A year ago, the biggest contemporary stars on the Oscar telecast were two of the original song nominees, “Let it Go” and “Happy.” This year, you’d be hard-pressed to find one person who could hum two of the nominated melodies.
While the songs nominated for the 87th annual Academy Awards are less familiar – we might never see the cultural saturation of last year’s tunes – they play equally important roles in their films.
“Glory” from Selma, (Common and John Legend)
While the Dec. 25 limited release date and lack of pre-release screeners hurt the Alabama voting-rights drama, the end-credits anthem benefits from being the freshest of all the song nominees. Certainly buoyed by the seriousness of the subject matter, first-time nominees Legend and Common have also enjoyed considerable media exposure during the balloting period: The Grammy Awards telecast stole the Oscars’ thunder with the first televised performance of “Glory” and CBS Sunday Morning did a significant piece on Legend. Add to that, Common’s great speech after “Glory” won the Golden Globe and the smart video that debuted Jan. 13 just as the film received its nationwide release.
“Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie, (Shawn Patterson; performed by Tegan and Sara with the Lonely Island and Joshua Bartholomew and Lisa Harriton under the name Jo Li)
The most popular of the nominees – it has sold 564,000 downloads – Shawn Patterson’s tune appears three times in The Lego Movie, a film that many observers believe deserved an animated feature nomination. (It’s high on the countless lists of Oscar snubs). It’s been kicking around for a while, which can work against a nominee. Tegan & Sara stumped for the film a full year ago, though composer Mark Mothersbaugh kept the conversation about Legos going through the end of 2014. If enough Lego Movie-loving voters see “Everything is Awesome” as their one chance to honor the movie, Shawn may well have a lot of collaborators to thank.
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again. (Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois; performed by Adam Levine and Keira Knightley)
If I had a vote “Lost Stars” would get it. No song is as central to its film’s plot as this delightful melody from the former New Radicals front man Gregg Alexander and his longtime writing partner Danielle Brisebois. “Lost Stars” provides the film’s backbone and the performances – innocent and tender in Knightley’s version; polished and hook-driven by Levine – expertly mirror the differing worldviews of the characters. Released in late June, The Weinstein Co. started getting Alexander, who avoided performances and interviews for 19 years, out in public in October and Levine sang the song on The Voice. The efforts, though, may be too subtle to generate a windfall of support. At least my fingers are crossed.
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me, (Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond; performed by Campbell)
It’s not uncommon for voters to treat individual Oscars as lifetime achievement awards. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is Glen Campbell‘s first song written for a film and while it has been decades since he did any acting, he was a beloved member of the Hollywood community in the 1960s and ’70s when he starred in his own TV show and cranked out hits such as “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Only one song from a documentary has won the song Oscar – Melissa Etheridge has that trophy – but this one may strike a nerve that’s in Campbell’s demographic: Three-quarters of the voters are male, more than 90 percent are white and the average age is early 60s. The question is whether enough people have watched James Keach‘s compelling documentary on Campbell’s descent in Alzheimer’s disease and finale of Campbell in the studio singing “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which the Big Machine label has supported without much commercial success.
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, (Diane Warren; performed by Rita Ora)
The least-marketed track of the nominees, Diane Warren‘s first nomination since 2002 has largely gone unsupported by Ora or the film’s distributor Relativity Media. “I’ve never had a song from a movie that this has happened with,” Warren recently told Billboard. “I could see them not putting it out before the nomination — because you never know — but once you’re nominated, what the f–? It’s the sloppiest thing I’ve ever seen.”