Diane Warren (‘Tell It Like A Woman’) on Cher and ‘Applause’ being ‘a really empowering song’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Best Song Oscar nominee Diane Warren recently chatted with Gold Derby’s Daniel Montgomery about her nominated song “Applause” from “Tell It Like A Woman.” She readily admits, “I wanted to write a really empowering song … give yourself some applause ’cause you made it through.” Warren loved being a part of this project since it incorporated so many amazing stories “from women all over the world.”

The songwriter also speaks openly about her honorary Oscar, which Cher presented to her last year. “I go way back with Cher,” Warren reveals. “She’s done 20 of my songs, including ‘Turn Back Time’ and ‘You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,’ which won the Golden Globe.” She laughs, “But Cher doesn’t do anything for anybody … she is notorious for never going west of the 405.” “Applause” marks Warren’s 14th competitive Oscar nomination.

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Watch the full video above and read the complete interview transcript below.

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Daniel Montgomery: Diane Warren, you wrote the song Applause from the film Tell It Like a Woman, which is an anthology of seven short films from, women’s point of view, women filmmakers from all over the world. What were your thoughts on the film and how it brings together such a wide variety of voices?

Diane Warren: I mean, it was amazing because these are seven, you know, directors and actresses, and amazing women stories from women all over the world. So, you know, there’s, you know, I mean, every, so many countries and perspectives are represented here, you know, and the American ones are with Jennifer Hudson, and, um, Gail, I always, Gail, oh, god, what’s her name? I always forget her name. Uh, anyways, who are the actresses? Eva Longoria, Catherine Hardwicke and, um, Taraji Henson, you know, both behind the camera and in front of the camera, and all kinds of amazing directors and actresses that we might not know here, but they’re, like, amazing and they’re, like, the superstars of, in their countries. And the stories are just amazing, you know, women’s stories from all over the world, yeah.

DM: Applause is featured in the segment, Sharing Ride, it’s where we first hear the song. Did you write the song with that segment in mind, or were you writing it considering the whole film?

DW: I was writing it considering, you know, all the movies together, you know, which is really different for me because, you know, it’s usually, it’s one movie and I’m tying it together emotionally at the end, and this was a movie that there were so many stories, but what I got from it was it’s all about survival and, you know, the fact that these women went through so much but yet managed to, you know, survive and thrive. And, I wanted to write a really empowering song, you know, which is, you know, give yourself some applause ’cause you made it through. And then it actually fit the, that story, the Indian one, so well, and then they ended up using it in there. So, that was an extra added bonus, and it’s a beautiful story, that one. It that song really fit.

DM: Yeah. When do you think when you first that sort of climactic scene in that film with, you know, the two characters in the rain. And just how your song has the effect there?

DW: It was just perfect, you know. It just was, it felt like it was written for that scene, when it was really written for the, you know, whole movie. But, yeah, when I first saw it, I was like, oh, my god, it’s so, it’s so emotional ’cause it’s such an emotional moment, and that song really captures it.

DM: How long, was the process of writing the song? Like, what was your process?

DW: You know, it’s what I do all the time, you know. I just sit down and, you know, when I write a song for a movie, I try to just kind of, just tie it together emotionally and see what it, how it inspires me, and what was difficult, not difficult but what was different ’cause, about this was how do you tie all these stories together with one song, you know, and what the theme I got from it was empowerment and strength and, you know, giving yourself some applause, you know, giving your, you know, giving yourself some love, you know, giving yourself some respect ’cause you’ve earned it, you know, that these women all, everything they go through in all these movies, you know, you know, at the end of the day, it’s all about that. So my process was just getting inspired and writing it, you know, to fit the entire movie really, and then it was an extra bonus that it, that it fit that segment as well.

DM: The song is performed by Sofia Carson. How did you come to work with her on it? Uh, what- what made her, do you think, so right for that song?

DW: Well, one thing about Sofia … Sofia and I, we talked about doing something together, and one thing about her is she is, if you look at her, she’s stunningly beautiful, you know. She’s, like, you know, gorgeous, but what’s even more beautiful is who she is, and her heart and her strength and, you know, she’s just an amazing young woman, and she’s a great singer, let’s add that ’cause without that, I wouldn’t have gone to her. But I just felt like she was the … You know, when I do a song for a movie, I’m casting the character of that song to be a part of that movie, okay? So, like, Sofia could’ve been one of those characters in those movies, you know. She has that strength. She embodies what most of those movies are about, you know.

So, it was just an easy call, you know, and I talked to her about it, “Girl, I have something that I think, you know, you need to hear, and you need to do,” and she loved it. She loved the song, and it’s just, it’s amazing to, you know, to be on this journey, you know, with her. And in fact, like, a few weeks ago, you know, it’s- it’s, what’s really cool is when, you know, when a song can live outside uh, first and foremost, of course, it’s, for the movie, but if it gets a life outside of the movie, that’s like an extra added bonus.

