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Pop Shop Podcast: Diane Warren Recalls the 'Gift' & 'Torture' of Writing Oscar-Nominated Song 'Stand Up for Something'

Diane Warren
Rochelle Brodin

Diane Warren

"I knew what I wanted to say, and I didn't know how to get to it," she says of perfecting the song from the movie "Marshall," garnering her ninth Academy Award nomination.

Welcome to the new episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, your one-stop-shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. In addition, you can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop.

Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard co-director of charts Keith Caulfield and Billboard deputy editor, digital, Katie Atkinson, every week on the Pop Shop Podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in iTunes. (Click here to listen to the previous Tuesday’s edition of the show on Billboard.com).

On the latest show, the chart-topping songwriter Diane Warren joins us to talk about her Academy Award-nominated song “Stand Up for Something.” (Listen to the conversation, below.) Warren and Common wrote the track for the biographical film Marshall, which focuses on an early legal case of the trailblazing lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who would eventually become the first African-American Supreme Court justice.

“Stand Up for Something” — which is performed by Andra Day featuring Common — nabbed Warren her ninth Oscar nomination, and Common his second. (Warren has yet to take home the Oscar, though Common previously won for writing “Glory,” with John Legend, for the film Selma.)

Warren — who has written 32 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, nine of which reached No. 1 — tells Billboard that after reading the script for Marshall, "I scribbled down ‘it all means nothing if you don't stand up for something.’” That lyric would eventually become the first words of the song’s chorus. “I kind of had a vision of the song I wanted to write for this. And I wanted to write a song that could have been sung by Sam Cooke. Like 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' or 'People Get Ready.' Those kinds of songs."

Warren says much of “Stand Up for Something” came to her immediately, calling it a “gift.” “I just sat down at the piano and that chorus, 'stand up for something' … That chorus wrote itself. That verse, musically and lyrically, that first verse wrote itself. That didn't take long. The rest of the song killed me. You know, getting those lyrics right, getting that second verse right was like... it was like torture. Because I knew what I wanted to say, and I didn't know how to get to it.”

After writing the song, she had an idea to bring Common on board for a guest rap on the track. Shortly afterwards, in a total coincidence, both Warren and Common (who already knew one another) ended up on the same plane together. Warren approached Common with the idea, and sang him the song in front of the other passengers (“those poor people,” she jokes). She says he loved it, and told her to “get me that as soon as you get off the plane.” Turns out, he was not only interested in the track, Warren says, Common told her “I have to be on this song. I have to be a part of this.”

Considering how Warren switches back and forth between film work and more traditional artist/album-oriented songwriting, is it harder to write music for film, in general? Or is it easier because she already has a destination in mind because the song has to be about the action in the film?

"It's the same process,” she says. “Writing a song, you get inspired whether it's by a movie or by something else. I've found I'm good at that. Here's how I look at it — I want to write the best song for that movie, and I want whoever sings that song to be almost like they are a character in that movie. Does that make sense?

“I love getting inspired by anything, but I love particularly getting inspired by a movie that really speaks to me. Like, seeing (Marshall), it really spoke to me.

“And here's another thing that I do when writing a song for a movie. That song has to be perfect within that movie. That's its main function. But if you do it right, it will have another equally great function outside of that movie."

Warren references the Oscar-nominated “Til It Happens To You,” as an example. It’s a song she wrote with Lady Gaga for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses.

“I wrote it about sexual assault, but I kept it open on purpose. ‘Til It Happens To You.’ (Warren emphasizes the “it” in the title.) And that's why people have embraced it. It could be bullying, it could be losing somebody. It could be going through whatever you go through. Where people go 'you know what? it's gonna be fine.' It's like, 'no, fuck that. no, it's not gonna be fine. Til it happens to you, you don't know how it feels.' Same with 'Stand Up for Something.' It's open."

Also in the chat with Warren, the writer discusses her work with such divas as Cher and Tina Turner and the interesting backstory to how her song “Don’t Turn Around” became a hit for Ace of Base.

In addition to the interview with Warren, the Pop Shop team dives into their own personal favorite Warren songs, along with big chart news about how Black Panther: The Album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and how Drake continues his reign at No. 1 on the Hot 100 with “God’s Plan.”

Listen above and click here to subscribe/rate the Pop Shop Podcast on iTunes.

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