Ariana Grande & Kid Cudi – Just Look Up (Don’t Look Up)
While more and more songs in this category – and even some winners – seem to be disappointingly relegated to the credits as of late, having a song that actually plays a part in the movie’s narrative has often been an advantage. Playing two out-of-touch musicians, Grande and Cudi stage a performance of this song to spread the word on an incoming asteroid sure to cause humanity’s demise. It’s the funniest entry on the list with some unexpectedly grim lines pairing with Grande’s incongruously angelic delivery, and the surge of popularity for the Netflix climate change satire combined with a cross-genre collaboration between two heavyweights should help it sail to a nomination.
Beyonce – Be Alive (King Richard)
Regardless of the quality of the song, voters will likely line up around the block simply for the idea of handing Beyonce an Oscar alone. Luckily, although soundtrack-only songs built to underscore the credits often seem undercooked, Beyonce doesn’t do half measures and the song is pretty great. Accompanying the tale of Venus and Serena Williams’ father coaching them to tennis glory, Queen B breaks out some of her most impressive harmonies, vocal runs, and a heavy helping of gritty and growled vocals as she toasts to perseverance and thriving against the odds.
Billie Eilish – No Time To Die (No Time To Die)
In the canon of Bond themes, Billie Eilish’s contribution is an appropriately chilling and grandiose entry for Daniel Craig’s final appearance as the suave superspy. While some had predicted the song’s momentum to have dimmed after being released prior to COVID throwing the entire marketing scheme and the film’s eventual release date off course, Eilish has already picked up quite a few precursors at critics circles, and took home the Golden Globe on top of all that. She may easily add an Oscar to her rapidly growing stack of Grammys.
Lin-Manuel Miranda & Sebastian Yatra – Dos Oruguitas (Encanto)
Lin-Manuel Miranda is only an Oscar away from joining a truly elite crowd of 16 entertainers who have picked up an EGOT – that is, an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award – and came oh-so-close with his contributions to Moana, which lost out to La La Land. While kids everywhere force their parents to watch Encanto for the umpteenth time and the soundtrack receives more success than even Frozen’s did, expect Miranda to be nominated, but still have to be waiting for that elusive win. While “Dos Oruguitas” is a truly touching moment in the film and would be a landmark moment if an all-Spanish language song took the glory, we have to wonder how they didn’t see the “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” craze coming and submit it instead.
Van Morrison – Down to Joy (Belfast)
Scoring some beautiful black-and-white shots of the titular city in the opening moments of the film, Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical coming-of-age story Belfast is the current frontrunner to pick up the biggest prize of the night and the overwhelming love for the movie means you can likely expect it to show up across the entire ballot. As Branagh recruits a hometown hero to provide the movie’s soundtrack, this saxophone-backed feel-good anthem lines right up with the movie’s wholesome, awestruck energy.
Sparks, Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard & Simon Helberg – So May We Start (Annette)
In the most pleasantly surprising inclusion of the bunch, the perennially underrated Sparks Brothers are recognized for their musical contributions to avant-garde director Leos Carax’s fever dream of a musical, Annette. Sung by the film’s three stars, the movie’s opening number taps into some bombastic rock opera energy that appropriately previews all of the disorienting psychological madness that is to follow. The pounding keys and off-the-rails saxophone solo near the end as the many layers of vocals overlap make this our favourite of the group of less prominent entries.
Diane Warren & Reba McIntyre – Somehow You Do (Four Good Days)
While hailing from one of the less celebrated movies on the list, this acoustic country ballad has two big things going for it – first of all, it’s one of the only songs on this list to fulfill the quota of cheesy, uplifting material that seems to be a requirement on the checklist of final nominations each year. It’s also written by Diane Warren, who has been nominated for this award a record 12 times, although she has never seen it through to the finish line. It’s got a lot of competition this year, but the final key change could genuinely stir the most cynical souls.
