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‘Remember Me’: The Song That Gave Coco Its Heart

The song is the emotional core of the film, but writing it wasn’t easy.

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Coco Disney Pixar album cover
Cover: Courtesy of Disney

Four years after Frozen and “Let It Go,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez worked their songwriting magic again with “Remember Me,” the song that runs throughout Pixar’s 2017 classic, Coco. “Remember Me” is the emotional core of Coco, performed a total of four times throughout the film and linking generations of family together.

Coco tells the story of Miguel, a Mexican boy who idolizes the late singer, Ernesto de la Cruz. We first come across “Remember Me” as performed by de la Cruz in a showbizzy, mariachi style. Ironically, given the title of the song, it’s the performance that kills the singer, as a giant bell falls on him at the song’s ending. Miguel is smitten with the performance and has his heart set on following in de la Cruz’s footsteps and becoming a musician. The problem is that Miguel’s family is fundamentally opposed to the idea, largely because Miguel’s great-great-grandmother Imelda’s husband left her to pursue a career in music.

Listen to “Remember Me” from the Coco soundtrack.

After discovering a photograph of his great-great-grandfather Héctor holding de la Cruz’s guitar, Miguel is convinced that he and his idol are related and tells his family he is going to become a musician. The boy’s grandmother destroys his guitar, and Miguel breaks into de la Cruz’s mausoleum to steal the famous instrument. The problem is that, once he plays the guitar, Miguel becomes invisible to all living people. Not only that, but he is now cursed and needs a family blessing to return to the Land of the Living.

Miguel can see his skeletal dead relatives and decides to seek a blessing from Ernesto. He is helped on his journey by Héctor. Along the way, we discover that “Remember Me” was actually a song written by Héctor for his granddaughter, Coco, and stolen by Ernesto. We see Héctor (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) playing the song to Coco as a child – here it’s not a bawdy showstopper but a tender lullaby. And Miguel later plays the song to Coco himself when they are finally reunited. Finally, a contemporary pop version of “Remember Me” by R&B singer Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade is played over the movie’s end credits.

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For “Remember Me” to work in so many different styles and settings, it had to have a strong melody and an authentically Mexican feel. In an interview with Variety, Robert Lopez summed up the challenge: “‘Can you write a song that means one thing in one context and another thing in another?’ To us, it was the difference between performing a song to call attention to yourself, to show off; and a song as a gift to someone you love. We wanted to write a song that could be interpreted both ways.”

Kristen Anderson-Lopez elaborated on the song while talking to Yahoo, “It was sort of like figuring out a puzzle, to tell the really emotional personal thing I had to say — which is, how you leave a song behind for your kids when you have to travel. But we also needed to constantly make sure, in every line, in every word, that it could also be interpreted as the Ernesto de la Cruz version of like, ‘Goodnight ladies! Goodbye! Remember me when I am gone!’ Right? We needed this showboating, ‘To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before’ kind of version. And so the interesting puzzle was writing two different songs at the same time: one that really came as a personal, emotional thing, and another that was like, “Look at me.”

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The pair threw themselves into early 20th-century Mexican music, singers like Jorge Negrete or Pedro Infante. Robert added, “It was really a wide variety, and there was a lot of American popular-song influence. So we decided to write a song in that bolero-ranchero style that also worked as a quiet ballad.”

After careful thought, the song came suddenly, as Kristen Anderson-Lopez told Yahoo, “After hours and days and years of talking, Bobby had this beautiful melody that kind of came out of him one morning when he was still in his boxer shorts. And he put it on my phone, and I took it on the subway.” Kristen developed a lyric inspired by the couple’s personal lives. Their careers meant that they were often separated from their family – writing a song about the need to stay connected while far away came naturally. Kristen told Variety, “That third time you hear it is really meaningful. It’s the power of music to bring people back to life, literally and figuratively. That was very affecting to us.”

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Talking to Gold Derby, Robert revealed how powerful an inspiration the plot had been for him, “I loved the idea of the backstory of this song which was that one songwriter wrote it for his daughter, and it was a beautiful expression of love. And then another songwriter killed him and stole the song and corrupted the meaning, so it’s all about him and flash and virtuosity. Those two ideas of how a song is presented are antithetical and represent the two choices you can take in art.”

“Remember Me” won Best Original Song at the 90th Academy Awards, but – more important than any award – it resonated with audiences everywhere. When Miguel sings the song to Coco, he is honoring the memories of previous generations of family, the real meaning of Dia de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead). Not for the first time, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez had met the challenge of writing a modern Disney classic.

Listen to “Remember Me” from the Coco soundtrack.

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