The rock world is seemingly fielding ever more contenders in the Oscars’ Best Original Song category, with artists including Sufjan Stevens, Elvis Costello, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Sara Bareilles, and the late Chris Cornell all performing end-title themes they wrote or co-authored.
“Truth to Power”
from “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
Music and lyrics by Ryan Tedder and T Bone Burnett
It’s difficult to figure out for sure whose idea it was for first time co-writers Tedder and Burnett to team up for the sequel to the environmental doc “An Inconvenient Truth” (which yielded an Oscar for Melissa Etheridge’s song). Burnett says he’d been interested in meeting Tedder before Al Gore called Burnett to ask what he thought about bringing him in. Interscope’s film head asked Tedder about the movie and got a quick assent before even getting to Burnett already being signed on.
That didn’t hurt: Tedder “grew up listening to a lot of his records, to be honest. I tore apart (Burnett’s production of the Wallflowers’) ‘One Headlight’ a hundred different ways back in the day when we started a band. And I think T Bone and I share an affection for super-throwback Delta music. In the last 10 years I listened to more Muddy Waters than anything — says the guy who does stuff with Ed Sheeran; I know it doesn’t make any sense.”
Tedder wanted the song to start small before it got to a choir. “If you’re trying to get on KIIS-FM, go write a song for ‘Fast and Furious Part 10’,” he says. “That’s a different animal. To me, this needed to be reverential. And my default mechanism when writing is very often gospel, and some of the songs that we had done that were referenced when I got brought in are more gospel-leaning records. And when I watched the climactic parts of the film with Vice President Gore giving this speech at Stanford, where he becomes more and more emboldened as the speech goes on, by the end of it, I was like, oh, God, he’s just doing like an altar call right now. And I went to Oral Roberts University, so I’ve seen my fair share of altar calls.”
Gore asked them if they could drop the movie’s subtitle into the lyrics, and Tedder initially resisted, thinking the phrase “truth to power” was too on-the-nose. They found a solution. “The cliché is speaking truth to power, of course,” says Burnett. “I loved the idea of when truth turns to power.”