Our picks for Oscar’s best original song category (and yes, Lady Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ is included)

Pop Music Critic

If the awards-season waters were muddied by many of the unexpected winners — and losers — at Sunday’s Golden Globes, the result in the original song category seemed to make at least one thing crystal clear: There is approximately zero chance that Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” won’t take the same prize when the Academy Awards are handed out Feb. 24.

Should the power ballad from Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” remake win the Oscar, the song would follow “Evergreen” — Barbra Streisand’s gentle acoustic theme from her 1976 version of “Star” — into the film academy’s record books; not only that, but like “Evergreen” four decades ago, “Shallow” is also up for record and song of the year at next month’s Grammys. (Streisand’s tune took the song trophy but lost record to the Eagles’ “Hotel California.”)

Yet as certain as “Shallow’s” victory appears, the song isn’t running uncontested. Last month, the academy revealed a short list of 15 selections under consideration for the original song award (out of an initial 90 deemed eligible), and this week Oscar voters are casting ballots to narrow that group to the final slate of nominees set to be announced on Jan. 22.


Here, then, are some thoughts (and some unsolicited advice) on which tunes should make the cut — even if none of them stands a chance against Gaga.

Keeping ‘Shallow’ safe

Actually, before we get to that, let me take a second first to note my surprise that the short list contained only a single song from “A Star Is Born.”

Given the movie’s input from a slew of well-connected songwriters and producers, not to mention its Oscar-bait show-business setting, I’d have thought the academy’s music branch might’ve gone for “Shallow” as well as “I’ll Never Love Again,” the tear-jerking finale that recalls Whitney Houston’s celebrated music from “The Bodyguard.”

But maybe “Shallow’s” biggest fans feared splitting the eventual vote, as arguably happened in 2007, when three tunes from “Dreamgirls” were nominated and all lost, and again the next year, when three from “Enchanted” met the same fate.


Two from ‘Poppins’

Then again, the short list does feature a pair of tunes from “Mary Poppins Returns,” which probably represents “A Star Is Born’s” most realistic competition.

Oscar voters have a long-established devotion to songs from Disney musicals: Last year’s winner was “Remember Me,” from “Coco,” and before that there were ditties from “Frozen,” “Toy Story 3,” “Tarzan,” “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” the list goes on (and on). And with “Mary Poppins Returns,” of course, they’re being reminded of Disney’s beloved original, which spawned an Oscar winner in 1964 with the Sherman brothers’ classic “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”

That said, I’m not sure “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” — sung in the movie by Lin-Manuel Miranda in a broad Cockney accent he clearly learned from Dick Van Dyke — lives up to the comparison it inevitably invites. The new movie’s other short-listed tune, “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” is worthier of a nod; it’s a song, as sweet as it is sad, that seeks to explain death to children without condescending to them.

Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is photographed in December 2018.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Plenty of stars

As suits a year full of movies about the creation of pop music, Lady Gaga isn’t the only pop star in the running for the Academy Awards.

Sade made the short list with “The Big Unknown,” her characteristically supple slow jam from “Widows” (and one of two movie songs she released in 2018, along with “Flower of the Universe” from “A Wrinkle in Time”).


Dolly Parton has “Girl in the Movies,” one of half a dozen new tunes she wrote and recorded with producer Linda Perry for the soundtrack of the Netflix film “Dumplin’.” The movie’s about a small-town girl who improbably enters a beauty contest — a perfect fit, it would seem, for Parton’s signature blend of empathy and wit; in fact, the tune is a bit of a snooze, which doesn’t mean voters won’t flock to a deeply familiar name.

More moving to my ears is “Revelation,” a delicate piano ballad by Troye Sivan, the young Australian singer and songwriter, and Jónsi of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, from “Boy Erased.” It’s easily the quietest song on the short list, and therefore potentially easy to overlook. But last year, voters nominated Sufjan Stevens’ similarly hushed “Mystery of Love,” from “Call Me by Your Name,” so one never knows.

Other famous musicians in the mix include Radiohead’s Thom Yorke with the spooky “Suspirium,” from “Suspiria”; Boots Riley of the Coup with “OYAHYTT,” a boisterous rap-rock cut from “Sorry to Bother You,” which Riley directed; and Mark Ronson (who also co-wrote “Shallow” with Lady Gaga) with “Keep Reachin’,” a reasonably funky collaboration with Chaka Khan from Netflix’s documentary about the life and work of Quincy Jones.

And then there’s the category’s final shoo-in: “All the Stars,” Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s hit “Black Panther” duet that’s also nominated for multiple Grammys.

The song’s quality aside — great melody, great sounds, great groove — there’s no way the ratings-hungry academy will pass up the opportunity to have Lamar perform on the Oscars show.


Twitter: @mikaelwood