If you, like me, haven’t been able to get out much this past year, you probably haven’t heard the Oscar nominees for “Best Original Song” from a 2014 film. Conveniently for you, you can view the Oscars without leaving your home or paying a sitter, AND I’ve listened to (and judged) this year’s songs for you, saving you time and effort. All you have to do is sit back, watch the Oscars, and feel comfortably superior when my/your favorite wins, or indignant when it does not.
First, we have “Everything is Awesome,” written by Shawn Patterson and performed by Tegan and Sara, from LEGO Movie. This pop electronica song with a disco beat is fun and playful, full of energy, but also has an interesting melodic line–rare in the “one note pop hit” era where composers so often repeat the same note in varied rhythms and call it songwriting. I defy you to not enjoy listening to this one. The lyrics may not be complex, but that’s the point; this song is simply fun, and its silliness is infectious.
Next is “Grateful,” written by Diane Warren and sung by Rita Ora, from Beyond the Lights. This is one of those one note pop songs (see above) that doesn’t have much in the way of melody. Combine that with lyrics that could have come out of an undergraduate poetry workshop, and you’ve got a thoroughly average song. I’m not sure why this one was nominated. To those fans of the one note song, I do not apologize. Humans have near miraculous control over the pitch of their voice, which makes not taking advantage of that control and range basically a crime–especially when your instrument is a voice like Rita Ora’s.
Then we have “Lost Stars,” written by Gregg Alexander, Diane Brisebois, Nick Lashley, and Nick Southwood, and performed by both Keira Knightley and Adam Levine (separately). With so many writers, you’d expect the lyrics to be carefully crafted, yet unfocused; beautiful, yet almost too deep to mean anything. And that’s exactly what they are–so clearly written by committee. Still, the underlying meaning… deeply underlying… is nice (I think), and in addition to that, the song is sweet and singable–especially the version in which Keira Knightley surprises us all with her heretofore hidden indie-charming singing voice. If I were going to add one of the nominees to my iPhone, this would be it.
Nominee number four is “Glory” by John Legend and Common. This song is what you’d expect, which is not a criticism. You take two talented artists and tell them to write about the struggle for equality and you’re going to get something fantastic. The song combines southern gospel with rap and orchestra, leading to a powerful piece that reflects the hope Martin Luther King Jr. inspired. It hits all the right notes (literally and figuratively), and draws on some of the best musical traditions in the history of black America. It’s a shoo-in for the nominee pool, if not the Oscar (even though it’s not my choice).
Last of all, because it is has my vote to win (though I haven’t yet been contacted by The Academy for my opinion), is “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” by Glen Campbell, from the movie I’ll Be Me. Now, with this one I have to be honest–it is my favorite almost entirely because of the movie in which it appears and the artist who performs it. So, objectively, it may not be the best song, and it might not be fair for me to pick it when I didn’t consider the context of the other songs that much. However, I think I can make an argument for this one being the winner, even against “Glory,” which is similarly impossible to divorce from the content of its film.
Let me explain: I listened to all of these songs before looking up the movies to which they belonged, and none piqued my interest as much as “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” I listened to this man sing sweet, loving words, but then in his refrain say that he’s not going to miss the person he loves. “Is this song about divorce?” I thought, stupidly. But then I did some basic research, and I realized I already knew what this song was about. A few weeks ago, while listening to NPR in the car, I heard an interview with Glen Campbell talking about his movie, a documentary that documents his farewell tour–farewell, because he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. What struck me while I listened to Mr. Campbell talk about going on tour with Alzheimer’s was how happy he seemed–how he didn’t let an Alzheimer’s diagnosis be the end of his life or career. Instead, he kept composing, writing songs like “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” a love song that is sweet, and heartbreaking, and so open about what it is to know that you’re going to lose yourself steadily, yet not know what you’ve lost. Because this song is a real man letting us into his life, because this song is beautiful and raw, and because Glen Campbell keeps on singing, knowing what lies ahead, I want it to win. I want him to win.
So there you have it. You may now watch the Academy Awards as a marginally more informed member of the film-watching community. You’re welcome.
Featured Image: Begin Again, The Weinstein Company