The release of “Til It Happens To You” on The Hunting Ground documentary film soundtrack provided direct context of Diane Warren and Lady Gaga’s intent as songwriters. The Hunting Ground is a documentary film that revolves around sexual assault on college campuses throughout the United States. The film was released in 2015 and focuses on two survivors — Annie Clark and Andrea Pino — who filed a Title IX complaint against their university due to their school administration’s negligence on behalf of sexual assault survivors.

The Hunting Ground - Official Trailer by RADiUS on YouTube

More often than not, sexual violence goes unreported and unpunished on college campuses due to administrative efforts to protect the institution’s image over the well-being of their own students. A month prior to the release of “Til It Happens To You,” many Americans were brutally awoken to the country’s deep rooted sexual violence issue that had taken college campuses by storm. On January 18, 2015 Chanel Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Allen Turner on Stanford University’s campus. The Stanford Rape Case provided many individuals a realization of what was truly occurring on college campuses. Miller was not provided the justice she deserved due to the university and the judge’s fear that a harsh sentence would have a severe impact on the perpetrator’s future Olympic swimming career. Following the Stanford Rape Case’s drawn-out trial, there was a widespread awakening and push to end sexual assault on college campuses for good. The release of “Til It Happens To You” during the grueling trial of The People of the State of California v. Brock Allen Turner, therefore, functioned as a powerful message on behalf of sexual assault survivors.

"Chanel Miller Reads Her Entire Victim Impact Statement," by 60 Minutes on YouTube

Rosenthal and Flacks argue that “genres and other musical codes and conventions provide frameworks that guide our interpretations of what we’re hearing” (Rosenthal & Flacks, 2011, 52). Popular (pop) music is a genre that has been utilized by various social justice movements as a rhetorical device to mobilize supporters and raise awareness of specific issues. “Til It Happens To You” possesses many of the defining characteristics used throughout the popular music genre, such as a basic verse-chorus structure and simple chord choices. Additionally, Diane Warren and co-writer Lady Gaga were able to draw directly from their personal accounts as survivors of sexual assault.

"Diane Warren On 'Til It Happens To You,' A Modern Anthem For A Hard Truth," NPR Music Interviews, February 2016

The musical structure of “Til It Happens To You” revolves around the story that Warren and Gaga’s lyrics tell. At the beginning of the song, the lyrics are accompanied by piano and strings when first addressing the impact of sexual assault. The tempo begins to pick up when the lyrics first state, “You tell me to hold your head up, hold your head up and be strong” which introduces the naive nature that non-survivors often approach the issue of sexual violence with. After the drums are introduced they become a constant throughout the remainder of the song. There is a brief period of calmness at the song’s three minute mark and at the closing when Gaga sings her last lyric “Til it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel,” which is accompanied by soft piano chords. Warren and Gaga’s lyrics directly critique society’s callow understanding of the impact of sexual assault on survivors by repeating the phrase “Til it happens to you, you don’t know how I feel.” The song’s lyrics, therefore, encourage unimpacted listeners to be more cognizant of their ignorance while simultaneously serving as a voice for survivors who may be afraid to speak on the issue at hand.

"Til It Happens To You," Official Music Video by Lady Gaga on YouTube