people saw that documentary, ‘The Hunting Ground,’ but a lot of people did hear the song. Actually, that got more people seeing the movie, and then that helped get the #MeToo movement happening. But that song was definitely bigger than the movie,” she said of the song written for the film exposing the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, and the institutional cover-ups. “I cast the artist to do the song, to be part of the movie. So [it’s] almost like they’re another character. Gaga, when I went to her with the song, I had just heard that she had been raped. She had done a Howard Stern interview. So I thought she was authentic to what that song was needed for in that movie. And I also thought she would sing the shit out of it, which she did.”
Warren also sees that project as the closest she’s ever come to getting the competitive Oscar. “I was actually really bummed out that night. Because that’s the one where everybody predicted ‘Yeah, it’s winning,’” said the songwriter, looking back at the 2016 ceremony. When Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes won instead for their James Bond “Spectre” theme “Writing’s on the Wall,” time froze.
“I don’t know if it was in my head or what but people that were in the press room told me it was like that. That everybody was like, ‘What?’ I think people were shocked,” said Warren. “Especially after [Lady Gaga’s] performance. That was like one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. All the survivors, and her, she was hitting these notes and, man, that was great. It was great. It was brilliant. Yeah, it’s like people [went] ‘Can I have my vote back after that performance?’”
It would take only three years for her “‘Til It Happens to You” collaborator to come back and win the Best Original Song Oscar for “Shallow” from “A Star is Born.” In terms of Gaga putting more emphasis on her film work after the 2016 Oscars, “I think my song kind of played a big part of that,” said Warren. “It’s cool to write a song that can make a difference in someone’s life. And I would say that certainly made a difference in Gaga’s life.”
That said, Warren is not backing down from the Best Original Song race just because the Academy is finally giving her an award. This year her contender is titled “Applause,” written for the anthology film “Tell It Like A Woman” and performed by “Descendants” star Sofia Carson. “The funny thing is, I happened to be in this room working on [Carson’s] vocals when my phone rang. And I went out and it was Dawn Hudson from the Academy telling me [I won an honorary Oscar], so the song is ‘Give yourself some applause,’ and here I am. It was like ‘OK, I’m gonna give myself some applause for a second, I’ll stop for one second,’” said Warren.
It is as if the self-deprecating songwriter was producing the exact track she needed to hear. “It’s a cool message that you just gotta give yourself some love sometimes, and self respect, and not beat the shit out of yourself, which is what I constantly do, and will do.”
Even as she makes the annual rounds, she already has more film work lined up for 2023, including working on more studio projects, though she emphasized “I’m proud of all the songs I’ve done. And I’m happy that they were in the movies that they were in, even if they weren’t the biggest movies.” If her upswing continues, some of the next projects Warren would like to work on are a song for a Steven Spielberg film (“We’ve talked about it, so I hope someday that happens”) and the soundtrack for a sequel to “Coyote Ugly,” one of her greatest successes, should that ever be officially greenlit (“I’m putting that out in the universe. It should be done. And everybody’s in. All the actors want to do it.”).
As surreal as the journey leading up to being honored at this year’s Governors Awards has been, Warren has enjoyed every step. “It’s about longevity. My first nomination was in 1988 with ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.’ My latest one was in 2022. What am I going to complain about? 34 years and I’m getting an Oscar, and I feel like I’m just beginning,” said the music icon. Talking about the Oscar statues ahead of her, both competitive and honorary, Warren added, “I’m still gonna try for that other one so it gets a friend, so it doesn’t get lonely.”