2015 Oscars Circuit: Best Original Song

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oscarsOur annual look at the individual Oscar categories.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2015.  You can also see the official Oscar Predictions page for Best Original Song.

The Best Original Song category has bottomed out twice this decade already, and there is great trepidation, anxiety, and near impossibility when it comes to trying to determine what the music branch hears when they wade through the 60-80 selections offered up as “eligible” for this category in any given year. In an effort for more accountability and overall transparency, the Academy publishes the official Best Original Song eligibility list each year, but there are naturally songs left out, snubbed, deemed ineligible, etc.

After only two songs met the stringent scoring requirements to earn a nomination in 2011, rules were changed to not only invite more songs to compete but to also mandate five nominees. Then Adele’s “Skyfall” earned the first Oscar victory for a James Bond film’s theme song in 2012 and all seemed right again in the world. And then…Alone Not Yet Alone happened and chaos ensued.

Amidst a strong, contemporary, pop-laden list of nominees, Christian film Alone Not Yet Alone had its left-of-field Song nomination rescinded because of a music branch member and songwriter campaigned for the film and violated Academy rules. For this year anyway, the music branch can rest easy again. Although popular songs from Coldplay, Fall Out Boy, Imagine Dragons, and Lorde failed to make the cut, this slate of nominees is quite strong. And while three of the nominees were largely predicted to be here, a bittersweet final recording from a music legend and a return to form for composer Diane Warren, the only previous nominee in the field, rounds out a diverse set of recordings, arguably the finest nomination field since 2004.

The Nominees Are:

  • “Everything Is Awesome!!!”, The LEGO Movie – Shawn Patterson
  • “Glory”, Selma – John Stephens, Lonnie Lynn
  • “Grateful”, Beyond the Lights – Diane Warren
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me – Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond
  • “Lost Stars”, Begin Again – Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois

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EverythingIsAwesomeSingle
Everything Is Awesome!!!

Much has been written about the animation branch apparently feeling that, separate from virtually EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLANET, The LEGO Movie was not one of the five best animated films of the year. The music branch did it’s duty and granted a nod to the ubiquitous earworm that is “Everything Is Awesome!!!”. Of the five nominees, this song is the highest charting on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 57 and earning Gold certification from the RIAA for sales of more than 500,000 copies, while hitting the Top 20 in the UK and the Top 40 in Canada.

The odd pairing of Canadian dance/pop sisterly duo Tegan and Sara and comedy trio The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone & Akiva Schaffer) on the radio version of the single rests alongside the film’s version by trio Jo Li Tran. The song is as much a character as the little plastic people are, amplifying the hyperkinetic world these Legos inhabit, as well as giving us a mind-numbingly catchy satire on the world of pop music and how easily we succumb to the often mindless nature of Top 40 music. As of the writing of this article, the performers have not yet been named for the Oscar telecast and undoubtedly something clever and in the spirit of the movie will be staged. My hope remains though that Tegan, Sara, and Andy Samberg and friends get to actually perform this at the Oscars.

That would be epic.

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GlorySingle

Glory

When this track debuted in late-November via a SoundCloud link, one could argue that John Legend and Common’s stunning, emotional epilogue to Ava DuVernay’s Selma had received far more promotion than the film itself. Holding the track to the last minute, Common’s fierce, impassioned, and fiery lyrics reference a newly rekindled racial unsettling in America, referencing the Ferguson protests as an example of the timeliness of the song. But to simply brand “Glory” as political diatribe misses the power the track payloads onto its listeners. Quite simply, in terms of craftsmanship, it is stellar work – the melding of Common and John Legend’s vocals and lyrics, set to a rousing, uplifting, spiritual melody that leaves as strong an impact after it concludes as Selma did for many of those who watched the film.

Honestly, this is the type of moment that Oscar voters look for. We know, with no disrespect intended to the other nominees and their performances, “Glory” is likely going to steal the show and the unforgettable emotional resonance that Legend and Common brought to the studio will be brought to stage. And this could easily translate to Oscars for the close friends and collaborators, who have spent the better part of a decade working and creating music with one another.

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GratefulSingle

Grateful

The final song from Beyond the Lights is the final lyrical summation of the storyline involving Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her journey to stardom, fall from grace, and return to prominence. Performed by British pop star Rita Ora, “Grateful” is a ballad of inspiration, a song which feels a bit stuck in the soaring movie music of the 1990s, but still a nice conclusion to a film that was criminally underseen based on the critical raves received.

