There’s no suspense with “Shallow” making the Best Original Song shortlist on December 17. The Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper duet from “A Star Is Born” has been passionately embraced like no ballad since “Frozen’s” “Let It Go.” In fact, it looks unbeatable for the Oscar.
Competing against it are “All the Stars” (“Black Panther”), “I’ll Fight” (“RBG”), “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (“Mary Poppins Returns”), and long shot “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”).
But the biggest story about “Shallow” is how it evolved from a song about drowning and transcendence into the powerful anthem about love and filling the void personally and professionally. “Gaga was writing from the standpoint of Ally as an end credit song, because in the original script Bradley’s character drowns,” said co-writer Mark Ronson.
“But somehow Bradley decided that they were going to work it into the script as a duet. It’s a really good song that the movie turned into a really great song, and that’s the best you can hope for.”
It’s also a complicated song, first appearing during the sublime parking lot encounter between Jackson and Ally when she sings the first verse, and then escalating into a duet that he’s polished when he drags her onstage at his concert. Ronson liked the unconventional structure of three verses interspersed with the chorus. “It’s like a dialog between them,” he added. “It’s unpredictable and builds to something exciting.”
Meanwhile, as an end credit song, “All the Stars” (performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA) perfectly sums up the love and unity of “Black Panther.” “The beauty was that Ryan [Coogler] trusted us and gave us creative control,” said Sounwave, Lamar’s frequent collaborator as the drum beat specialist. “All he did was come by and play us the scenes that needed musical sonics, and he just trusted our ear.
“Then Kendrick created these trans, hypnotic chords that I couldn’t get out of my head,” added the writer/producer. “And we built on it and built on it and it eventually turned into three different beats before it became what it was…very simple. I could tell that [‘Black Panther’] was going to be a historic moment.”
As song writer Diane Warren chases her 10th nomination with “I’ll Fight” (performed by Jennifer Hudson), she continues her focus on battling injustice (including “Stand Up For Something” from “Marshall” and “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground”).
“What’s so cool about this song is you can have it be about whatever you want, but within the context of this movie, it’s about Ruth Bader Ginsberg fighting for our rights,” Warren said. “You hear this song and you can think about your parents or your kids or your friends or people that need help in the world. But Ruth speaks so powerfully with a soft voice.”
With “Mary Poppins Returns,” score and song composer/co-lyricist Marc Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman returned to the Depression-era books of P.L. Travers. “They were episodic adventures and more like Eastern philosophy,” Shaiman said. “‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ was taken from the one of the stories where Mary takes the kids to the dark side of the moon and her uncle is the man on the moon. That’s where he gathers all the things that you’ve lost. It’s a gentle way of Mary talking to the kids about the loss of their mother.”
The contenders are ranked by their likelihood of winning:
“Shallow” (“A Star Is Born”)
“I’ll Fight” (“RBG”)
“All the Stars” (“Black Panther”)
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” (“Mary Poppins Returns”)
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”)