H.E.R. Talks Oscar-Shortlisted "Revolution" Song for 'Judas and the Black Messiah'

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images; Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

"The song felt like it needed to take you back but also remind you of what's happening now," the singer says of her powerful "Fight for You."

People are talking about H.E.R., who recently rocked Super Bowl LV with a soulful rendition of "America the Beautiful" (with a guitar solo that would have made Prince smile) and whose groovy throwback "Fight for You" can be heard in Warner Bros.' Judas and the Black Messiah, about the 1969 police assassination of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton. The 23-year-old Grammy-nominated virtuoso with the acronym for a name — it's pronounced "her" and stands for Having Everything Revealed — spoke to THR from her Miami recording studio about her goals of achieving representation and revolution through music.

Congratulations on your Super Bowl performance. It was a highlight of the game.

Thank you so much. It was the highlight of my career as of now, because it was so much fun. I was really nervous, but it looked like a full crowd. It was like the first time I really performed in front of a crowd since the pandemic, so it was a really special moment.

It reminded me of Prince’s 2007 half-time show. Was that an inspiration at all? 

Thank you. Big compliment. I watched it years ago. I didn’t even think about that in [preparing for] this but I’m a huge Prince fan. He’s one of my biggest inspirations, but the idea was to make this performance totally me — every aspect of what it is that I do and everything I love. And that is R&B and also rock and so many things. I just wanted to blend some of the things that I love and really rock it out and bring out my guitar.

The other thing it reminded me of was when Jimi Hendrix played "The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969.

Another one of my favorite moments. I wish I could have experienced that in person.

Of course part of what made that performance so special is that it was as much an anti-war protest as it was a rendition of the national anthem. We all know the NFL does not have the greatest track record with regard to civil rights. Was your performance a political statement at all?

I don’t want to say it was a political statement. I think the fact that there were three Black women — technically four, with Alicia Keys — opening up the Super Bowl and singing these songs soulfully in the way that we see them and hear them and the way we want to be represented is a message. [We’re] up there giving a positive message to other Black women saying, "You can be on a big stage like this one day, too." Any time I’m on a stage, I represent all the things that come with who I am as a person — the Black community as well as being a Filipino girl from the Bay Area in California that plays guitar and writes R&B and different types of music. I represent my communities, and on that big stage I don’t think there’s a better way to do that.

Your song "Fight for You" from Judas and the Black Messiah reminds me of classic Curtis Mayfield. How did it come about?

I had a conversation with [the filmmakers] and they said, "We really need a song that’s going to wrap it all up and be the theme for the movie. And, knowing a little bit about the story of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther party, I was like, "I would love to. I know this is going to be amazing and it’s going to tell a great story." I watched the movie and I literally told them, I said, "I think I can make a masterpiece for you."

We were listening to Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, we listened to a lot of Sly and the Family Stone, some of my favorites. I picked up the bass thinking about this theme of fighting for something. Because there's so many things that Fred Hampton was fighting for and that we are all still fighting for. That was the idea of the song, but I just really wanted to represent all the storylines in the movie — not just the struggles of being Black in this country at that time. The song felt like it needed to take you back but also remind you of what's happening now.

You tweeted about Fred Hampton: "His revolution inspired my revolution." What did you mean by that?

For my generation, we have a responsibility to continue to do his work. People will watch the movie and hopefully it will make them want to start their own kind of movement and start their own kind of revolution and make change in the way that you can make change. It doesn't mean starting a whole organization like the Black Panthers, but even just through my music in telling these stories, that's my revolution.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.