Diane Warren is gushing about the Middleburg Film Festival and its setting at the Salamander Resort. She calls Sheila Johnson, creator and founder of the festival and owner of BET “a badass.” We’re swapping notes over Middleburg and talking about her concert performance.
The last time we spoke, it was about her anthem, ‘Stand Up For Something’, the Oscar-nominated song from Marshall. Today, we’re talking about ‘I’ll Fight’ from RBG sung by Jennifer Hudson.
I heard it at the very first screening in LA after Jennifer Hudson had recorded it and it was added to the documentary.
Yes. How did that song happen for RBG?
Bonnie Greenberg brought me into that. She was the music supervisor and I said, “Of course I want to do the song for that.” Here’s how I look at these songs, ‘Til It Happens To You’ is when you’re talking about what happened to you. ‘Stand Up For Something’ is about standing up for something whether it’s yourself or what you believe in and through that you’re progressively getting stronger. Then you have ‘I’ll Fight’, which is saying that you’ve stood up, and now you’re ready to fight. It feels like they’re a trilogy of anthems. I’m going to stand up for myself, but I’m also going to stand up for you.
And those songs, those anthems have become relevant to the news and current events.
It’s so weird. ‘Til It Happens To You’ was when the sexual assault on campus was happening and I do believe the song helped the message get through and people started talking about it. I talked about my experience of being molested. I had never talked about that. Then you had ‘Stand Up For Something’ when you had this thing that’s the President and that started and all that was going on. Now, you have everything going on with the Supreme Court. Look at how important Ruth Bader Ginsberg is and how important it is to stand up for something, to fight for your rights, and to not be complacent. All these songs are relevant at the moment and beyond the moment. ‘Til It Happens To You’ and ‘Stand Up For Something’ are relevant, and ‘I’ll Fight’ certainly is relevant.
And in sixty years time, they’ll still be anthems.
I think so. The cool thing with ‘Stand Up For Something’ is it has become an anthem. Stand Up 2 Cancer used it and seeing all these cancer survivors on stage made me cry. It’s like wow, there’s such a power to it.
The same with ‘I’ll Fight’. People are really embracing that song too. Jennifer Hudson is going to sing the song at the ACLU event. They love the song and I’m just really proud of that.
Jennifer Hudson is the perfect vocalist. How did you get her to say yes?
I called her and she said yes. The same thing with ‘Til It Happens To You’, I called Lady Gaga and she said yes. With Andra Day and Common, I had met him on the plane and wanted him to be on the song. I thought Andra would be the most perfect vocalist. I didn’t even realize Andra was in Marshall, so it was all meant to be.
With this, Jennifer Hudson has that power in her voice and she exudes strength. I called her and sent her the song and loved it.
What inspired the title?
I saw the documentary. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is so soft-spoken but her voice carries. I love the fact that her mother taught her not to raise her voice in an argument. With this Supreme Court and what we saw with Brett Kavanaugh it’s so disgusting. Dr. Ford is so eloquent and classy. To think he sits on the same court as Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
It really is. He just defiles it. So, I wanted to write a song that talked about her fight. She does fight for us. Not just for the Supreme Court, but for the ACLU and Women’s Rights. It’s astounding all that she has done. I wanted to write her theme song. Whenever I write songs like this, you can embrace them and it can be your own thing.
There are so many horrible things going on like those kids being put in fucking cages. You could be thinking of them and you could take this song and say, “I’ll fight this war for you.” You can make it whatever you want it to be.
I’m a huge animal rights person. One of the organizations I support asked if they could use the song. I was absolutely honored. They used it in a video and it made me cry. That’s the cool thing about songs, they can be whatever you want.
I love that the ACLU wants to use it and animal rights groups want to use too. Also, to be associated with Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the biggest honor ever.
Has she heard it?
I hope so. I want to write out the lyrics and frame it and send it.
You have to.
I hope she likes it.
[Update: After our interview, Diane met Cynthia Wright at the festival. Wright is a Federal Prosecutor who invited Warren to meet RBG].
She’s going to love it.
She’s such a badass. Did you see how she works out? I can’t do that. She’s had two bouts of cancer and she’s still going. I saw something on the internet how people are willing to donate their organs to keep her alive.
It’s just a trilogy and you have two songs about supreme court judges with Marshall and this. Also, Marshall is in the documentary.
On the subject of the internet, ‘Why Did You Do That?’ has become a viral sensation.
I have to admit ‘Why did you come around here with an ass like that?’ was my line.
What was the genesis of that song?
Gaga and I got together. I usually write songs by myself. She said, “I’m taking you out of your comfort zone and we’re going to do the track.” We smoked some weed, which made it easier. I said, “OK, let’s fucking do this.”
I came up with the two lines and I didn’t know if we could do that. It’s the line he gives her shit for, but she defends it.
Did you write for Ally or just the song?
I knew she was doing the movie. We were just writing songs but I didn’t know how it was going to end up. It’s a song people love to hate. It’s an earworm.
It so is. I posted it on Facebook, blessing people with the song so they could have it stuck in their heads.
There’s nothing wrong with a good pop song. Someone should do a ballad version of it. It’s probably not the Oscar song from that movie. I don’t think they’ll like the lyric “Why did you come around here with an ass like that?’ I write all kinds of songs and have fun.
What’s your writing process?
I show up and I do the work. That’s my process. I go to work. I want to write songs that make a difference and songs that make you feel good.
To be able to do songs like ‘I’ll Fight’ and a song for RBG, how cool is that? If I can write songs that make a difference, then that’s so fucking cool.
And your songs do. Music touches everyone, it’s therapy.
It is. I went out two weeks ago and someone who was sitting at the table with me said that the Joss Stone song ‘Bruised But Not Broken’ got him through one of the toughest times in his life – during a divorce. Later, I was looking at my phone and someone tagged me and mentioned how the Beyonce song had changed their life.
Then a DJ from Brazil had done a remix of ‘I’ll Fight’ and he put in the marching drums. He said, “It was a war song and you have no idea how hard it is for me and my life. I’m going to make that my anthem.” Those are just three songs in an hour that impacted people. You don’t realize what your songs do.
Your songs span so many artists and years.
Willie Nelson did a song. Disturbed did a song. Lady Gaga did the song. It’s every genre of music and that’s just this year.
Is there someone you’d really like to write a song for?
There’s not one artist. When I was working on a song, Adele loved the song. She asked if she could do the demo. I thought it was so fucking cool that she did the demo. So, we recorded that. It’s so fucking great. I know she’s not going to do it, but it would be so fucking cool if she did.
How many keyboards do you have in the house?
I have one. The rest are in the office.
I was going through your Wiki and seeing your songs. There were so many Gloria Estefan songs that I loved and were part of my teen years.
You wanna hear a funny story? I saw her musical and there were two songs in the musical. One was a pivotal and emotional moment and sometimes I forget. I was with my friends and I thought it was my song, it sounded like mine. It was, but I didn’t know until the chorus.
I thought, ‘Why Did you Do That?’ did not sound like your chorus.
That’s what I loved about it because no one would think that it was mine.