TORONTO – Ace songwriter Diane Warren met Justin Bieber during a simpler time in the troubled Canuck pop star’s life, when his eyes were clouded only by bangs and screaming fans — not police — eagerly awaited his every airport arrival.
Warren wrote the aspirational ballad “Born to Be Somebody,” which Bieber included on his platinum-selling movie tie-in Never Say Never: The Remixes back in February 2011.
The smash 3D concert film itself is a charming relic of a more innocent time in the Stratford, Ont., singer’s career — its chief conflict centres on whether his supposedly battered voice will be ready for a marquee Madison Square Garden performance — and Warren recalls loving it.
Even though she can’t believe the movie came out only three years ago.
“A lot’s changed man, wow. It’s almost like all this (stuff) is happening with him in Twitter time, right?” Warren marvelled in a recent telephone interview.
“He’s a nice kid, but boy he’s doing some stupid (things),” she added, characteristically using more colourful language. “When we were younger, we all did stupid (stuff) but we didn’t have a million people watching us. Some of the legal (stuff) you just have to go: ‘Come on, stop doing that.’ It’s really stupid.
“I would work with him again, I guess. … He’s talented. He really is. (And) I was a troubled kid. I was in juvenile hall a few times, I was kicked out of a couple schools. I wasn’t perfect. I got arrested. … After a certain age, you just kind of have to grow out of it.”
Bieber isn’t Warren’s only famous Canadian connection. She’s worked many times with star Victoria producer David Foster — “I’m surprised he’s not prime minister by now,” she cracks — and penned smashes for Celine Dion including “Nothing But a Broken Heart,” “Love Can Move Mountains,” and “Because You Loved Me.”
BELOW: Watch “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion.
Of course, Warren rivals Lawrence Taylor when it comes to huge hits. Also on her extensive resume: Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” and “How Do I Live,” hoisted to ubiquity by both LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood.
A Grammy winner and six-time Oscar nominee, Warren is heading to Toronto to share her expertise in a Canadian Music Week chat session on Saturday. Before doing so, she talked to The Canadian Press about her legendary balladeer career and how to make it as a behind-the-scenes songwriter.
I’ve read you work up to 17 hours a day.
I don’t know if it’s 17 hours. It’s a lot. I get here at 8:30. I go home about 8:30. I have studios here and meetings. I could never sit and (write) every day for 12 straight hours.
How important is it to you to stay on top of pop culture?
Warren: I’m aware of pop culture. Some of it is really boring.
I’ve always been a sponge so I’ve always taken all kinds of stuff — like stuff you wouldn’t think I would take in, like phrasing from rap records. There’s some really cool phrasing that finds its way into some of my songs.
I write a lot of different kinds of songs for a lot of different kinds of people. Even if I don’t like something — there’s always something cool to get.
Has technology changed much about the way you work?
No. I still use my cassette players. I’m still old school. It’s just about writing a great song. I’m not sitting here coming up with the perfect snare sound. I don’t have time for that (stuff).
You’ve had Celine Dion perform more than a dozen of your songs. Do you collaborate with her directly?
The way it’s always been with Celine is I write a song and I either play it to her on the piano or I send it to her. Like the song for her latest album (“Unfinished Songs”), I went to Vegas and played it to her on the piano and she was really moved by it.
I love great singers. And she’s probably the best singer of her generation, really. Or one of the best singers ever, I think. I worked with Celine from the time when she didn’t even speak English and she was just singing phonetically.
You’ve written for Celine and Whitney Houston, but also people who don’t have that tremendous vocal range and power.
Like Snoop. I loved his voice on (“The Good Good”). Not everybody has to be a vocal gymnast or acrobat. You have to just have something that’s your own style.
You hear Snoop, even singing, and you know that’s Snoop. I would take that over the perfect pitch, the perfect singer. That can get boring too.
Did you ever want the spotlight?
No. I really love my gig. Look, I’ll go somewhere where someone will go, “I love your music,” or someone will know my name, and that’s cool. But to live in that fishbowl of what Justin Bieber (or others) must? Literally, they can’t go anywhere. Everybody’s watching them. It’s gotta be the weirdest life. I honestly wouldn’t trade what I do for that for any amount of money. They can have the spotlight.
Do you know when you’ve written a hit?
Yeah. I know when I’ve written a hit. I write them all the time. It’s just everything else has to fall in place: the right artist, the right production, the right promotion. Politics have to not get in the way.
Your songs tend to be fairly pliable, with remixes or covers across different genres. Can you control that?
When I wrote “Un-Break My Heart,” I wrote it as a ballad AND a dance record in my head. And it was just as big a hit as a dance record, by the way. A great song, it transcends genre to me. It transcends time.
BELOW: Watch “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton.
© The Canadian Press, 2014