In tune with the Oscars

The composers & lyricists behind some the year’s most talked about movie tunes discuss their motivation and their aesthetic, often singing the praises of their collaborators in the process.

photos/_specials_arts/EOOMusic_100chart_Avril-Lavigne-2col.jpg” hspace=”3″ vspace=”3″ align=”left”>“Alice in Wonderland”
“Alice,” music & lyrics by Avril Lavigne, performed by Lavigne
Oscar pedigree: None
How the song is used: During end titles
In Levine’s own words:“I am a huge fan of Tim Burton and really wanted to be a part of this film, so I approached Tim about writing a song and was excited that he agreed. It’s inspired by Alice’s experience in Wonderland. I wanted the song to represent that, and so it’s a bit darker, but also captures her curiosity and strength.”


“Burlesque”
“Bound to You,” music & lyrics by Sia Furler, co-written with Samuel Dixon; performed by Christina Aguilera
Oscar pedigree: None
How the song is used: Ali (Christina Aguilera) sings about her love interest in the film (Cam Gigandet.)
In Furler’s words: “My favorite song Christina ever sang was ‘Beautiful,’ and every time I write a song for her, I want it to be as good as ‘Beautiful.’ I just love when Christina sings the kind of throwback ballads like this. Here her character is at a crossroads. It’s about referencing the character’s history, and that’s the fun part. It’s my fun game of Scrabble with music.”


“Burlesque”
“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” music & lyrics by Diane Warren; performed by Cher
Oscar pedigree: Six noms
How the song is used: Tess (Cher) sings the power ballad after being told she’s going to lose her club.
In Warren’s words: “It’s her (Tess) being defiant. It’s Cher, really. It taps into who she is as a person; she’s 64 and better than ever. She’s better than 20-year-olds. We won’t see the last of her. She’ll be 100 and be singing songs.”


“The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader”
“There’s a Place for Us,” co-written by Carrie Underwood, Hillary Lindsey and David Hodges; performed by Underwood
Oscar pedigree: None
How the song is used: Plays in the last scene of the film (as the characters leave Narnia) and through the end credits.
In Underwood’s words:“We wanted the song to basically sum up the ideals of the movie — that we can all be more than what we and others think we can be. Sometimes things get tough, but in the end, we can all find the place where we truly belong. (My co-writers and I) used the movie to draw out feelings and experiences we have had in our lives.”


“For Colored Girls”
“La Donna in Viola,” music by Aaron Zigman, lyrics by Ntozake Shange; performed by Karen Slack
Oscar pedigree: None
How used in film: Jo (Janet Jackson) attends an opera performance; intercut with the date rape of Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose).
In Zigman’s words:Zigman penned a four-minute operatic aria, based on Shange’s poetry, and had it translated into Italian prior to shooting. “After the table reading, Tyler (director Perry) looked at me and said, ‘I want you to write an aria in Italian.’ So I went home that day and came up with the main theme. That became the central theme of the movie. (The text) is about women surrounding another woman with love through her travails.”


“Country Strong”
“Coming Home,” co-written by Tom Douglas, Bob DiPiero, Hillary Lindsey and Troy Verges; performed by Gwyneth Paltrow
Oscar pedigree: None
How the song is used: Kelly Canter (Paltrow) returns to Dallas, the site of her breakdown.
In Douglas’ words: “I think Nashville really took ownership in this movie: We all felt a real responsibility to deliver great songs. The last thing we would want is for them to make a movie like this and the songs to be lame.”


“How to Train Your Dragon”
“Sticks and Stones,” music & lyrics by Jonsi
Oscar pedigree: None
How used in film: Under end titles
In Jonsi’s words: “I was just asked to write something uplifting, energetic, powerful and climactic. If I’ve achieved that then I guess it reflects the movie. I saw the movie once when it was almost finished and took notes in the theatre for some lyrical ideas. Then in the plane on the way home to Iceland I got the basic idea for melody in my head and recorded it into my iPhone.”


“127 Hours”
“If I Rise,” music & lyrics by A.R. Rahman; performed by Dido
Oscar pedigree: Nominated for three Oscars, won two
How the song is used: Plays when Aron (James Franco) is near death, having been trapped in a crevasse for days.
In Rahman’s words: “The song is when he loses all hope — (then) the whole mind set changes for him to cut off his arm and be liberated. We tried to have no audible words in it; we wanted to create just a serene feel. Danny wanted it to be very sensitive, and didn’t want the words to distract, but at the same time there needs to be a song.”


“Tangled”
“I See the Light,” music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater; performed by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi
Oscar pedigree: Eight Oscar wins, 10 other noms (Menken); none (Slater)
How the song is used: Rapunzel and Flynn, in a boat outside the castle where lanterns fill the night sky, realize their love for each other.
In Menken’s words: “It’s that classic moment which usually occurs about two-thirds of the way through an animated musical, when the love story is completed or acknowledged for the first time. It is essentially an accompaniment to stunningly beautiful animation. It was harder than I’d imagined, because this kind of ballad carries with it so much of the expectations of everyone involved.”


“Toy Story 3″
“We Belong Together,” music & lyrics by Randy Newman; performed by Newman
Oscar pedigree: One Oscar, 18 other noms
How the song is used: Under end titles, as we watch the toys in their new homes.
In Newman’s words: Newman envisioned his upbeat tune as being sung by a duo, “but Lee (Unkrich, the director) wanted my voice. It’s an affirmation of friendship and affection, sort of a love song, in a way. There’s a final feeling that everyone knew where they belonged.”


“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
“Eclipse (All Yours),” music & lyrics by Howard Shore, Emily Haines and James Shaw; performed by Metric
Oscar pedigree: Three Oscars (Shore), none (Haines, Shaw)
How the song is used: During end titles
In Shore’s words: “(The song) grew out of a piece that I originally created for the score. As I was writing with Emily and James (of Metric) and ideas would come up for the song — a particular color or even compositionally — I could then incorporate them instrumentally into the score. I love working with young musicians. I like their energy.”


“Waiting for Superman”
“Shine,” music & lyrics by John Legend; performed by Legend and the Roots
Oscar pedigree: None
How the song is used: Plays during the end credits
In Legend’s words: “The most present thought in my mind when writing the song was the children in the film, and I think that’s the power of the film — that these are real children whose lives are being affected. (The movie) is partly happy, but really sad. I wanted to reflect that balance between melancholy and optimism. That’s why the verses are more somber, and the chorus is more hopeful. I wanted to walk that fine line.”


“Why Did I Get Married Too?”
“Nothing,” co-written by Janet Jackson, Jermaine Dupri, Johnta Austin and Bryan Michael-Cox; performed by Jackson
Awards pedigree: One nom
How the song is used: Plays during the end credits.
In Jackson’s words: “I tried to write at least half a verse to each couple from the movie. It was tricky to make it all flow. The film is so heavy and so deep, and hearing the melody flow through strings gives the feeling of being very sad. But lyrically, it’s a very hopeful song. It’s a classic song about relationships — about communication, trust, and how you don’t know what the future holds. It’s about fix this now — you love one another, don’t bicker.”



Get more from Eye on the Oscars: Music:
Music branch can’t please all the people | Song category hangs by thread | Daft Punk immersed in ‘Tron’ | Songs in contention
Contenders:
Michael Brook | Carter Burwell | Danny Elfman | Grizzly Bear | Jan Kaczmarek | Rachel Portman | Anton Sanko

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more