Skip to main content

Conversations With the 2023 Oscar Best Original Song and Score Nominees

The 95th Academy Awards will take place on March 12.

The nominees for best original song and score discuss soundtracking, and defining, a movie’s biggest moments.



Two of this year’s nominees for best original song, “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick and “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, are from sequels to films that also spawned nominees in this category. Top Gun yielded “Take My Breath Away,” the winner 36 years ago. Black Panther produced “All the Stars,” a nominee four years ago.

Tell It Like a Woman (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

Tell It Like a Woman is an anthology of seven short stories, each directed by a woman from many different parts of the world. “Applause” brought Warren her 14th nomination for best original song, a tally only seven other songwriters have reached in Oscar history.

You’re high on the list of all-time nominees in this category, but you have yet to win.

I joke around that I’ve lost 13 times, but I haven’t. I’ve won 13 times. The fact that my peers who are the best of the best in music and movies in the world have chosen songs of mine all these times is a giant win in itself.

Some songwriters lose their magic touch after a while, but you ­haven’t. Why do you think that is?

Maybe people get complacent. The thing is, I never get complacent. My motto is, “Be a little smarter, work a little harder.” I live by that. I’m all about just always writing better songs and improving my craft. I don’t go on vacation. I don’t sit back and go, “Yeah, I did this,” or “I’m cool now.” I’m like, “OK, what’s next? I want to top that.” Maybe that’s part of it.

“Hold My Hand”
Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures)
Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga and BloodPop

This power ballad brought Lady Gaga her third nomination in this category following nods for “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground and “Shallow” from A Star Is Born. (“Shallow” won four years ago.) This is BloodPop’s first nod. Top Gun: Maverick was the top-grossing film in the United States and Canada for 2022, according to Box Office Mojo.

“Lift Me Up”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Marvel Studios)
Music by Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Göransson; Lyric by Tems and Ryan Coogler

With the sweeping “Lift Me Up,” Rihanna made her long-awaited return to music. The emotional ballad, which soundtracks the final scene in the film that honors the late lead, Chadwick Boseman, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Given Rihanna’s extended absence from music, why did you save her moment for the film’s end?

Ludwig Göransson: When you hear her voice and the lyrics, that’s the point where you finally take it all in. You can see what a great filmmaker [director] Ryan [Coogler] is because in the scene right before you hear the song, it’s absolute silence. You see all these flashbacks, all these memories, and then you interrupt that [with] a song honoring Chadwick and [his character], T’Challa.

What was the energy like when you all watched the final cut of that scene?

It was unlike anything else I’ve ever worked on. You’re all like a big family that lost someone, and sitting there in the very, very end of it when you’ve been going through so much together, it was a very cathartic experience.

Why do you and Coogler work so well together?

We’ve been working together since we were students at [University of Southern California], and there’s something magical about that, how it still feels the same. There’s just more people watching.

“Naatu Naatu”
RRR (Pen Studios)
Music by M.M. Keeravani; Lyric by Chandrabose

Composer Keeravani and artist-lyricist Chandrabose have been making music for 33 and 28 years, respectively. This is the first Oscar nomination for both. The global hit “Naatu Naatu” soundtracks the most vibrant and upbeat scene in the otherwise battle-filled film.

Why is it important this song is Oscar-nominated?

Chandrabose: I [have written] 3,600 songs, and of those songs, this song has been nominated, which is a great achievement for me. Getting recognition in my motherland [the Indian state of Telangana] is different from getting appreciation elsewhere, so I’m very happy. My fingers are crossed.

Whom do you hope to meet at the Oscars?

M.M. Keeravani: I’m hoping to meet Rihanna and say to her that “Disturbia,” “Rude Boy” and a few others are my most favorite songs. I’d like to shake hands with her. And Colin Farrell, I’m looking forward to saying hello to him. Phone Booth is my all-time favorite movie. Whenever I watch a bad movie, I get irritated, come home and just watch a few scenes from Phone Booth and go to bed.

What’s next?

Keeravani: I am looking forward to the world embracing more and more Indian songs, movies, stories and cultures. Not only from me, but from my fellow musicians, directors and movie-makers in India.

“This Is a Life”
Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24)
Music by Ryan Lott, David Byrne and Mitski; Lyric by Ryan Lott and David Byrne

Byrne was approached by Son Lux’s manager to co-write the end-title song to the fantastical film alongside Mitski and the trio’s Lott. (All three band members wrote the score as well as the music for this song, though Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia aren’t credited for the latter.) As a fan of Swiss Army Man, the 2016 movie by the film’s directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Byrne said yes.

This song plays against the chaos reflected in the movie. What was your approach?

David Byrne: You’ve just sat through this movie with all this insane craziness and multidimensions, and you would expect some wacky, psychedelic song. I thought, “No, no, no, no.” That doesn’t tell you what the movie is really about, [which is] this family and forgiveness and redemption. The song has to remind you of that … If you think it’s about googly eyes and hot-dog fingers, no — it’s about something deeper and more universally human.

How did you work with Mitski?

I was given the difficult task of writing words and music that weaved around hers so that it was almost like we were having a conversation in song.

Do you think different versions of the song exist in the multiverse?

Yes! (Laughs.) In another universe, this would be some psychedelic disco song.

Wright: Courtesy of Marvel Studios. Curtis, Hsu: Allyson Riggs. Yeoh: Courtesy of A24.


