If someone were to look at the list of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Original Song, I wouldn’t laugh at them if they accidentally confused it with a playlist from a Top 40 radio station. Three of this year’s five nominees are extremely high-profile pop superstars: Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, and The Weeknd. Sure, it’s common to have headlining names in music score nominations in this category. In year’s past, winners of this award have included John Legend and Common (“Glory”, 2015), Adele (“Skyfall”, 2013), and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (“It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp”, 2005). Yes, you read that correctly. But, with most of those years, there were never more than two real superstars nominated in the category at once. The last time three or more mainstream acts were up for the award was, debatably, in 2002 when Eminem won for “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile against Paul Simon and U2, as well as other nominees Fred Ebb and Julie Taymor.
I’d also like to mention that there are two other nominees this year – the operatic “Simple Song #3” by David Lang (performed by Sumi Jo) and the hypnotic and slow “Manta Ray” by J. Ralph and Antony Hegarty – but they might want to take their nominations as such. Historically, the Academy Awards have, for the most part, presented this award to the nominee(s) with the perfect combination of commercial value and critical appeal. With respect to Lang, Ralph, and Hegarty, they simply don’t have the commercial clout to be extremely serious contenders this year, especially when in the shadows of the three aforementioned pop stars. But, don’t take my word as the end-all, be-all, because I’m not in the Academy! And that, my friends, is a huge blessing, considering most of them are crotchety, straight white men with an unspoken agenda that’s slowly coming to light. If you’re unaware of what I’m talking about, please consult Google and type in “Oscars.” You’ll understand real quickly.
THIS YEAR’S ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEES FOR BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
“Earned It” from 50 Shades of Grey (Belly, Stephan Moccio, David Quenneville, Abel Tesfaye [The Weeknd])
“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction (J. Ralph, Antony Hegarty)
“Simple Song #3” from Youth (David Lang)
“Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground (Diane Warren, Lady Gaga)
“Writing’s On the Wall” from Spectre (Jimmy Napes, Sam Smith)
GAGA VS. SMITH VS. ABEL
So, for me, it’s down to three. We’ve got the sensual “Earned It”, which marks The Weeknd’s first career nomination for the Academy Awards. Isn’t it almost disturbing to think that something from 50 Shades of Grey actually received an Academy Award nomination? Being fully aware of the film and the controversy surrounding it, I can’t knock this nomination, simply because it’s solely for the music from the film, and not for the film itself. If Shades had received a Best Picture nomination, that’d be a different (and indefensible) situation, but that was never going to happen in the first place. Anyways, “Earned It” has undoubtedly been the biggest hit of all of the nominees this year. It’s sexual, catchy, and smooth. I love the song, and think it’s written creatively. Normally I’d say that the biggest hits are usually overlooked for the ‘happy medium’ choice with these types of major awards shows, but “Let It Go” from Frozen won this award just a couple of years ago. Did mentioning that song bring up some harsh sing-along memories? You gettin’ that headache again? Sorry about that. Backpedalling a bit, I’m just not sure of this song’s potential to actually win the trophy. Part of this doubt is because of the movie it’s attached to. The other part is that it’s the most mainstream song of the bunch. We’ll see. I could be wrong. I probably am. I don’t know why I’m allowed to watch awards shows.
Recent British breakout Sam Smith is looking to follow in the footsteps of the previous James Bond theme song, “Skyfall”, and all of its success. As many may already know, “Skyfall” is the eponymous Bond song by Adele (and Paul Epworth) that swept the awards circuit, giving the songstress her first Oscar, her first Golden Globe, and her tenth (TENTH!!!) Grammy. “Writing’s On the Wall” from Spectre, Sam Smith’s crack at another British-Bond clean sweep, in my humble opinion, needs to stay as it currently is: nominated. Here’s my beef with this song: it’s not. an. authentic. Bond. song. For all intents and purposes, it is a good song in general, but when a song for the Bond series is created, it needs to be epic, monstrous, and commanding. It needs to be a strong representation of the masculine character that James Bond represents, but still written from the place of vulnerability that his character possesses, too. “Writing’s On the Wall” just doesn’t do that. It’s a classic Sam Smith song: weepy, grim, and similar to his In the Lonely Hours album. I’d like to note that I am a Sam Smith fan; I own the album, I own a vinyl record copy of it, and I even had tickets to his Seattle show that he unfortunately cancelled (and never made up for…*holds grudge*). I just can’t agree with this song deserving the Oscar. I like it as a stand-alone single of his discography, but when attaching it to the Bond series, it looks weak. When putting it in the shadow of “Skyfall”, it looks even weaker. Love Smith, but I’m going to have to pass on this one.
Lastly, we’ve got Lady Gaga’s message of awareness towards the global crisis of ongoing sexual assault crimes that are seen on a daily basis. The song, “Til It Happens To You”, comes from the documentary, The Hunting Ground, which centers on campus rape in the United States. Personally, I don’t think there is a more impactful nominee across the entire list of categories for this year’s Oscars than this song. Warren & Gaga penned an incredibly moving tune. Its chorus is absolutely gutting, and it’s only a couple of lines.
TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU, YOU DON’T KNOW HOW IT FEELS.
TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU, YOU WON’T KNOW / IT WON’T BE REAL.
Here’s what I love more than anything about this song: it blatantly calls out people who try and make these situations of harm, terror, and complete helplessness about them, rather than about the victim. When people tell other peoples’ stories of victimization, they make the situation about someone else: themselves. It’s nobody’s business but the victim’s, and if someone shares something as confidential and horrifying as a story of, for example, sexual assault, it’s something that the listener needs to take in accordance with how the victim wants to handle the situation. Don’t tell a victim “It’ll get better,” because you don’t know that. Don’t tell a victim “It’s in the past,” because these situations are never “in the past.” The act of it is in the past, but the impact will always live on. “Til It Happens To You” sends a clear message, calls out a selfish society, and ties it all together with a very haunting performance from Gaga.
I guess you can call me a Little Monster, because Lady Gaga and Diane Warren deserve the Oscar. I’m rooting for them to win it.
CRAIG JAFFE | A Little Monster, I Suppose | KXSU Reporter