Inclusion — or lack thereof — is a major talking point at awards shows lately. (See: the overwhelmingly male Grammys ceremony in January.) The nominees for the 2018 Academy Award for best original song, meanwhile, are all about acceptance.
Each of the five nominated tracks celebrates diversity, a theme that likewise ties their source movies together, from the story of a young NAACP lawyer who becomes the first black justice on the Supreme Court in Marshall to the outcasts who form a community of their own in The Greatest Showman. The commercial success of these films and the songs they inspired reflect the appetite in the current political climate for more open-minded entertainment.
“We wanted to write a song for these characters, these oddities, who were made to feel marginalized their whole lives,” say Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of their nominated song, “This Is Me,” from the P.T. Barnum-inspired Greatest Showman. The soundtrack topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks, while the tune peaked at No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Pasek and Paul, who in 2017 won an Oscar for La La Land and more recently a Grammy for the Broadway smash Dear Evan Hansen, feel that their track resonates so strongly now because “many people feel disenfranchised.”
Their fellow nominees share that same sentiment. Kristen Anderson-Lopez, co-writer of Coco’s “Remember Me” with her husband, Bobby Lopez (they won an Oscar for 2013’s Frozen), says their second nomination is even more significant to them. “At a time when leadership in this country has made polarizing statements about Mexico,” says Anderson-Lopez, “it’s nice to build a bridge instead of a wall.”
And while not all of the -nominated songs are explicitly political — “Mystery of Love,” the airy ballad Sufjan Stevens wrote for Call Me by Your Name, a coming-of-age story of a teenage boy who enjoys a fleeting summer romance with an older man, is more subtle in its message — the majority of the songwriters seized the opportunity to make a bold statement.
“My intention was to put out positive energy at a time when so many people are feeling discouraged and a lot of fear is out there,” says Common, who co-wrote the lyrics to Marshall’s rallying cry “Stand Up for Something” with Diane Warren. He wrote the song, he says, “to remind us that in these days and times, we need more art that’s part of the movement.”