“Til It Happens To You,” Lady Gaga’s new song recorded for the documentary The Hunting Ground, has struck a nerve: the affecting ballad, which soundtracks a film focusing on the rape epidemic on U.S. college campuses, has accrued 10 million YouTube views in less than a week. The song was penned by legendary songwriter Diane Warren, who tells Billboard that “Til It Happens To You” once again demonstrates Gaga’s under-heralded vocal charisma, following her powerhouse performance at the Academy Awards earlier this year.
“She’s one of the best artists I’ve ever worked with,” says Warren. “A song like this, she brings her artistry to it. What she’s proven with these other things she’s done is that she doesn’t have to wear a meat dress to get attention. That stuff is cool because that’s who she is, but she doesn’t need it, because she has so much raw fucking talent.”
Warren — best known for writing smashes like Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart,” LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — wrote “Til It Happens To You” for The Hunting Ground and thought that Gaga would be the perfect person to deliver the vocals. During an interview with Howard Stern last December, Gaga revealed that she had been a victim of sexual assault at the age of 19.
“I played [Gaga] the song and she was basically in tears,” Warren recalls. “It really affected her, and she loved it. I flew to New York and we went in the studio, and it was one of those lifetime experiences, hearing her bring the song to life and putting so much of her heart and soul into it.”
Warren continues that Gaga’s vocal take is a “master class in performance” and mirrors the trajectories of the assault victims in the documentary. “In the first verse, she’s so vulnerable — it’s almost like in the movie, these girls start out as victims and they become survivors and then they become activists,” she says. “As she’s getting into that second verse, it’s like she’s getting mad and becoming a survivor. At the end, she’s so victorious and strong.”
Gaga’s “Til It Happens To You” video does not feature an appearance by the pop star, but the song could make a big splash on the Hot 100 chart thanks in part to its millions of YouTube views since its Sept. 17 release (proceeds from the song will also be donated to organization aiding sexual assault victims). Warren says the song is already getting a strong reaction.
“I’ve never gotten so many people calling me and texting me about how this song has moved them before,” says Warren. “It’s never happened to me, and I’ve written a lot of songs.”
Gaga has yet to announce the full-length follow-up to her Tony Bennett duets album Cheek To Cheek, but Warren says she’d love to be on board for the singer’s next project. “We have talked about [collaborating further], so hopefully that will happen,” says the songwriter. “I’d love to do that. And she can go anywhere from here.”