Five of this year’s Oscar-nominated songwriters gathered to talk about their process during an hour-long conversation, moderated by Oscar-winning songwriter Paul Williams and Grammy-winning writer Nile Rodgers, released Monday morning by the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Four of the five nominated songs were represented. Participants included Chandrabose, lyricist for “Naatu Naatu” from Telugu-language “RRR”; Ludwig Göransson, co-composer of “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”; Diane Warren, for “Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman”; and Ryan Lott and David Byrne, two of the writers of “This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Chandrabose explained that “Naatu means very countryside, raw and rustic nature, nature that belongs. We have to take our local culture and local tradition to a global stage.”
He said that he and composer M.M. Keeravaani have been working together for 27 years (“he’s like my brother and my tutor”) and that they have written 400 songs together.
Their high-energy dance number was written in 6/8 at Keeravaani’s request, because “whenever this tempo comes, everybody will tap their leg to dance. That is the secret,” he added, although “the lyrics came first.”
He recalled coming up with the words in his car after a conversation with director S.S. Rajamouli. “I stopped my car, recorded six lines into my cell phone, came to my house, and within one hour I wrote 90% of the song.” Then, however, it took 19 months to record it properly and another 50 days to choreograph it as “the emotion of two small-town guys.”
“Lift Me Up,” Göransson said, originated as a brief musical motif in the first “Black Panther” movie, played by the kora, an African stringed instrument. “Since the movie is pretty much a tribute to Chadwick Boseman [who played the title character], the song is in honor and memory of him,” he started there with the music.
To the kora he added guitarrón and charango, mixing African and Mexican cultures – two key elements in the sequel – and encouraged director Ryan Coogler to write words to the tune. “Ryan came up with these lyrics, the chorus, something you could also sing as a lullaby. It’s summarizing the feelings that Shuri [Letitia Wright, playing Boseman’s sister] is going through. She’s held back by this grief, but it’s also overcoming that and figuring out how to deal with that, and eventually it’s lifting her up.”
The tune is actually heard three times in the score before reaching fruition as the end-title song performed by Rihanna.
Warren, now on her 14th competitive nomination (she recently won an honorary Oscar for her entire body of movie songwriting), explained that her movie was “about women’s stories and women’s struggles” and that she sought to write “a positive song about, after everything you go through as women, and as humans, you sometimes have to give yourself some f—ing applause for getting through this. So it really was a song that tied everything together.”
There are seven different stories in the film. “If you watch these stories, and at the end [the characters] get through them, it’s basically ‘applaud yourself, you’re strong.’ It works within that and it works outside of [the film].”
Warren said she chose singer Sofia Carson because “she’s beautiful, she’s strong and she’s a great singer. She is authentic to the message of this song and the message of the movie.”
Ryan Lott, whose band Son Lux scored “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” said he felt that, after “two hours of nonstop score,” they needed a song to conclude the film. They first reached out to Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski as she was one of co-director Daniel Kwan’s favorite artists.
“That’s when we said, OK, this needs to be a duet, and it’s definitely not going to be me and Mitski,” Lott said with a laugh. They reached out to Byrne (already an Oscar winner for co-writing the score for 1987’s “The Last Emperor”).
“Having watched a rough cut of the film,” Byrne said, “people are going to think it’s just this kind of mind-twisting, psychedelic experience. But they need to be reminded that there’s a lot of heart in this movie. It’s about forgiveness and redemption and all those things that are really universal. It brings you right back down to what it means to be a human being.”
Lott credited Byrne with “correcting” his initial thought that Byrne would bring his “characteristic declamatory shout over a dancey beat” and that a softer, more “heart on your sleeve” approach was needed.
Lady Gaga and Bloodpop, writers of the fifth nominated song, “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick,” did not participate in the event.
The event will be accessible through March 13: https://www.songhall.org/news/view/a_conversation_with_2023_oscar_nominated_songwriters_for_best_original_song