The last few years have seen something of a populist uprising in Oscar’s best original
song category. In 2012, Adele became one step closer to EGOT by winning
the Oscar for “Skyfall” (alongside co-writer Paul Epworth). In 2013, the
extraordinarily popular “Frozen” theme “Let It Go” beat out the
mainstream likes of Pharrell Williams, U2 and Karen O. And last year,
John Legend and Common won for their “Selma” anthem “Glory” after a performance that brought down the house on Oscar night.
Are the days when we’d never heard of the best original song winner long
gone (“Al otro lado del rio” from “The Motorcycle Diaries,” anyone?) —
and are the days when the winners are #1 on iTunes here to stay? That depends on how this year shakes down.
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to original songs in films this year — and no shortage of star-wattage. We’ve highlighted ten songs that seem most likely to succeed, and they collectively involve the likes of The Weeknd, Sia, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, Wiz Khalifa, Ellie Goulding, Linda Perry, Miley Cyrus, Brian Wilson and, yep, Meryl Streep. It’s still a few months until we know which of them will end up being performed on Oscar night, but here’s a potential preview:
Where’s it from? “Ricki and the Flash,” directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Diablo Cody
Who sings it? The one and only Oscar goddess Meryl Streep (who sang an Oscar nominated song once before, in 1990’s “I’m Checkin’ Out” from “Postcards From The Edge”).
Who wrote it (and would therefore get the Oscar)? While Streep is obviously multi-talented, songwriting has yet to be proven in that regard. Singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis and her regular collaborator Jonathan Rice wrote the song.
Was it a hit? Not in any measurable sense (but Bustle.com sure loved it).
What are its Oscar chances? Pretty good. The excuse to bring Streep to the Oscars (and perhaps have her perform?) in the rare year that she’s not nominated herself might be enough for voters to check the box. It’s also a very strong song performed in one of the film’s best scenes, which has historically tended to be a factor in nominating songs for Oscars (simply being played over the end credits doesn’t have as much weight).
Watch a clip of Streep performing the song in the film below:
Where’s it from? The best-selling soundtrack to mega hit “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Who sings it? The Weeknd, which has been experiencing tremendous popularity this year.
Who wrote it? Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd’s given name), Stephan Moccio Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville and Ahmad Balshe
Was it a hit? Very much. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200.
What are its Oscar chances? Decent. On its side is the fact that it’s used within the narrative of the film twice, and that The Weeknd was involved in the film from early on. It’s also very catchy, and has a seductive beat that suits the BDSM theme of the film. A nomination would provide the icing on the cake of an epic breakout year for The Weeknd (whose second studio album, “Beauty Behind The Madness,” is already the year’s biggest). Still, big stars get snubbed in this category all the time (even when they deserve the kudos), and some Oscar voters may feel uncomfortable contributing to the idea of “Fifty Shades of Grey” becoming an Oscar nominee.
Watch the music video (which was directed by “Fifty Shades” helmer Sam Taylor-Wood):
Where’s it from? The hugely successful “Pitch Perfect 2.”
Who sings it? Multiple characters (probably most memorably Hailee Steinfeld’s Emily) sing the song throughout the film, though British pop star Jesse J is the voice heard on the track, which received constant radio play this summer.
Who wrote it? Some very big names: Both Sia Furler and Sam Smith are credited as writers, alongside Christian Guzman and Jason Moore.
Was it a hit? Yep, though not of “Earned It” proportions. It reached #61 on Billboard’s U.S. chart, though it was a top 10 hit in many countries around the world (including Australia, Belgium and Indonesia). The fact that the film made over $180 million in the U.S. alone should be taken into consideration with respect to its popularity.
What are its Oscar chances? Minimal. There are so many mainstream hits in contention this year and this might end up feeling minor relative to some of the others. That said, its prominent use throughout the film will help it — as will its catchy melodies.
Watch the music video below:
“Hands of Love”
Where’s it from? Julianne Moore-Ellen Page LGBT rights weepie “Freeheld”
Who sings it? Miley Cyrus, who took a break from her experimental “Dead Petz” to take on a more traditional ballad.
Who wrote it? Openly gay rock icon Linda Perry, who’s also featured on the song.
Was it a hit? It didn’t chart in the U.S., but made it to #58 in Canada and #135 in the UK.
What are its Oscar chances? Had “Freeheld” become the major Oscar contender many suspected it might, the chances this song could have rode the wave with nominations for stars Moore and Page would have been likely. But given the film’s negative reviews and middling box office, it’s a bit of a long shot now. Nevertheless, the song is quite beautiful, and correlates strongly with the film’s themes of love and solidarity.
Watch Miley Cyrus perform the song on “Ellen” below:
“Love Me Like You Do”
Where’s it from? Another track from that epic “Fifty Shades” soundtrack.
