Pharrell, U2, Karen O, 'Frozen': Who Will Win the Battle for This Weekend's Best Song Oscar?

From left: Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Pharrell Williams, Bono, Karen O and Spike Jones photographed on Feb. 10 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.

Photo: Joe Pugliese

Kristen Anderson- Lopez & Robert Lopez
“Let It Go” from "Frozen"

THE CAMPAIGN
At the photo shoot for this very feature, songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez, 41, admitted to being star-struck in the presence of her fellow nominees. But when it came to the other artists posing, along with the shoot crew and likely random passersby, she and husband Robert Lopez, 38, were the center of attention thanks to a slew of stories about viewing "Frozen" in groups of extended families and friends, not to mention multiple viewings by their children. To be sure, getting youngsters to convince parents and grandparents to vote for “Let It Go” is the sort of campaign no one can manufacture.

What Disney did, though, initially was based on getting “Let It Go” in front of its potential audience. Two months before the film’s Nov. 27 release, Disney Music Group released Demi Lovato’s recording of “Let It Go” as a single, only to see it fizzle out at No. 38 on the Jan. 18 Hot 100. But with a $67.4 million opening weekend serving as a major boost, in December Disney shifted promotional efforts to the version by Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa in the movie. Menzel’s soaring “Let It Go” holds this week at No. 18 on the Hot 100 thanks to a combination of sales and streaming activity but minimal radio airplay.

'Frozen' Is Longest-Running No. 1 Soundtrack Since 2003

Helping the song pick up Oscar steam, while ballots are in the hands of Academy voters, the track has been discounted to 69 cents on iTunes (and has sold 1.2 million copies cumulatively, according to Nielsen SoundScan). And though Menzel’s availability to Disney was limited because of rehearsals for the Broadway show "If/Then" (the musical-theater actress won a Tony for "Wicked" and since has appeared on "Glee"), the studio got her for one impactful weekend — flying Menzel to L.A. on Feb. 9 for an invitation-only concert featuring some of the actors who sing in the film, including Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and Santino Fontana. “Like all the animation contenders, it was over-the-top,” says one veteran awards campaign consultant.

Wisely, the company submitted only “Let It Go” for Oscar consideration. Having multiple entries has backfired numerous times, most recently with the double-nominated "The Princess and the Frog" and the triple-nominated "Enchanted," also featuring Menzel as vocalist.

THE SONG
By enlisting the Lopezes, best known for co-creating "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon," it turned out the songs ultimately ended up driving the script, not vice versa. “When we wrote ‘Let It Go,’ the character of Elsa fell into place and the story started to make more sense,” says Robert. Adds Kristen: “The DNA was not of a musical. After we realized we had a real disconnect, we had a really intense retreat where we answered a lot of questions. Once we all got rowing in the same direction, then we started to fix basic things, like what does the main character want? We knew at some point, Elsa’s powers were going to come out and she would have a transformation into the Snow Queen. We had to start somewhere, so they said, ‘Why don’t you take a stab at that song?’ ”

“Let It Go” also would influence the film’s score — elements of the song pop up throughout, particularly when Elsa is onscreen. “Once we put ourselves in the shoes of this sympathetic character, the song came very quickly,” says Robert. “It goes through anger and sorrow to this joy, and it made Elsa the main character of the story.”

THE TIPPING POINT
Box-office success and album sales fed each other through Christmas, with the soundtrack gaining week-to-week and spending four nonconsecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart. Its sales tally so far: 1.05 million, with 100,000 albums sold for the week ending Feb. 16. Of course, there’s no better way to assure a zeitgeist moment than through the collective resolve of millions of faithful "Frozen" fans. Indeed, Disney execs are convinced the film will continue to thrive when it comes out on DVD and on-demand on March 18. Also on deck: a Broadway version of "Frozen," which immediately confers franchise status to the film, placing it alongside "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid."

As for the in-demand Lopezes, they are writing the "Frozen" musical while working on other film, TV and stage projects. And should the husband-and-wife team win the Oscar on March 2, Robert will gain entry to the small, exclusive club of EGOTs: creative professionals who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

ODDS: 1-4
FOR IT: Animated movies historically do well in this category.
AGAINST IT: Not a particularly cool or edgy pick.

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