This year’s crop of Oscar-nominated songs may be the most diverse in years: a ballad and a pop-rap from two of the year’s biggest films, plus a delicate lullaby from a Disney musical, a political themed anthem, and a novelty tune for singing cowboys.
“Shallow,” the top-10 hit from “A Star Is Born,” is widely favored to win, and would be a way for the Academy to acknowledge the success of the Bradley Cooper-directed musical remake and singer-songwriter Lady Gaga (also up for Best Actress), who was nominated three years ago for “Til It Happens to You.”
Its main competition would appear to be “All the Stars,” Kendrick Lamar’s duet with SZA for the “Black Panther” soundtrack, another top-10 hit but which — unlike “Shallow,” whose performance is central to “A Star Is Born” — is relegated to the end-credits roll of the Marvel film about an African prince-turned-superhero.
The most traditional of the songs is “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” sung by Emily Blunt at one of the most emotional moments of Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” as the nanny comforts the children who are missing their deceased mother at bedtime. Songwriter Marc Shaiman is the only tunesmith in this category who is also nominated for original score, thus giving him a second shot at Oscar glory if voters skip the song.
Movie-song veteran Diane Warren received her 10th nomination for “I’ll Fight,” her anthem for the conclusion of “RBG,” the documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s also Warren’s third consecutive nod for a political- or social-consciousness-themed film (after the sexual-assault doc “The Hunting Ground” and last year’s “Marshall,” about Justice Thurgood Marshall). She still hasn’t won despite all the nominations over more than 30 years.
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” is the curiosity in this category. Only four country-flavored songs have won (most recently “The Weary Kind” from 2009’s “Crazy Heart”), and “Cowboy” is a tongue-in-cheek lament about a gunfighter’s last showdown. The last comic country tune to be nominated was “Blazing Saddles” from the 1974 Mel Brooks classic.
“All the Stars” from “Black Panther”
Music by Kendrick Lamar, Sounwave, Top Dawg
Lyrics by Lamar, Top Dawg, SZA
Performed by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
Oscar record: First nominations for all
Musical style: Pop-rap duet
Songwriter’s POV: “From the first scene of the movie, we knew this was something special,” says Sounwave, who says he and his collaborators created most of the song in a Jamaica studio. “We came up with the lyrics, the hook, the verses, everything organically came to us. You basically have the overall concept of the movie in one song.”
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG”
Music and lyrics by Diane Warren
Performed by Jennifer Hudson
Oscar record: Nine previous nominations
Musical style: Pop anthem
Songwriter’s POV: “With this administration and what’s going on with our rights that are assaulted on a minute to minute basis,” says Warren, “we need someone to fight for us. Ruth Bader Ginsburg certainly does, has for 40 or 50 years, and continues to do so. I’d give her my ribs.”
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns”
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Performed by Emily Blunt
Oscar record: Five previous noms for Shaiman; first for Wittman
Musical style: Lullaby
Songwriter’s POV: “It goes back to [‘Poppins’ author] P.L. Travers for me,” says Wittman, “because it was this sort of spirituality that the song expresses, the way it says that people are always inside you no matter how far they’ve gone — and to use other words like ‘the dish and my best spoon’ put it into something that the children would understand.”
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”
Music and lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt
Performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Oscar record: Second nomination for Gaga; first for the others
Musical style: Country-flavored power ballad
Songwriter’s POV: It’s a dialogue, says Gaga: “That conversation is what makes the song successful, and why people cry when they hear it. It’s because that man and woman connect, and they are listening to each other.”
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
Music and lyrics by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
Performed by Willie Watson and Tim Blake Nelson
Oscar record: First nomination for both
Musical style: Singing-cowboy pastiche
Songwriter’s POV: “The more peculiar restraints you put upon a song, the more fun it is, so this was kind of a dream assignment,” says Welch. “And if you’re writing a gunfight song between two singing cowboys, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to put some yodeling in?”