And a few weeks ago, CNN, you know, asked us to, well, asked really Sofia, I was just the piano player, asked us to do it, you know, on the show, on CNN Heroes, where the song was, you know, basically acknowledging all these heroes. It was in honor of them. So, that was just, you know, it’s a beautiful thing, you know, when a song that you write can do that, ’cause these people are true heroes. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen the show, but it’s like, so for that song to, you know, fit so beautifully, you know, in the movie and about women and empowerment, and then, you know, have another life, it’s great. That’s what you want with a song.

DM: And your songs in particular, you always write with these, themes that can, you know, reference something specific but feel universal-

DW: Yeah.

DM: You know, so it really feels like it was, you were almost made for a film that tells seven different stories because you’re able to.

DW: Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s interesting, yeah. Cause you want these songs to, you know, to be as universal as possible, and this movie’s literally universal, you know. Yeah.

DM: You received, an honorary Oscar recently, so I wanna congratulate you on that.

DW: Thank you. You wanna hear something funny? We were doing the vocal – I mean, it’s just kind of ironic since we’re talking about Applause – Sofia was doing the vocal, in my studio when I got the call from the Academy saying that I was getting the honorary Oscar, so here I’m doing a song about giving yourself some applause. It was like, oh, that’s cool. I guess I’ll give myself some applause for a second and then go back to beating myself up right after, but it was, it was, it’s such an amazing honor. I mean, that’s like, the big husker. Like, that’s the one they give, like, you know, all kinds of … If you look at the list of who’s gotten that award, it’s pretty, mind-blowing, and they’ve never given it to a a songwriter before, so I’m the first songwriter ever to have gotten that. So, it’d be great, … He told me he wants a friend, so (laughs), so he’s, I’m trying to get one for him.

DM: (laughs) What was it like having, you know, Cher be the person who was there to present it to you? Was, you know, was that especially, meaningful?

DW: Wow. It was amazing. Well, first of all, ’cause I go way back with Cher. I’ve written, like, she’s done 20 of my songs, including Turn Back Time and You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me, which won the Golden Globe, was that 11 years ago? But Cher doesn’t do anything for anybody (laughs). She just doesn’t, and she, like, is notorious for never going west of the 405, and this was definitely west of the 405 to where- where the honorary Oscars were the governor’s awards were being held. So, like, she was, like, my dream to give it to me, you know, but I didn’t think that would happen, but she did show up and it was, it was so, such a beautiful night. Like, that was the best night of my life, you know. It was amazing.

DM: You mention, giving your honorary Oscar some company ….

DW: Yeah.

DM: … of course you’re on the short list for Applause-

DW: Yeah.

DM: Does it still feel just as meaningful, to get that recognition out of so many songs, to, because you mentioned in your speech, you know, 13 times you’ve been selected as one of a very small number of the best songs of the year, so is that still a thrill?

DW: Yeah. What I said in my speech, I, really came from the heart and I said that, you know, people go, “What’s it like to lose 13 times?” And I go like, “No, I haven’t lost 13 times. Are you kidding me? I’ve won 13 times because there’s only five songs.” You know, the Grammys have, I don’t know how many song categories the Grammys have, but there’s like, you know, 20 or 30 of them there’s a lot, and the Academy Awards has only five, and if you look at the names y- of the people who vote for you, they’re the best of the best on the planet of composers, songwriters, and you know, all, you know, that exist in you know, right now.

And so, they, for them to pick, you know, five songs and, you know, 13 times they’ve been my song, I do not look at that, and I joke around, “Yeah, I’m a 13-time loser,” but I’m a 13-time winner, you know, and it’s just as exciting. You know, I stay up waiting all night for the nominations, you know, whenever I’m, like, on a sh- on the short list, and I don’t take it for granted. I’m grateful, you know. I’m grateful to, just to be in, to, you know, to be in the club, to be, you know, you know, in play really. It’s great, you know. Of course you wanna be nominated, and that’s the best feeling in the world, you know, and then everything else is gravy. The nomination is the win to me.

DM: You know, now that you have that honorary Oscar, where do you keep it? Did you have a spot that you’d, uh, designated for it, if you were to get one at some point?

DW: Yeah, I slept with them for a couple nights, you know, and we’re still kind of in our honeymoon phase, you know. He’s on the piano now, you know, but, you know, I just look at him every day. I’m was like, wow, I have an Oscar. I mean, that is the coolest thing. It’s the coolest thing.

DM: Well, I want to congratulate you again on that honorary Oscar. Congratulations on Applause from Tell It Like a Woman. It’s been a pleasure talking to you about it.

DW: Great talking to you as well.

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