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“I now have the dubious distinction of being the most nominated woman in Oscar history to never have won. I love it,” Diane Warren laughs. “Well… maybe I'd like to change it.”
The superstar songwriter is sitting with Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume discussing “I'm Standing With You,” from the Chrissy Metz faith-based film Breakthrough, which has earned her yet another Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Warren has been nominated 11 times across five decades — a track record that has some pundits calling her the “Susan Lucci” of the Oscars. But even Lucci eventually won a Daytime Emmy (on her 19th try). So, is Warren thinking this just might be her year?
“It would be great if it was. I've had 10 times where it wasn't, but you know what? Being nominated is awesome,” Warren shrugs. “I stayed up all night with my friends [to hear the 2020 Oscar nominations announcement]. We stayed up all night waiting for that. I love when people go, ‘Oh, I fell asleep and then someone called me.’ Yeah, sure you f***ing slept through it. You f***ing liar! You were up just like I was. I did not go to sleep!”
Warren’s first Best Song nomination was in 1987 for Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (“from the movie about the guy f***ing the mannequin,” she quips in her usual unfiltered manner) — a No. 1 hit that might have had a shot, if it hadn’t been up against “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” the beloved theme from Dirty Dancing. Warren was more upset at her second Oscars ceremony, in 1996, when her Celine Dion ballad “Because You Loved Me,” from Up Close and Personal, lost to “You Must Love Me” from Evita. “I took Clive Davis as my date. We went to Jerry's Deli after, and I was really bummed out, because I thought I was really going to win that time. I ate like two orders of French fries.”
Warren confesses, though, that the Oscar defeat that disappointed her the most was in 2015, when “Til It Happens to You,” her haunting ballad from the campus sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground, was shockingly trumped by Sam Smith’s critically maligned Bond theme, “Writing’s on the Wall.” Lady Gaga, who was introduced at the Oscars by Joe Biden, had just performed the song, joined onstage by 50 assault survivors with words like "survivor" and "not your fault" written on their bodies. It was a powerful moment that received a standing ovation. “I had an idea from that. I thought, ‘OK, you guys — you get to vote again, after the performance. You get a vote after that Lady Gaga performance,” says Warren. “That was one of the best things I've ever seen, and not just because it's my song. It was phenomenal.”
Warren recalls hearing a collective shocked reaction in the Dolby Theater when Smith was instead declared the Best Song winner just moments later. “I don't know if it was in my own head, in my own brain. You know, everything slows down in your mind. But people told me that [the audience] did gasp, and I just went, 'Oh. That just happened.’ I'm not entitled. I don't expect to ever win, to be honest. But if there was one time when I thought [I would win], it was that. Everybody was calling me saying, ‘You've got this, you got this!’
“So, that was painful. Gaga was fine that night. I went with her to the Vanity Fair party, and she's out there talking to Elton John and everybody. And I'm like, ‘I feel like s***. I'm going home.’”
Still, despite not winning that year and being crestfallen at the time, Warren is grateful for the experience. A childhood sexual assault survivor herself who reveals that a music executive also once masturbated in front of her (“I think I said something funny like, 'Oh, I guess you liked the song, then!’”), she believes her Hunting Ground theme and Gaga’s Oscars performance “actually kicked in the #MeToo movement. A hundred percent, culturally, that song did so much. It really made a difference. People still tell me what that song means to them every day.”
Warren sees the silver lining in all of her Oscar losses. For instance, last year her song “I’ll Fight,” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG, was actually nominated against Gaga’s frontrunner “Shallow,” from A Star is Born; it was one of two times when Warren was so sure she would lose, she didn’t even prepare an acceptance speech. But she received something that meant more to her than any trophy: “I didn't win the Oscar, but I got a beautiful note from [Ginsburg] saying how much she loved the song. I've got to frame that.”
The other time Warren didn’t prepare a speech was when her Con Air theme “How Do I Live” was up against “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. “I think that's year everybody went, ‘F*** it, we're just going to have a good time, because Titanic's winning.’ It's like this giant ship and you're in a little lifeboat that's sinking. … I was like, 'Let's just f***ing get drunk. And I don't even drink.’” But once again, Warren was a winner anyway: While it was the Trisha Yearwood version that appeared in Con Air, LeAnn Rimes’s “How Do I Live” still holds the all-time Billboard record for the No. 1 song by any female artist. “So, yeah, that won something,” Warren chuckles.
And in a circular way, Warren is even getting her revenge about once being beaten by a Bond song. She reveals that James Bond icon Shirley Bassey (the voice of “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” and “Moonraker”) is set to record a remake of the composition of which Warren is most proud, “I Was Here,” which Beyoncé originally recorded in 2011… after Simon Cowell passed on it for his client Susan Boyle.
Obviously, Warren’s amazing career has been full of silver linings, despite her 10 Oscar snubs. While she’s up against heavyweights like Elton John and Randy Newman at this weekend’s Academy Awards, she does have a speech prepared this time — and she hopes there won’t be an awkward moment like there was at the 2011 Golden Globes, when her Cher song for Burlesque, the aptly titled “You Haven't Seen the Last of Me,” actually won for Best Song. (“My friend punched me in the arm,” Warren recalls. “I go, 'What?' She said, ‘You won! Get up there!’”) And regardless of what happens Sunday, she is proud of what she has achieved with “I’m Standing With You,” an inspiring anthem that sits nicely in her discography alongside other Oscar-nominated compositions like Aerosmith’s No. 1 smash “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” and the Marshall theme that she co-wrote with Common, “Stand Up for Something.”
“I didn't know she could even sing,” Warren says of Metz, who will perform “I’m Standing With You” on this weekend’s Oscars telecast. (The This Is Us actress sang it publicly for the first time at last year’s ACM Awards.) “When I wrote the song, I thought it was a really great song and we could basically have our pick of who we wanted. The producer insisted on Chrissy and I said, ‘Um, can't we just go to Kelly Clarkson? Carrie Underwood?’ They said 'Just try her out.’ … I didn't want to be in [the studio] when she was doing it because I'm not the best liar in the world, and if it sucked, I was just not going to go, 'Heyyyy, it's really great!’ My nose would start growing. So I left and I came back and they played back the rough comp of her vocal — and I just was floored. It was fantastic. It was so emotional.
“And the song is getting this life of its own. There are so many people using it for different things. We're living in such divided times right now, and especially in this country, and here's a message that really is needed — that whatever you go through, I'm standing with you, no matter what.”
The above interview is taken from Diane Warren’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.
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