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Song Exploder: ‘La La Land’

A podcast that tells you the story behind Emma Stone’s soul-searing ‘Audition’ song and more


A still from the song ‘Audition’ from ‘La La Land’.
A still from the song ‘Audition’ from ‘La La Land’.

If you have watched La La Land, you know the song Mia (played by Emma Stone) sings at a movie audition. Audition, sung by Stone live and in one shot, was nominated at the 2017 Oscars for the best original song. Through the story of Mia’s young-at-heart aunt, who inspired her to be an actress, it goes on to address all the “fools who dream”. Also, as composer Justin Hurwitz puts it, the song breathes life into a pivotal scene of the musical, in which optimism and determination are juxtaposed with the despair of a struggling artiste.

In a recent episode of Song Exploder, a podcast where musicians break down their songs and relate the stories behind them, Hurwitz decoded the song.

Director Damien Chazelle and Hurwitz had done a musical in their college days—their first feature film, Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench (2009). This inspired them to start working on another musical (La La Land) in 2011; five years later, this turned into the spectacle it is today. Hurwitz says he designed the song like a monologue, let its musical verses carry the audience into the world of dreamers and, as the scene comes back to Mia in the audition room singing the last few notes, let the flutes trill to keep the magic alive.

The podcast episode is like a blueprint of the song, with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also sharing their thoughts.

The podcast hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway—an American musician and composer born to Maharashtrian parents—has been around since 2014 but isn’t well-known in India.

The concept is simple: One musician comes to the show, picks one of his compositions and talks about how it was made, part by part. For example, the 6 January episode after La La Land featured Metallica singer and guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich decoding their 2016 release, Moth Into Flame. This episode was so popular that the Song Exploder website crashed within hours of its release.

Over the last two years or so, the podcast has featured names such as Iggy Pop, MGMT, U2, Alexandre Desplat (composer of The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Danish Girl). It has also featured the music composers of serials such as Netflix original BoJack Horseman. In May, Hirway had a chat with Australian quartet Hiatus Kaiyote about one of their Grammy-nominated songs at The Sydney Opera House. The podcast, recorded live, also received the “Best Music Podcast” award last year from the Academy of Podcasters.

For Song Exploder episodes, visit here .

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