La La Land: Creating the Oscar-Nominated Songs

Lionsgate’s original musical, La La Land, which is a huge commercial hit, earned a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations

For La La Land, the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture this year, lyricists Benj Pasek, 31, and Justin Paul, 32, worked with the film’s composer, Justin Hurwitz, 32.

Two of their songs, “Audition” and “City of Stars,” are nominated for the Best Song Oscar, and the latter is expected to win.

“City of Stars” wnitially was meant for Emma Stone’s actress character Mia, but it later was given to Ryan Gosling’s jazz musician Sebastian.

Pasek and Paul understood from the start that the gentle piano tune could speak for anyone who questions how to follow their artistic muse to Los Angeles.

“In a way, its tone set the tone for the rest of the songs,” says Paul.  He and Pasek wrote much of it on a plane from New York to L.A. to meet the film’s writer and director, Damien Chazelle, for the first time.

The song, which like the film feels contemporary but also is a nod to the past, served as their own audition.

With “Audition,” the pair, the musicians went for a much more personal tone, pulled from a monologue that Chazelle had written for Stone.

” ‘City of Stars’ deals with the theme of the movie, whereas ‘Audition’ is from Mia’s perspective on what it means to be someone who pursues a life in the arts,” says Pasek.

Those distinctions are captured by John Legend, one of the film’s producers, at the Oscar ceremony, where he’ll perform both songs.