Oscars: Writers Behind Nominated Songs Break Down Their Most Personal Lyrics

7:00 AM 2/6/2018

by Rebecca Ford

Common ('Marshall'), Kristen Anderson-Lopez ('Coco') and more reflect on the words they wove together to explore themes of love, acceptance and family.

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul
Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul
Steve Granitz/Getty Images

  • Benj Pasek

    "This is Me" from 'The Greatest Showman'

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Lyrics: "I'm not scared to be seen / I make no apologies, this is me"

    I can still remember the gnawing anxiety I used to feel being a closeted gay teenager, terrified that the world would never like me if it knew who I really was. I became accustomed to hiding parts of myself, modifying my speech, movement and behavior to cover up what I thought of as ugly and unwanted. I am proud of learning that when we step out of the shadows and show ourselves to the world, we have the ability to be loved exactly as we are.

  • Justin Paul

    "This Is Me" from 'The Greatest Showman'

    Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox

    Lyrics: Another round of bullets hits my skin / Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in

    Anything I write these days is recontextualized after becoming a father. My fierce and adventurous little girl is almost 2 years old, and every day I think about that inevitable moment when for the first time she'll face some kind of adversity, put-down or intolerance. These lines become a prayer for her — that she'll always remember her worth, her strength and her identity.

  • Kristen Alderson-Lopez

    "Remember Me" from 'Coco'

    Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

    Lyrics: Know that I'm with you / The only way that I can be / Until you're in my arms again / Remember me

    That comes from a very female/mom place privately for me. My second-grader is not a second-grader anymore; she's a third-grader. It goes by so fast, and we have to go sometimes, we have to not be there at bedtime sometimes, and that song was informed by that.

  • Taura Stinson

    "Mighty River" from 'Mudbound'

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Lyrics: Love is the answer, hate is a cancer

    Not only do people direct-message me [on Twitter] that randomly — those words only, and that's it — I love that it's resonating with people. You're either going to spread goodness or the opposite of that, and that's what I feel like I've been put here to do as a songwriter: uplift and spread goodness and not the cancer, not the hate.

  • Common

    "Stand Up For Something" from 'Marshall'

    Courtesy of Open Road Films

    Lyrics: Let the ways of love be the ways of man

    When I say "man," I mean mankind. If we operate in love, everything will be good for everyone. Even when people are putting negative energy or hatred out there, still operating in love is, to me, God's gift to us — that's how we can make the world better. It may seem like a big concept, but it's simple, and it's real.

    This story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.