Oscar voters have shown eclectic taste when it comes to awarding the prize for original song. Over the last several years, they’ve bounced from country to quirky (songs from “Crazy Heart” and “Toy Story 3"), from Muppets to Adele (“The Muppets” and “Skyfall”) and from the yearnings of Disney princesses to the stirrings of social anthems (“Frozen” and “Selma”).
And while some songs, like “Frozen’s” “Let It Go,” seem born for Oscar fanfare, others may need a little amplification to be heard. Here’s a look at some of both types from this season’s contenders.
“One Kind of Love” | “Love and Mercy”
What could be more perfect for a biopic about Brian Wilson, the reclusive Beach Boys mastermind, than a song written and performed by Wilson himself? The song hearkens to some of our best associations with Wilson’s work while also sounding like a tribute to his real-life wife, Melinda, and the healing she fostered in him. (“One Kind of Love,” written and performed by Brian Wilson)
“See You Again” | “Furious 7"
The song, performed by Wiz Khalifa, fits the film’s wistful farewell to Paul Walker’s character, but it more resonantly serves as a public remembrance of the late actor who was so popular among his collaborators. The rap also includes a memorable sung chorus about reuniting with lost loved ones after death, so it’s no wonder it resonates beyond the film’s fans — the song has gone quadruple platinum stateside with more than 1 billion views on YouTube. Its 12 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard tied none other than Oscar winner Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” for a reign by a rap song. (“See You Again” written by DJ Frank E, Charlie Puth, Wiz Khalifa, Andrew Cedar; performed by Wiz Khalifa featuring Puth)
“simple song #3" | “Youth”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang was called upon to write the song before the script was finished, as writer-director Paolo Sorrentino wanted the film to build to a performance and to respond, in a way, to what the song turned out to be.
“Paolo wanted it be opera, something that would last because that’s one of the themes of the film. He was also adamant that it be emotional on the spot … my idea of a perfect musical experience is you wake up in the middle of the night two weeks later and go, ‘Wow, that really changed me,’” said Lang with a laugh.
“The music [Michael Caine’s conductor character] makes with the candy wrappers, the cow music, all of those things are related to this final song,” said Lang. “So when we hear the final song, we’ve been in the presence of his mind, little bits of it, and now we’re getting the fullest incarnation of what’s in his head.” (“simple song #3" written by David Lang, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra, Sumi Jo & Terry Davies)
“Feels Like Summer” | “Shaun the Sheep Movie”
Meanwhile, another breezy Beach Boys-y romp comes in on an animated movie. “When we started, we intended it to be in a ‘90s Brit-pop style because the beginning of the film takes place in the ‘90s,” says songwriter Ilan Eshkeri, “but as is so often the way when you’re being creative, you start with one idea and it comes out different. People saying it sounds anything like the Beach Boys is the biggest compliment ever.”
There’s a variant of the song “sung” by the sheep characters, by the way: “It was one of the most absurd things I’ve ever been asked to do,” said Eshkeri, laughing. “We called it ‘The Baa Baa Shop Quintet.’” (“Feels Like Summer” written by Ilan Eshkeri, Tim Wheeler and Nick Hodgson; performed by Tim Wheeler)
“So Long” | “Concussion”
For a film about football head injuries being linked to brain disease and the doctor struggling to be heard, the song feels a little tangential. But as a throwback, authentic-feeling, acoustic soul song, it’s refreshing. Leon Bridges’ vocal hearkens to the Sam Cooke era of soul crooners, with a hint more roughness around the edges. For sheer feeling and beauty, it’s among the best of this year’s crop. (“So Long” written by Leon Bridges, Joshua Block, Austin Jenkins and Chris Vivion; performed by Leon Bridges)
“Flashlight” | “Pitch Perfect 2"
This is the kind of contemporary ballad that often gets recognized by the academy. (“Flashlight” written by Sia Furler, Christian Guzman, Jason Moore, Sam Smith; performed by the film’s Barden Bellas)
“Hands of Love” | “Freeheld”
A gay-rights anthem featuring one of Miley Cyrus’ best vocals so far. Could be dinged by the underwhelming response to the film. (“Hands of Love” written by Linda Perry; performed by Miley Cyrus)
“I’m in Love With a Monster” | “Hotel Transylvania 2"
In the retro girl-group vibe of such recent hits as “All About That Bass” and “Ex’s & Oh’s,” features solid vocals and could claim the academy’s semi-annual novelty slot (see last year’s “Everything Is Awesome”). (“I’m in Love With a Monster” written by Harmony Samuels; performed by Fifth Harmony)
“The Banks” | “Grandma”
Might squeeze into the Elliott Smith singer-songwriter slot (à la “Lost Stars” or “The Moon Song”) — it’s a quiet, lovely bit of songcraft by DIY dream-pop duo Joel P. West and Darla Hawn. (“The Banks” written by Joel P. West; performed by Flood Coats)
“Earned It” | “Fifty Shades of Grey”
The Weeknd is still riding the heat of his massive and buzzy hit, “Can’t Feel My Face"; this one is a slow-burn ballad. Its lyrics (“You deserve it, the way you work it”) might make some voters a little nervous. (“Earned It” written by Abel Tesfaye, Stephan Moccio, Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville, Ahmad Balshe, performed by the Weeknd)
“Love Me Like You Do” | “Fifty Shades of Grey”
Its popularity — double platinum in the U.S. — could make it a contender. (“Love Me Like You Do” written by Savan Kotecha, Ilya Salmanzadeh, Tove Lo, Max Martin and Ali Payami, performed by Ellie Goulding)
“Feel the Light” | “Home”
Features a soaring chorus and Jennifer Lopez, which might be enough to get considered. (“Home” written by Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Kiesa Rae Ellestad, Emile Haynie, performed by Jennifer Lopez).