In tune with Oscars’ best song nominees

Eye on the Oscars 2013: Music

After years of criticism about its often strange and unfathomable choices in the song category, the Academy’s music branch finally dumped its confusing numerical grading in 2012 and returned to the time-honored system of top five vote-getters as the nominees.

So, for only the second time in five years, five original tunes are competing. And the diversity is striking: one from a documentary, another from a romantic comedy, one by a mega-selling artist for an action pic, a new song written for a stage-hit-turned-film-musical, and a lullaby in an Indian language.

‘Before My Time’ from ‘Chasing Ice
Music and lyrics by J. Ralph

Only the third song from a documentary ever nominated for an Oscar, “Before My Time” appears under the end titles of Jeff Orlowski’s film about climate change. Explains New York-based composer Ralph: “At the end of the film, with this collage of images that encapsulated the entire experience, I wanted an aural journey, an abstract dialogue with nature, to help people absorb and reflect what they had just seen.”
Scarlett Johansson sings this melancholy ode with just a piano and the evocative solo violin of classical performer Joshua Bell. “I wanted to create this lyrical dialogue between humans and nature,” Ralph says. “There’s nothing more organic than a wooden violin from the 1700s.”

‘Everybody Needs a Best Friend’ from ‘Ted’
Music by Walter Murphy, lyrics by Seth MacFarlane

First-time nominees Murphy and Oscar host MacFarlane penned their song even before shooting began, per Murphy (who scores MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” and “American Dad” TV series) — from the point of view of the talking teddy bear.
They asked Norah Jones to sing it, as “one of the few people who can really sell this type of song in a pure, classic way, without gilding it ‘American Idol’ style,” adds MacFarlane. Murphy conducted a 55-piece jazz orchestra in a swinging arrangement. “When you have a film that edgy, it works well

to balance (the humor) against something classic sonically,” MacFarlane says.

‘Pi’s Lullaby’ from ‘Life of Pi’
Music by Mychael Danna, lyrics by Bombay Jayashri

film opens with a sweet, soothing lullaby, sung in the south Indian language of Tamil. Director Ang Lee “wanted to begin the film in this Garden of Eden, Pi’s birthplace, a childhood paradise ,” says Danna. “We wanted to get across, with the music, his mother’s love, this warm and solid place that feels like it will never go away.”
Lyricist-singer Bombay Jayashri is “a very accomplished classical South Indian, Carnatic singer. She’s also had some pop music experience and some hits, in fact, so she’s perfect. She’s got this voice that translates both Eastern and Western.” The lyrics make reference to some of the animals glimpsed in the opening.

‘Skyfall’ from ‘Skyfall’
Music and lyrics by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

The only commercial hit among the five nominees, Adele’s soulful, soaring ballad under the titles of the 23rd James Bond film became only the fourth 007 theme ever nominated (the last time was “For Your Eyes Only” 31 years ago). Marking the series’ 50th anniversary, it hearkens back to the days of such Shirley Bassey classics as “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever.”

Adele collaborated with producer Paul Epworth (they shared Grammys for their work on her best-selling “21” album) on both lyrics and music. “The song was so much about death and rebirth,” says Epworth. “It’s like two people having each other’s back when everything comes down around your ears.”

‘Suddenly’ from ‘Les Miserables’
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil

Director Tom Hooper came up with the idea of a scene as Valjean (Hugh Jackman) rides away in a carriage, having just saved little Cosette from a life of drudgery and abuse — “that unique moment,” says lyricist Boublil, “when Jean Valjean feels, for the first time, something he’s never felt before. It’s the discovery of love.” Jackman sings this hopeful soliloquy.
Adds composer Schonberg: “It’s a very simple song, with no sophisticated chords. I recorded the piano, and with orchestrator Anne Dudley, we did a small string quartet on it. We wanted it to be very simple and not overproduced for that first moment of tenderness and love between Valjean and the little girl.”

Eye on the Oscars 2013: Music
“Anna Karenina” | “Argo” | “Life of Pi” | “Lincoln” | “Skyfall”
Best Song

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Spotify logo is presented on a

    Spotify Triples Free-Trial Period on Premium Service

    Spotify today extended the free-trial period for its Premium service from one month to three, tripling the amount of time listeners can take full advantage of the streaming giant’s offerings without paying for them. According to the announcement, the offer is “always-on/not limited time,” and will roll out across Spotify Premium plans globally: Individual and [...]

  • Celso Pina Dead

    Celso Piña, Known as 'Rebel of the Accordion,' Dies at 66

    Celso Piña, the cumbia music legend known as “the rebel of the accordion,” died of a heart attack on Wednesday in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. He was 66 years old. “Today is a sad day for La Tuna Group, with deep pain we communicate the unexpected departure of a family member, our friend, and [...]

  • Shawn Mendes, Camila CabelloShawn Mendes and

    Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes to Perform 'Señorita' for First Time at VMAs

    Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes are performing their hit single “Señorita” live together for the first time at the 2019 Video Music Awards. Cabello received five VMA nominations this year, including Best Collaboration, Best Art Direction, Best Choreography, Best Cinematography and Song of Summer. Mendes received six: Artist of the Year, Best Collaboration, Best Art [...]

  • Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift in concert at

    When Could Taylor Swift Re-Record Her Big Machine Songs? It's Complicated

    Her few words echoed around the world within minutes: Asked in a preview of her forthcoming “CBS This Morning” interview whether she might re-record her master recordings from her Big Machine, which are now owned and controlled by her nemesis, Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun, Taylor Swift said, “Oh yeah.” Asked whether she plans to: [...]

  • James Corden Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke

    James Corden Got a Little Help From Paul McCartney on His Drive to the Emmys

    Saying “Baby, I could drive your car” has proven to be a very good strategy for James Corden — never more so than when he put Paul McCartney into the highly sought passenger seat. The primetime special “Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney, Live From Liverpool” is a contender in five Emmy categories this year, [...]

  • Big Mouth Netflix

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Announces 'Big Mouth' Season 3 Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Big Mouth” Season 3 sets an October 4 premiere date and Univison releases a sneak peek of its new music competition show “Reina de la Canción.” DATES “Big Mouth” will return to Netflix with its third season on Oct. 4. The adult animated comedy, created by childhood friends Andrew Goldberg and Nick [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content