This song, innocuous and pleasant though it is, arrives to the Oscar ceremony with some internal industry controversy. Ora, focused on wrapping up a hit duet with Iggy Azalea at the time the single and the film were released, has shifted all of her promotional heft from that track to a new collaboration she has with Charli XCX. Refusing to stay silent, composer Diane Warren has gone to the press expressing her frustraton and dissatisfaction with Ora’s refusal to promote the track to radio. As Warren shares, both she and director Gina Prince-Bythewood have repeatedly asked Ora to shoot a music video for the track, which not only would have likely helped the single’s non-existent chart success, but also helped the film perhaps bank more box office. Ora has simply expressed being “grateful” that she will be singing the song at the Oscars but has stayed silent on the other noise being generated around her.

A seventh nomination for Diane Warren, following nominations for MannequinUp Close and PersonalCon AirArmageddon, and Music of the Heart, her attendance at the Oscars will feel like something of a what-might-have-been for her. At least for 4 minutes or so, Beyond the Lights will earn some much overdue recognition in front of the largest audience it could ever imagine.

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GlenCampbellSingle

I’m Not Gonna Miss You

This is another emotional dark horse in the race, the epilogue to the career of country singer Glen Campbell, which he co-wrote and recorded in the face of dealing with the ticking time bomb of Alzheimer’s Disease. Campbell, now 78 years old and living in a care facility, stars in the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me which documents Campbell’s diagnosis and decision to press on for a farewell concert tour in 2012. Well received, the film missed in the Best Documentary Feature race, but the enigmatic song has a haunting elegaic tone that speaks right to the heart of older members of the Academy – especially the Music Branch and perhaps the voting populace at large.

With word that Tim McGraw will perform the song at the Oscars, the song will have the intriguing element of having a younger voice projecting the reflective, humbled, contemplative tune which features Campbell’s fragile but still recognizable voice. While not having the heft and the power of a traditional Best Original Song winner, Campbell’s collaboration with Julian Raymond, could pull enough emotional heartstrings to sneak into the winner’s circle and give Campbell an Oscar to go along with his 8 Grammy Awards, his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, his 9 Academy of Country Music Awards, and entry into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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LostStarsSingle

Lost Stars

If they listen. If they watch it. If they remember Once. These were the thoughts of prognosticators and pundits who immediately celebrated Begin Again‘s signature musical moment, “Lost Stars”, performed in John Carney’s film by Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and actress Keira Knightley. As it turns out, the music branch did all of those things. While some hoped that Carney’s film would not be viewed as a one-trick pony in the Oscar race this year, similar to his previous film Once, the one nomination for the film arrives in Best Original Song.

And what a song this is. Tender, soft, and a bittersweet ode to love lost, learned from, and remembered, the ballad serves as the centerpiece and heartbeat of the film, an inanimate character impacting the relationship between Levine and Knightley in the film. The beauty of the song, as written by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, is that its chameleonic structure allows Levine and Knightley to offer unique interpretations, which push their respective characters along and allow the lyrics to take different meaning simply from the point-of-view of the vocalist.

In any other year, you have to believe that “Lost Stars” would walk away with this Oscar. Faced with strong competition, Levine focused on working Maroon 5’s latest record and single, and Knightley five months pregnant, promotion for the song has been lacking. Will Oscar voters get caught up in the sweeping tide of that symphonic chorus and hummable melody or have they moved on to something else? We will all know soon enough.

THE FINAL CALL:

Will Win: Assessing the race, this really seems down to a race between “Glory” from Selma and “Lost Stars” from Begin Again. “Lost Stars” has been the critical consensus, while “Glory” recently won both the BFCA and the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. With the dismay and outcry over Selma getting left out of numerous Oscar categories still being present on many voters minds, and the obvious respect for John Legend, Common, and Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking work on the film, I think the Oscar goes to… Selma.

Could Win: Until Legend and Common entered the race, “Lost Stars” was viewed as the frontrunner, if it received a nomination. A case could be made for “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” and the sentimentality factor, as well as for the youthful exuberance of “Everything Is Awesome!!!”, but I have to think that the power and elegance of “Lost Stars” is the only other song that could win from this field. “Grateful”‘s win comes with its nomination.

Should Win: I absolutely love “Lost Stars” and find it to be a song I have listened to 1,000 times in the last few months and would love to see it win. However, when you sit down and listen to the immediacy and the urgency and galvanizing power behind every moment in “Glory”, it is hard to not just stand and applaud Legend and Common for their tremendous achievement.