There have been years in the recent past when it was hard to muster up much enthusiasm about the Oscar race for best original song. Sometimes, it seemed as if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was struggling just to maintain the category. Five times since 2000, there have been fewer than five nominees. In 2011, there were just two.
But this year, we have a true Oscar race, with five strong and credible nominees.
To recap, the nominees, announced bright and early on Tuesday (Feb. 8) are “Be Alive” from King Richard (music and lyric by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter), “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto (music and lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda), “Down to Joy” from Belfast (music and lyric by Van Morrison), “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die (music and lyric by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell) and “Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days (music and lyric by Diane Warren).
Any of them could win, but which one will? Let’s take them one-by-one. We list them in order of their perceived likelihood of winning, from least to most likely:
5. “Somehow You Do”
Background: This is Diane Warren’s 13th nomination for best original song. She is one of only nine songwriters to amass that many nominations in this category, and only the second woman (following the late Marilyn Bergman, who collected 15 nods with her husband Alan Bergman). Moreover, this is the fifth year in a row that Warren has been nominated in this category. That’s the longest streak of consecutive best original song nominations since the Bergmans were nominated six years running from 1968-73.
This is Warren’s ninth nomination for a song she wrote all by herself. Only Randy Newman has accumulated more solo-written nominees (13). Irving Berlin is in third place with seven. Warren has yet to win an Oscar, having amassed more nominations without a win than any other woman (from any field of endeavor) in Oscar history.
Reba McEntire sings the philosophical ballad in the film Four Good Days and will presumably sing it on the Oscars. McEntire’s first date with Oscar came when she sang “I’m Checkin’ Out” from Postcards from the Edge on the 1991 telecast.
If it wins: Warren would become the first person to win in this category for a song written without collaborators since Bret McKenzie won a decade ago for “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets. Warren would become just the third woman to win for a song written without collaborators. She would follow Carly Simon (“Let the River Run” from Working Girl, 1988) and Melissa Etheridge (“I Need to Wake Up” from an Inconvenient Truth, 2006).
At 65, Warren would become the oldest woman to win in this category. That distinction is currently held by Annie Lennox, who was 49 in February 2004 when she won for co-writing “Into the West” from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Last but not least, sound mixer Anna Behlmer would replace Warren on the list of women with the most Oscar nods without a win. Behlmer was nominated for best sound or best sound mixing 10 times from 1995 to 2009.
4. “Down to Joy”
Background: This is the only new song in Belfast, which features eight classic songs by Morrison, a Belfast native.
Morrison has long been regarded as songwriting royalty. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993; the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003.
If it wins: Morrison, 76, would become the oldest Oscar winner for best original song. That record is currently held by Gulzar, who was 74 in February 2009 when he won for co-writing “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire.
And Morrison, not Warren, would become the first person to win in this category for a song written without collaborators since Bret McKenzie won a decade ago.
3. “Be Alive”
Background: Beyoncé performs this song, which speaks of both family and Black pride, on the King Richard soundtrack. This is the first Oscar nomination for both Beyoncé and her collaborator, DIXSON. Beyoncé was shortlisted last year with “Spirit” from The Lion King, but failed to receive a nod.
DIXSON (real name: Darius Scott) has also worked with Pharrell, Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa and more.
If it wins: This would be the second year in a row that a song written by a team of Black songwriters has won. H.E.R., Dernst Emile and Tiara Thomas won last year for “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah.
Beyoncé would have an Oscar to go with her 28 Grammys. She has yet to win an Emmy (despite eight nominations over the years) or a Tony. But there’s still time for Beyoncé, who is 40.
2. “Dos Orugitas”
Background: Encanto is this year’s only film to receive nominations for both best original song (for Lin-Manuel Miranda) and best original score (for Germaine Franco).
Most Oscar voters are aware that Miranda just needs an Oscar to become an EGOT. Many will want to make that dream come true. Miranda lost out on his first Oscar try, when “How Fall I’ll Go” from Moana lost to “City of Stars” from La La Land.
“Dos Orugitas,” a tender acoustic ballad performed by Colombian singer-songwriter Sebastián Yatra, has climbed as high as No. 36 on the Hot 100. The Encanto soundtrack album has topped the Billboard 200 for four non-consecutive weeks. It’s the first soundtrack to spend four weeks on top since A Star Is Born, which yielded the Oscar-winning “Shallow.”
“Dos Oruguitas” is sung in Spanish in Encanto. This is the second year in a row that a best original song nominee was performed in the film in a language other than English. “Io sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead, nominated last year, was sung in Italian.
If it wins: Miranda would become an EGOT. At 42, he’d be the third youngest EGOT, trailing only Robert Lopez, who was 39 when he reached the milestone, and John Legend, who was 39 years and eight months. (He would have been the youngest EGOT if he had won the Oscar five years ago, when he was 37. Can’t have everything.)
“Dos Orugitas” would become the fifth song that was performed in the film in a language other than English to win the Oscar, following “Mona Lisa” (sung in Spanish by an unbilled troubadour) from Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950), “Never on Sunday” (Greek title: “Ta Paidia toy Peiraia”) from the Greek film of the same name (1960), “Al otro lado del río,” sung in Spanish in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and “Jai Ho,” a Hindi song from Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
And Miranda — not Warren or Morrison — would become the first person to win in this category for a song written without collaborators since Bret McKenzie won a decade ago.
Finally, if it wins, Miranda won’t have to always wonder if he’d have had better luck if he had submitted the surprise smash “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” for Oscar consideration instead.
1. “No Time to Die”
Background: “No Time to Die” is the seventh song from a James Bond film to receive a nomination. It’s the fourth title song from a Bond film to make the cut, following “Live and Let Die,” “For Your Eyes Only” and “Skyfall.”
Oscar voters were slow to embrace songs from James Bond films, but they’ve since made up for lost time. Songs from the two Bond features right before No Time to Die both won the award – Adele’s “Skyfall” from the film of the same name and Sam Smith’s “Writing on the Wall” from Spectre. “Skyfall,” a cool, elegant ballad, was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. But it seems fair to say that the Bond legacy carried Smith’s unmemorable song, a minor Hot 100 hit, to a win.
Eilish performs “No Time to Die” on the film’s soundtrack. The song won a Grammy in March for best song written for visual media, a Hollywood Music in Media Award in November for best original song in a feature film and a Golden Globe on Jan. 9 for best original song. This is the highest-charting Hot 100 hit of the bunch. It debuted and peaked at No. 16 in February 2020.
If it wins: Billie Eilish, 20, and Finneas, 24, would become the first siblings to win in this category since Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, who won the 1964 award for “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins.
“No Time to Die” would become the first Bond song to win that was written by American songwriters. The first two winners, “Skyfall” and “The Writings on the Wall,” were both written by pairs of English writers.
Eilish would become the second-youngest winner ever in the category, trailing only Markéta Irglová, who was four days shy of turning 20 when she won in February 2008 for co-writing “Falling Slowly” from Once. Eilish might have become the youngest winner ever in this category if COVID hadn’t happened and No Time to Die had come out on schedule in 2020. If that had happened, and the 2021 Oscars also hadn’t been postponed because of COVID, she might have won the award in late February 2021, when she was 19 and two months.
Will she and Finneas finally take the award this year or will it go to “Dos Orugitas” or one of these other contenders? We’ll find out on March 27 when the 94th annual Academy Awards are presented at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.