The Oscars do a good job of keeping the nominees for Best Song varied, and this year’s group is no different. A stripped-down serenade, a rock anthem, a high-sugar pop song and an inspirational ballad are all vying for the amorphous title of “best.” Considering the songs’ stylistic differences, it could all come down to the voters’ collective mood.
Listen to each of the Oscars 2014 nominees below and find out who we think will pull in the prize.
Karen O and Spike Jonze, “The Moon Song” (“Her”)
Karen O was nominated for several other award’s Best Score and Song categories for her OST to 2010’s “Where The Wild Things Are,” but this marks her first Oscar nod. Director/writer Spike Jonze, who co-wrote the song, has been nominated once before for “Being John Malkovich.” He’s up for Best Song, Best Original Screenplay and the coveted Best Picture award for “Her.”
With its spare ukelele and quavering vocals, “The Moon Song” is in the vein of Karen O’s “Where The Wild Things Are” soundtrack. It’s delicate, lovely and charmingly simple. That said, like “Her” itself, it’d be a deviant selection for an Oscar, especially considering U2 and the Lopez’s strong, more traditional entries. Still, the Academy Awards could pull a Grammys circa 2011 with “The Moon Song,” which is what “Her” will need to nab statues its other categories, too.
U2, “Ordinary Love” (“Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom”)
U2 are the only names on the list who have been tapped for a nomination before. In 2002, they were nominated for “The Hands That Built America,” which soundtracked the final scene of “Gangs of New York.” Unfortunately for the boys from Ireland, they were best by Detroit’s own Eminem, who won for “Lose Yourself.”
That goes to show you that this category is anyone’s game. “Ordinary Love” is a stronger entry than their last Oscar swing, somehow both catchier and weightier. You wouldn’t expect a band like U2, practically synonymous with what the imagined voting crowd’s taste is, to be shunned twice. But no matter how strong the song or fancy the lyric video, they’re up against it again this year.
Pharrell, “Happy” (“Despicable Me 2″)
If you aren’t already sick of “Happy,” you probably haven’t watched the 24-long version of it, and you definitely don’t have kids.
Radio Disney plays aside, the song hit a big milestone this week, hitting #1 on Billboards Hot 100. Only one other artist has hit the No. 1 spot with a Best Song nominee. Who? You guessed it: Eminem, for “Lose Yourself,” which as we know, went on to win. That bodes well for Pharrell, but “Happy” is still an outside chance to win the statue. It has the absurd catchiness of today’s most-loved pop hits, but lacks the gravity of the rest of the entries. (Take note: there’s no Oscar for Best Comedy.) “Happy” is good fun and all, but Oscar-winning songs tend to be a bit more substantial. (2005 excluded.)
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, “Let It Go” (“Frozen”)
While Kristen Anderson-Lopez is new to the awards scene, husband Robert Lopez has already won Grammys and Tonys for his work on distinctly not-Disney Broadway plays like “Avenue Q” and “Book of Mormon.”
And it’d be a surprise if he didn’t grab his first Oscar for “Let It Go.” It’s a complex song, in content and musicality, evolving from a plaintive ballad lamenting being different to a triumphant swell about embracing it. It’s well-trodden thematic territory for Disney, but coupled with lush orchestration and a vocal part suited for a spine-tingling performance, it’s got the formula down.
More substantial than “Happy,” with a stronger performance element than “The Moon Song” and less Bono than “Ordinary Love,” “Let It Go” is your obvious choice for the 2014 Academy Award winner for Best Song — no matter what mood the voters are in.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.