Emilia Jones – Beyond The Shore (CODA)
The groundswell campaign behind all aspects of inspiring indie tearjerker CODA has been incredible to watch develop all year, and a Best Picture nomination now seems like a lock despite the film’s summer release date outside of the typical “Oscar season” months. What better way to honour a movie with a music-focused narrative than by nominating its centrepiece song, performed by actress Emilia Jones as lead character Ruby as she pursues her musical dreams as the only hearing individual in a deaf family. A tender acoustic ballad with some stellar vocal moments, it’s a top-tier song on the shortlist.
H.E.R. – Automatic Woman (Bruised)
Last year’s champion with her song “Fight for You” from Fred Hampton biopic Judas and the Black Messiah, H.E.R. seems to have an uncanny affinity for awards glory over the past couple of years and could easily surprise once again on nominations morning. Masking her powerhouse vocals in heavy Auto-Tune is an odd choice that dims her greatest strengths and the low viewership and mixed reviews of the Halle Berry boxing drama the song soundtracks could hurt its chances, but awards predictors know to never underestimate the R&B star.
Jay-Z & Kid Cudi – Guns Go Bang (The Harder They Fall)
A quirky rap track that’s as much of a blast as the irreverent, fast-talking, sharp-shooting Western that it comes from, Jay-Z is listed among the movie’s producers and the rap kingpin linked up with Kid Cudi for a simultaneously cinematic and goofy track that features dramatic orchestral moments and cartoonish gun noises interspersed into the beat. Directed by another musician in The Bullitts, the beats of the music line up with the film’s many gunshots and the score becomes a character all on its own. Plus, who could resist the narratives of a rare hip-hop nomination, Kid Cudi appearing twice, or a husband-and-wife face-off against Beyonce?
Jennifer Hudson – Here I Am (Singing My Way Home) (Respect)
Jennifer Hudson’s portrayal of Aretha Franklin in music biopic Respect has been a borderline contender for a Best Actress nomination all season, and an Original Song nomination sung by Hudson herself would seem to logically follow along with the package. Mixed and mastered to sound like a vintage ‘60s gospel record right down to the classic church organ chords, it’s easily the most impressive vocal performance on the list as Hudson makes the Queen of Soul proud with some stunning high belts.
Amandla Stenberg – The Anonymous Ones (Dear Evan Hansen)
While the movie took a widespread critical beating for other aspects, the music of Dear Evan Hansen has always been widely celebrated and the legendary musical theatre songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul added to their arsenal with a new song written for Evan’s classmate Alana, played by Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg. A soaring and theatrical ode to the social underdogs, it might not be able to overcome the general distaste for the adaptation of the iconic stage musical.
U2 – Your Song Saved My Life (Sing 2)
A truly unexpected cross-genre team-up between legendary rock band U2 and electronic producer Martin Garrix, this track somehow finds its spotlight in the sequel to a movie about a singing koala with dreams of being a showman – from the studio that brought you the Minions. Bono appropriately plays a legendary rock frontman – who is also a lion – who sings this song to remember his departed wife, but the formulaic pop structure likely won’t see it power past these strong contenders.
Brian Wilson & Jim James – Right Where I Belong (Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road)
A new song by the Beach Boys frontman and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James to accompany a documentary about Wilson’s life, the bright and bouncy pianos evoke his classics as Wilson reminisces on many decades of success and the attitude that carried him through. Elton John picked up an award for career retrospective Rocketman in 2019, so another legacy nomination is possible, but the documentary didn’t make many waves.
Idina Menzel – Dream Girl (Cinderella)
In a year with a truly impressive number of high-profile movie musicals, a couple of them had to fall by the critical wayside and this latest iteration of Cinderella starring Camila Cabello was one of them. Still, the Academy couldn’t resist putting Broadway star Idina Menzel’s name back in the running to pick up another trophy after etching “Let It Go” into the Disney history books. Playing the evil stepmother, Menzel’s vocal gravitas and smirking delivery tries to crush Cindy’s dreams before they begin.