The Academy released nine award shortlists today with Pharrell Williams’ “Letter To My Godfather” from The Black Godfather, Beyoncé’s “Spirit” from The Lion King soundtrack alongside Thom Yorke’s “Daily Battles” from Motherless Brooklyn, , Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Never Too Late” from The Lion King, Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman and Randy Newman’s “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4, check out the rest of today’s shortlists below. Voting for the 92nd Academy Awards will begin on January 2.
Pharrell Williams – Letter To My Godfather (The Black Godfather)
Naomi Scott – Speechless (Aladdin)
Chrissy Metz – I’m Standing With You (Breakthrough)
Da Bronx (The Bronx USA)
Idina Menzel & Aurora – Into The Unknown (Frozen 2)
Cynthia Erivo – Stand Up (Harriet)
Dillon Francis – Catchy Song feat. feat. T-Pain & That Girl Lay Lay (The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part)
Elton John – Never Too Late (The Lion King)
Beyoncé – Spirit (The Lion King)
Thom Yorke & Flea – Daily Battles (Motherless Brooklyn)
Woo-Sik Choi – A Glass of Soju (Parasite)
Elton John, Taron Egerton – (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again (Rocketman)
Kathryn Bostic – High Above The Water (Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am)
Randy Newman – I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away (Toy Story 4)
Jessie Buckley – Glasgow (Wild Rose)
You made songs that soundtracked this decade: “Get Lucky,” “Happy,” “Blurred Lines.” At what stage in the development of a song like that do you know you’re holding onto one that’s gonna blow?
The closest notion that I come to is when [it] just feels like something I want to hear repetitiously. Where I’m anticipating parts. I’m like “Ah!” It’s like tension-release. Different emotional colors that feel good to me. When I want to distill that, because I feel like that song delivers it in its own unique way, that’s when I know it’s something. But I never know … I can’t personally determine what that’s going to be or how far that’s going to go, because that’s [up to] people.That’s the listener.
How do you approach writing for visual media differently than you do a standard pop project?
With a movie, you’re working with the intention of whatever that scene is and what the director wants out of it at that moment, whereas with a song, it’s more based on the person that you’re working with and what they need out of it, what they’re trying to convey on the song or what you’re trying to personally convey. The film is its own entity.
What drew you to the story of Clarence Avant?
The opportunity to do something for him was super intimidating because this is a guy that’s owned his own record label and [released] songs that impacted America and continue to impact America. How do you do one song that’s going to represent that? I checked out the documentary, and when I saw it I was just so blown away by the concept, the notion that I really only know a tenth of this man’s history and the kind of things that he perfected, not only in the music world, but also in politics and activism. Privileges that we seamlessly enjoy today, he was one of the main architects behind a lot of it. I just couldn’t believe that. I was like, “Okay, this guy is so much more worldly than I had thought.” So whatever we did, it needed to feel big and open.
“That’s my goal, to have the older black folks have their version of mosh pittin’. Just in the church snatching off wigs! That’s when you know you’ve achieved something,” Pharrell Williams says as he whips around his chair, explaining the changes he’s making to “Letter To My Godfather,” from The Black Godfather, which he plans to remaster. “In the third verse, I don’t like what’s happening there. It took it down, and I think it just needs to stay up.”
We’re in Miami for a studio session put together by the president of Beats Electronics, Luke Wood, in celebration of the new More Matte Solo Pro Beats By Dre, which Pharrell is the brand ambassador for. Inside Miami’s Hit Factory, P plays music as he talks through his creative process. Going through original stems of “Happy” and making small updates to “Letter To My Godfather,” he says a form of the word “feel” over 35 times.
Two-time Oscar nominee Pharrell Williams (“Happy,” “Hidden Figures”) could be acknowledged again for the song he wrote and sings at the end of “The Black Godfather,” the Netflix documentary about Clarence Avant, the veteran music executive who has been influential in so many careers. Avant’s daughter Nicole (former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas), interested in a possible song for the end credits, invited Williams to a screening.
“I thought I knew this man’s legacy,” he says. “I knew that he was well respected in the music industry, but I didn’t know what got him that respect, the propulsion he put into so many careers, things that changed the trajectory for people of color.” He came up with a song in 6/8: “A lot of music when he started out was in 6/8, or in 4/4 but it was swinging,” Williams says. “I tried to use familiar elements but in a way that people hadn’t heard before,” including a wide array of sounds (real voices, live musicians, electronic manipulation) that represent popular music as heard throughout Avant’s 88 years.
Luke Wood: Did you think about being a producer or an artist first?
Pharrell Williams [tumbleweed-long pause]: “Hmm…”
Or is there no difference?
“I never really made a distinction until I was told: ‘You’re not going to get signed as an artist.’ By that time we had already been making music for 10 years, and so when I was told that, it was like: ‘OK, we’ll just stick to production because this is what works for us.’ Really what it was, was that I was going into meetings and blowing the meetings because I was so crazy and just living in the future – not where I knew music would go but just the way I felt. Eventually music caught up and artists were able to express themselves the way that I was in rap music. I had in my mind: ‘OK, we’re going to be producers.’ Because we were The Neptunes as a group, and we produced our own music. So it was more like, we were a group and we were self-contained. But there was no real distinction between the two.”
What was the record where you suddenly said, “we produced this” as The Neptunes?
“I think every time we heard our music go on the radio, we always felt that it was different. There became a time where there was a [Neptunes] sound, and I hated that and I wanted to get away from it. But we always loved… the unorthodox stuff because of the people we looked up to. Tribe [Called Quest], I don’t know if they ever really had a pop hit, I think [1991’s] Check The Rhime was their biggest song. But for us, their music, when it played, it cut through everything. Those were our heroes, so we wanted everything to be unorthodox. Even with straight hard rap records, we wanted them to cut through. It’s like when you heard [Busta Rhymes’] Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See. You’re like: wow. Or NWA – it just cut through. What they were saying, the rhythm of how they were rapping, the melody, the syncopation, the loops that Dre was putting together, the drums that he layered it with. You were just like: what is that? So for us, when we got a chance to make songs, we wanted it to be different.”
“I am very conscious of my roots. That is the stuff I always want to keep. I am very vocal about. If I am uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter who I am working with, I back up a bit. For example, I have been working with Pharrell (Williams), working on some songs, and one of them, he was like, ‘this is the one’. I was like ‘no’. I sent him another one and he was like ‘this is better’. So it is not even about the name., I don’t compromise what I love and what I do”.
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