Diane Warren and Anna Netrebko Named 2020 Polar Music Prize Laureates

Anna Netrebko
Kirk Edwards

Anna Netrebko

Songwriter extraordinaire Diane Warren and operatic prima donna Anna Netrebko have been named the Laureates for the 2020 Polar Music Prize, to be presented in a ceremony at the Grand Hotel on June 9. The announcement was made Tuesday morning (Feb. 11) at Stockholm City Hall by Alfons Karabuda, chairman of the Polar Music Prize award committee.

Warren, who has perfected the art of writing power ballads, has topped the Billboard Hot 100 nine times, with hits like "Unbreak My Heart" by Toni Braxton, "Look Away" by Chicago and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith. That last title is one of 11 Oscar-nominated songs written by Warren over four decades, starting with Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" from Mannequin in 1988 to Chrissy Metz's "I'll Stand by You" from Breakthrough in 2020. "I'm the most nominated woman in Oscar history to not win one," Warren tells Billboard. "It'd be great to win," she acknowledged shortly before the Academy Award for best original song was presented to Elton John and Bernie Taupin on Sunday (Feb. 9). Despite her Academy Award fortunes, Warren has won many awards during her lifetime, including a Grammy, an Emmy and a Golden Globe as well as numerous writing awards from ASCAP and an Ivor Novello Award in the U.K. She is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Kwaku Alston for
Diane Warren

Warren is the first female non-performing songwriter to be named a Laureate of the Polar Music Prize in its 29-year history. The only other awardees who are primarily songwriters are Burt Bacharach (in 2001) and Max Martin (in 2016).

Netrebko was born in Krasnodar, Russia, and studied vocal performance at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. She was 22 when she made her stage debut. She has portrayed many of opera's most iconic heroines on stage and has performed all over the world. She will reprise her starring role as Puccini's volatile diva in Tosca at the New York Metropolitan Opera for five performances in March and April.

Warren says she was shocked when she first heard that she was being awarded this year's Polar Music Prize. "I looked it up and it's been given to Quincy Jones and Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and Ray Charles and I'm thinking, 'Whoa, I'm on that list?' I was blown away."

Warren will be traveling to Sweden for the first time to receive her award at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. "I've always wanted to go to Sweden and what a cool way to go."

The Polar Music Prize was founded in 1989 by Stig "Stikkan" Anderson, the manager and music publisher of ABBA. A well-known lyricist, he also was the co-writer on many of their early hits. The prize was first presented in 1992. Anderson died in 1997; his family has guided the prize ever since. Marie Ledin, managing director of the Prize and Anderson's daughter, said of this year's awardees, "I am delighted that the 2020 Polar Music Prize Laureates are Anna Netrebko and Diane Warren, two impressive, supremely talented women, who are both at the top of their respective professions and are also super smart businesswomen."

The prestigious prize carries individual cash awards of one million Swedish kronor ($103,652). Previous winners of the Polar Music Prize include Sting, Elton John, Ravi Shankar, Metallica, Ennio Morricone, Led Zeppelin, Renée Fleming, Grandmaster Flash, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Isaac Stern, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Sonny Rollins, Gilberto Gil, B.B. King, Emmylou Harris, Yo-Yo Ma, Miriam Makeba, Björk, Wayne Shorter, Patti Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Youssou N'Dour and Chuck Berry. The prize is traditionally given to one person from the pop world and one from the classical or jazz genre.