Who sings it? Ellie Goulding.
Who wrote it? The song was written by Savan Kotecha, Ilya Salmanzadeh, Tove Lo, Max Martin and Ali Payami.
Was it a hit? A huge one. The song spent four weeks at number one on the UK Singles
Chart, and topped the charts in Australia,
Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland. It peaked at third place on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and held the record for the
most-streamed track in a single week in the UK and worldwide (it was streamed 15.5 million times).
What are its Oscar chances? Probably about as strong as the aforementioned “Earned It,” though there is concern the two songs might cancel each other out. Like “Earned It,” “Love Me Like You Do” features prominently in the film, syncs up lyrically with the film’s narrative, and is massively catchy. But again, this is “Fifty Shades of Grey” we’re talking about here.
Watch the the video below:
“One Kind of Love”
Where’s it from? Bill Pohlad’s biopic of Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson, “Love & Mercy.”
Who sings it? No less than Mr. Wilson himself.
Who wrote it? Wilson and Scott Bennett.
Was it a hit? Not especially. The video has under 20,000 views and the album peaked at #28. However, Wilson is a different kind of musician than a lot of the mainstream artists on this list.
What are its Oscar chances? Excellent. “Love & Mercy” is a genuine Oscar contender in a few major categories (particularly for Paul Dano’s performance as Wilson), and the fact that Wilson himself wrote the song is a major sentimental selling point for voters. It’s also classic-sounding Wilson and will likely appeal to the Academy’s older voters (and there are many of them) much more so than songs by Jessie J or The Weeknd.
Watch Wilson perform the song here:
“See You Again”
Where’s it from? “Furious 7,” by far the highest grossing film on this list.
Who sings it? Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth.
Who wrote it? Khalifa, Puth, DJ Franke E and Andrew Cedar.
Was it a hit? Beyond. It held first place on the Billboard Hot 100 for a whopping 12 non-consecutive weeks, tying with Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (which won the Oscar) as the longest-running rap number-one hit. The song also holds the record for the most-streamed track in a single day on Spotify in the United States (4.2 million times on April 13, 2015), and on October 7, the video became the first hip hop song to hit 1 billion views (yes, billion) on YouTube.
What are its Oscar chances? Very strong. Beyond the song being an astoundingly massive hit around the world, it was commissioned for “Furious 7” as a tribute to the late actor Paul Walker. Nominating the song would certainly feel like honoring the actor as well, and surely would make for a teary moment during the ceremony.
“Simple Song #3”
Where’s it from? Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.”
Who sings it? South Korean lyric coloratura soprano Sumi Jo.
Who wrote it? Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang.
Was it a hit? No, but it would be bizarre if it was.
What are its Oscar chances? Excellent. The entire film basically works toward the song’s performance, and “Youth” is a potential Oscar contender across the board. Sure, Sumi Jo is no Miley Cyrus and David Lang is not Linda Perry, but “Simple Song #3” stands out amidst a sea of popular options; Jo and Lang’s prestige is clear to anyone who does a simple Google search. It certainly wouldn’t grab ratings or jump to the top of the iTunes chart, but “Simple Song #3” is definitely a contender.
Listen to the song below:
“Til It Happens To You”
Where’s it from? Kirby Dick’s documentary about sexual assaults on college campuses, “The Hunting Ground.”
Who sings it? Last year’s queen of the Oscar ceremony, Lady Gaga.
Who wrote it? Gaga and Diane Warren.
Was it a hit? Its powerful, Catherine Hardwicke-directed video has over 18 million views on YouTube.
What are its Oscar chances? Very strong. Documentaries have actually received nominations in this category twice in the past three years, though that is hardly the song’s biggest selling point. A dramatic, commanding track that shares the film’s timely and tragic subject matter, it’s won’t be easy to ignore come voting time. Then there’s the appeal of getting Lady Gaga back on the Oscar stage. Additionally, Diane Warren is this category’s Susan Lucci. She’s been nominated for seven Academy Awards already (including last year for “Grateful” from “Beyond The Lights”), and has never won. That adds up to frontrunner status.
Watch the aforementioned music video below:
“Writing’s On The Wall”
Where’s it from? The new James Bond film “Spectre.”
Who sings it? Sam Smith (who also wrote “Flashlight”).
Who wrote it? Smith and Johnny Napes.
Was it a hit? In the UK, “Writing’s on the Wall” became the first James Bond theme to reach #1. The previous highest-charting Bond themes were Adele’s “Skyfall” (which won the Oscar) and Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill”, which both reached #2.
What are its Oscar chances? Pretty weak. Despite becoming a huge hit, no one really seems to like the song, especially compared to the predecessor in this category, which won an Oscar for Adele. But stranger things have happened — and a lot of voters will have seen “Spectre.”