With Billie Eilish, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Beyonce Competing, the Oscar Song Race Is the Category to Watch

Oscar Song Nominees Belfast Encanto No Time to Die
Belfast: Focus Features; Encanto: Disney; No Time to Die: MGM

This year’s Oscar song race may be more competitive than initially thought. Billie Eilish’s James Bond theme “No Time to Die,” long believed the front-runner, has been out for over two years (awaiting a COVID-delayed release of the film it was written for) and now faces opposition from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Encanto” song.

While it’s not “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the TikTok sensation driving the Disney soundtrack to no. 1 and gold-record status, Oscar voters could choose its companion, the nominated “Dos Oruguitas,” as “close enough.” And don’t count out Queen Bey.

Be Alive” from “King Richard”

Superstar Beyoncé is, at long last, an Oscar nominee for this inspirational, Black-pride song from the finale of the film about Venus and Serena Williams’ hard-working tennis-coach dad. Last year’s surprise win by H.E.R. and her songwriters (for “Fight for You”) suggests this song cannot be counted out.

Beyoncé’s co-writer Dixson says his father “was very similar to Richard Williams. He had a strategy for his kids. I didn’t need to see the film to know the story; I lived it myself.” Further inspiration came from his mother: “Every major accomplishment in my career so far has come of knowing and being attached to a very powerful, strong woman.”

“Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto”

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s touching ballad from the climax of the animated Disney story is also the first song he’s ever written in Spanish. Sung by Colombian pop star Sebastián Yatra, it is only the second Spanish-language song ever to be nominated (after “Al otro lado del rio” which won in 2004). A Miranda win will also elevate him to EGOT status, having already earned two Emmys, three Grammys and a trio of Tonys during his time in the post-“Hamilton” limelight.

Says Miranda: “I really wanted it to sound like a song that has always existed. A folk song. I was inspired by the imagery of the butterflies creating the miracle. My pitch was, what if it’s a song about two caterpillars who are in love with each other and have to let go of each other to change into their next form?”

“Down to Joy” from “Belfast”

Grammy-winning, Belfast-born rocker Van Morrison received his first Oscar nomination for this, the only original among the nine Morrison songs in Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white memoir of growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. A win would make him among the oldest writers to claim a songwriting Oscar.

“He responded to the film,” Branagh told Variety. “He has that delicate relationship with his hometown that happens with many Irish people who spend much of their life traveling. You have a tenderized, somewhat melancholic relationship to the place that you left, and that’s articulated in the film. As an artistic collaborator, he was a tremendous ally.”

“No Time to Die” from “No Time to Die”

The title songs from the last two James Bond films, 2012’s “Skyfall” and 2015’s “Spectre,” won Oscars. Could the latest follow suit? It’s already won a Grammy and a Golden Globe for co-writers Billie Eilish and Finneas, who will be among the youngest ever to win if they manage the feat and the first siblings to win since Richard and Robert Sherman did it with “Mary Poppins” in 1964.

Finneas told Variety: “It had to have that signature 007 feel, musically and melodically. Billie and I often write lyrics and melody at the same time. But in this case, we wrote all of the melody before we wrote the lyrics, just because I had this feeling that the lyrics could be perfect, but if the melody isn’t also perfect, then it’s not going to land.”

“Somehow You Do” from “Four Good Days”

Diane Warren earned her 13th nomination for the song that Reba McEntire performs at the end of the Glenn Close-Mila Kunis drama about drug addiction. Warren is now the most-nominated woman without a win in Oscar history, her winless string dating back to 1987 (including such hits as “Because You Loved Me” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”).

The sole country-flavored tune in this year’s batch, it’s about finding courage to face life’s most desperate situations. “There’s hope,” says Warren. “Sometimes when you don’t think you’re going to get through it, you do.” She saw McEntire as right for the song because “she’s a survivor. The song is about the strength of the human spirit.”