Let’s Talk About the Oscars’ Baffling Approach to the Best Original Song Category


Early this morning, the nominees for the 87th annual Academy Awards were announced. The big takeaway is a lack of nominations for Ava DuVernay’s Selma outside of the category, Best Picture, and Best Original Song — and rightfully so, as there’s some of the usual glorification of white, male voices in this year’s noms. From the music perspective, I see another obvious, albeit less crucial, snub: where the hell is Lana Del Rey’s sweeping Big Eyes ballad?!

Instead, we’ve got nominations for Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island’s LEGO Movie theme “Everything Is AWESOME!!!”, Common and John Legend’s “Glory” from Selma, Rita Ora’s Diane Warren-penned “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars” from Begin Again (co-written by the New Radicals’ Gregg Alexander and featuring Keira Knightley), and Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from his sobering retirement doc, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.

In other words, the theme song to an animated smash that gets stuck in your head by simply saying its title, an emotional ballad from an important film about race, and a few songs that you may not have heard despite their coming from well-known stars (none are currently charting in the Hot 100). Sounds kinda familiar to last year’s noms, except there were two earworm hits from kids’ films — Frozen‘s “Let It Go” (which won) and Pharrell’s “Happy” — up for the Oscar instead of one. Which means “Everything Is AWESOME!!!” — written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, and The Lonely Island — has an even better chance of winning this year.

(A John Carney film with a musical focus — Once — has won in this category before, but I don’t see Begin Again’s “Lost Stars” pulling it off again. Levine at the Oscars? For a film that sort of just sort of came and went?)

Beyond the LDR snub, two previous winners in the category —McKenzie and Slumdog Millionaire’s A.R. Rahman — made the 79-song shortlist but not the ballot. Same goes for “Yellow Flicker Beat,” the centerpiece of the well-received, Lorde-curated Hunger Games: Mockingjay soundtrack; Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye’s Noah track “Mercy Is,” and Coldplay’s Unbroken song “Miracles.”

Best Original Song may not be among the most coveted categories, but the Oscars arguably remain the most respected American awards show. For a certain kind of music star or noted songwriter — mainstream but still considers herself an artiste — Grammys are easy to come by. But to the music community, an Oscar communicates a certain combination of talent and hoop-jumping. To make it past the unpredictable layers often at play in this specific category, especially if you’re not an established player writing for a Disney/Pixar film, is a big deal. Amidst your Phil Collins and your Randy Newman, some unexpected people have won in recent years: Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords (for The Muppets’ “Man or Muppet”) and Three 6 Mafia (for Hustle & Flow‘s “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp”). We live in a beautiful world where “Oscar winner” precedes Juicy J’s name. And The Lonely Island have strong chances of joining that very same club as well.

Between Original Song wins for Hustle & Flow and 8 Mile, the Academy could do worse at ignoring hip-hop, so I’m not totally counting out Common and John Legend’s “Glory” this year. Like U2’s Oscar-nominated Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom song last year, “Glory” won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Common used his acceptance speech this week to declare, “I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter, killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid, who maybe needed a hand, but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered on the line of duty.” The Academy could have come to the same conclusions in their nominations, but instead they may just show it in the Original Song category. It’s either that, or yet another Hollywood declaration that “everything is awesome.”