The film adaptation of The Giver has yet to hit theaters, but some diehard fans of the book are already skeptical that Hollywood has ruined their beloved novel. But, there is some good news: The same sense of isolation and detachment that exists in the book’s dystopian world has been gorgeously translated by OneRepublic into the soundtrack’s lead single, “Ordinary Human.” Ryan Tedder, the group’s lead singer, took on the job of creating a powerful, theatrical song representative of the society that exists in The Giver. He loved the novel as a kid, and was thrilled when Harvey Weinstein asked him to pen the track.
The movie version of The Giver — based on Lowis Lowry’s award-winning novel — follows the story of Jonas as he’s chosen to be the “Receiver of Memory” and discovers that the world he lives in isn’t so perfect. Tedder embraced the book’s themes when writing “Ordinary Human,” along with his own personal reflection and experience.
We spoke to Tedder about the song-writing process, along with his passion for literature and making music for movies.
You were a fan of The Giver before you were asked to write a song for the movie?
"Yes. In the ‘90s. It was one of my favorites!
"During that time period, I read a lot of the classic American and non-American literature — everything from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time to The Great Gatsby to 1984, which might be the landmark dystopian novel of the 20th century. So, The Giver, in my mind, I remember associating it with 1984 and thinking there was some kind of correlation there. Whether there is or there isn’t, who knows? I mean, [The Giver] exploded: 12 million copies sold and translated in 20 different languages. I was reading so many books at that time. I was literally the guy who would walk from class to the bus holding a book in front of me reading. I was obsessed with books."
It must have been a big deal to be asked to write a song for the soundtrack?
“I’m a massive, massive literature fan. So, when Harvey Weinstein says ‘I specifically want your band.’ I was like, ‘Are you sure he wants me? What’s the movie?’ Ah, it’s The Giver. ‘I remember that book. I love it. Well, who’s in it?’ Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, and Alexander Skarsgård. He got to Meryl, and I was like ‘I’m in.’ You couldn’t pass up this opportunity. My career started writing songs for film. That’s how I made a living. Before OneRepublic took off, how I put bread on the table for two years in L.A. was writing original music for movies — definitely not of the Weinstein variety. They were a little lower down the totem pole. To return full-circle a decade later to do something like this has been amazing and challenging. It’s very difficult to write songs for movies and not get too on the nose, too cheesy, or be some B- version of what you would have done if it wasn’t for the movie. That’s what most artists do, I feel like. The songs just don’t quite get there. So, I was really proud of how this turned out.”
How did your single from the “Ordinary Human” set the tone for the movie?
“The opening of the song pulsates — it’s electronic, dark foreboding; it’s ominous. It took me 50 takes to get the vocal right on that song. I ended up singing it on this really shitty microphone sitting in the control room because it was the only way I could make it sound believable. I just put it on loop over and over until I got a vocal that I believed my detachment. I wanted it to feel detached, like all of the citizens in the movie. The whole population had this super odd sense of detachment about death, life, ambition, and the roles you’re supposed to play — except for the lead characters.”
How did you relate “Ordinary Human” to your own personal life and the movie?
“Even though it’s for a movie, our fans want to hear me singing about what I’m going through and what the band’s going through. It had to serve a number of purposes. It had to be something I related with, because if I don’t believe it no one else is going to believe it. It had to be believable and relatable to the characters, and it had to be believable and relatable musically to the feeling of the movie and the score. You have to serve a lot of masters when you’re writing a song for a film to really embody all of it.
"The music represents all of the characters riding around on bicycles as they’re going through the perfectly manicured streets. The lyric, ‘Today I took a walk in the clouds’ refers to the third act toward the end of the movie when the lead character flies off a mountaintop on his bike. ‘Today I felt a switch in my veins’ — he stops taking his meds and something changes in him. The chorus is everybody: ‘I’m just an Ordinary Human. I’m just a picture-perfect nothing. Sometimes I medicate.’ To me, it’s like everybody in the movie taking their medication every single day, but it’s everybody in life. When you’re unhappy, you medicate with whatever that is: television, alcohol, food, cigarettes, sex, or cocaine. Everyone has some form of medication or addiction. I’m singing about me, but really the idea is that it’s everybody. At the same time, it’s everybody in that film. Every line,was me going through my mind the chapters and the first, second and third act of the film. The music itself reflects what’s happening in the movie. ”
You not only wrote this song for The Giver, but your song “What You Wanted” was featured in some of the trailers for The Fault In Our Stars this summer. It seems to be a good summer for you.
“I’ve discovered the secret to omnipresence. I’m omnipresent.”