Best Original Song Oscar Reactions From Diane Warren & Gillian Welch, Plus 'Mary Poppins Returns' Songwriters on Making Emily Blunt Cry

Mary Poppins Returns
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Photofest

Mary Poppins Returns 

The contenders for this year's Academy Award for best original song encompass both a comic book superhero from Black Panther and a real-life superhero in RBG, a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

With her Oscar nomination for best actress and best original song from A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga becomes only the second artist, following Mary J. Blige last year, to be nominated in both categories for the same film. Lady Gaga co-wrote "Shallow" with Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt, while fellow pop star Kendrick Lamar and SZA also snagged a nomination for co-writing Black Panther's "All the Stars" with  Mark Spears and Anthony Tiffith. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman earned a nomination for the touching ballad "The Place Where Lost Things Go" from Mary Poppins Returns, while Diane Warren landed her 10th nod for RBG's "I'll Fight" and Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch garnered their first entry with  "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Billboard talked with several of the nominees on Tuesday (Jan. 22).

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, "The Place Where Lost Things Go" (Mary Poppins Returns)
Oscar nominations may be old hat for Shaiman -- he’s been nominated five times before -- but “it’s brand-new for me,” Wittman tells Billboard. “I haven’t slept in a couple of days. I’m just glad to fly on Emily [Blunt]'s kite strings here. She had a lot to do with putting the song over.” The song took its inspiration from the idea in a book by Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers that the man in the moon is Mary Poppins’ uncle and he keeps all the lost objects on the dark side of the moon. “Scott remembered that. We knew from working with [director] Rob [Marshall] and screenwriter David Magee the importance of this moment,” Shaiman says. “How do you sing to children about the loss of their mother and still soothe them? We came up with that title, and it all made sense.” The song, which serves as an emotional touchstone in the film, even brought Blunt to tears. “When we were writing, we had Emily here with us,” Wittman says. “She would come over and we would try it out on her. She had just had a baby, so she could barely get through the song without crying. It took her many a try, but she understood the language perfectly.”

Diane Warren, “I’ll Fight” (RBG)
“It never gets old, I’m not at all jaded,” Warren says of landing her 10th best original song Oscar nomination for “I’ll Fight,” from the documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For the third year, Warren hosted a “sleepless sleepover,” with 20 friends spending the night, eating pizza and staying up all night to watch the 5:30 a.m. PT nominations. Though Warren says her songwriting process is the same whether writing for a real or fictional character, in penning “I’ll Fight,” performed by Jennifer Hudson, “I wanted to create something that was in RBG’s voice -- you know how her mom always taught her to speak softly and yet she speaks so loud. Everything she does, her voice carries, so I wanted to write a song that could talk about that because she’s been fighting for us forever. It’s an honor to be associated with her in any way. Then Jennifer Hudson is like her vocal avatar,” Warren says. The songwriter has yet to meet Ginsburg. “There was a screening that Gloria Steinem did in New York City about a month and a half ago and she was supposed to come, but she was caught in traffic and had another event she had to go to. I haven’t met her yet. I’m hoping to.”

David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
“I got buried in a bunch of text messages and phone calls,” says Welch, revealing how she learned that she and Rawlings had earned their first Oscar nomination for the Coen Brothers' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. “How do we find out anything these days? My phone started blowing up.” Joel Coen reached out to the pair with specific instructions for the twangy tune. “He said they needed a duet between two singing cowboys, one the more established one and one the younger, faster, better-looking sweeter singer, and that the duet needed to be sung between them once one of them is dead,” Welch recalls. “We love a challenge. We put a bunch of yodeling in there, but the main thing we had to come up with the idea for the song: ‘When a cowboy trades his spurs for wings.’ I kind of came up with that basic idea [while we were] driving across New Mexico on a cross-country trip. I ran it by Dave. It seemed to fit and we started working on it.” On a trip back west, Welch and Rawlings played it for Joel Coen, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. “He really liked it. I don’t know if he was expecting the yodeling,” Welch says. “All he said after we played it for him was ‘It’s perfect.’ We laughed and talked for a minute and he said, ‘Will you play it again?’"

2019 Academy Awards