This year’s nominees for best original score range from John Williams, who receives his record-extending 48th nomination in the category for The Fabelmans, to Son Lux, which receives its first for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Impressively, Williams has been nominated in each of the last seven decades, from the 1960s to the 2020s.

All Quiet on the Western Front
Volker Bertelmann (Netflix)

This is the German composer’s second Oscar nod, but his first on his own and his first under his own name. He went by Hauschka when he was nominated alongside Dustin O’Halloran six years ago for scoring Lion. Like that film, All Quiet on the Western Front is a best picture nominee.

What led you to change from crediting yourself as Hauschka to using your own name?

I found out that a lot of people were a little bit confused because they didn’t know what Hauschka is. Is it a woman or a man or a band? So [I decided to] reserve that for my artistic work and do my film work under my own name.

As Hauschka, you have released 20 albums or EPs of electronic music. Will that continue?

I will release a new record in October. In November, I will go on tour and play the big cities in Europe and maybe small American and Japanese tours.

When you were nominated, you released a statement thanking director Edward Berger for the creative freedom he gave you.

It is one of my film music [experiences that was] closest to Hauschka, in the sense that I was allowed to experiment.

Justin Hurwitz (Paramount Pictures)

Hurwitz is a two-time Oscar winner, for best original score and song for La La Land. Babylon is his fifth film with director Damien Chazelle.

The movie takes place in the 1920s and the score uses traditional jazz instruments, but how did you come up with something that doesn’t sound like jazz from that era?

We’re using the lineup that would be at a party in those days: a couple of trumpets, trombones, saxes, a rhythm section. But we built a lot of these pieces around these driving, aggressive riffs, the kind you could imagine on a distorted electric guitar.

There is a recurring theme for characters Manny and Nellie that is much gentler. How did you get that sound?

It’s a beautiful, mellow midsize Steinway. That’s mixed with a spinet piano that has been treated with tacks in the hammers and has also been detuned a fair amount. Then the third piano is a very, very out-of-tune and broken upright. When you mix the three together, it creates this broken, fragile quality that just felt like their relationship.

Farrell (left) in The Banshees of Inisherin and Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans. Farrell: Jonathan Hession/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. laBelle: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment.

The Banshees of Inisherin
Carter Burwell (Searchlight Pictures)

Burwell’s fourth film with director Martin McDonagh earns him his third Oscar nomination. The movie received nine total nods.

The movie, in many ways, seems like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Did you see it that way?

Yes. I was about halfway through writing the music and was reading the Grimm version of Cinderella to my daughter. We got to the part where the evil stepmother has her daughters cut off parts of their feet to fit into the slipper, and I thought, “Wow, this sounds familiar,” and realized that in a way I was creating a fable.

Though the film is set in Ireland in 1923, your score does not have traditional Irish music elements. Why?

Martin very strongly didn’t want it to because in every other way, the film’s quite specific about the time and place. He wanted an element that would make it a more general story.

It’s a very spare score. Is it harder to write less than more?

It was, but it was definitely the right thing. I would sometimes start wondering, “Have I really done my job?” It was a challenge sometimes.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Son Lux (A24)

Son Lux — the experimental trio of Ryan Lott, Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia — was tasked with creating a grounding score to soundtrack this aptly titled, multidimensional film. With this nomination, Chang becomes the first Hong Kong-born composer to be recognized.

What universe was the most fun to score for?

Ian Chang: The opera universe was really fun. It was very meaningful to take on the task of [remixing] a traditional Chinese opera song. That’s never happened in a film I’ve ever seen.

Ryan Lott: Just the idea that I could myself verse jump was the most rewarding … for me to feel, as a composer, chameleonic.

Rafiq Bhatia: I was tasked with the moment where [the character Evelyn] is a movie star and [Waymond] is a successful businessman, and they’re in the parking lot and he turns to her and says, “In another life, I would’ve loved to be somewhere doing laundry and taxes with you.” That was the only moment where Daniel Kwan, in the course of editing this film — or any film, as I understand — started crying.

What would a win in either category mean to Son Lux?

Bhatia: As a kid, I always told myself, “That’s not for me. There’s no one who looks like me doing that.” So the thought of some young person, that this might mean something to them, is much more important than what it might mean to me personally.

The Fabelmans
John Williams (Universal Pictures)

Williams’ 53 total Oscar nods (including five for best original song) are second only to Walt Disney. “It’s nearly impossible to imagine such a number of nominations,” the five-time winner says. Here, he was charged with scoring the semi-autobiographical story of director Steven Spielberg’s life.

What pressure did you have scoring this picture given that the story is so personal to Spielberg?

It was more a sense of gratitude and privilege … Steven and I have been friends most of our lives, and I knew his parents quite well and admired them both very much. So The Fabelmans story, in a way, was very personal for both of us.

The cue with Michelle Williams dancing in the headlights is heartbreaking and romantic. How did you create it?

Mitzi’s dance scene has a childlike quality of wonder and innocence that speaks so deeply about her character and her relationship with the other principals in the film. The scene also evokes a kind of dream state … In choosing instruments like the harp and particularly the solo celeste, my hope was to reflect this sense of timelessness and childlike wonder.

Did you play Spielberg the first cues for this film on the same piano that you played him the first notes for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and so many others?

I’ve used the same piano throughout most of my 50-year collaboration with Steven … And like Steven, this piano has become a cherished friend and wonderful artistic partner.

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 25, 2023, issue of Billboard.