Oscars: Will Pop Music Take Home the Best Song Trophy?
Wiz Khalifa's triple-platinum "See You Again" and an anti-rape song by Lady Gaga might put top 40 radio back on the Dolby stage.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
There was a time when best original song contenders easily took up residence on top 40 radio: 1977's "You Light Up My Life" (from the film of the same name) was one of five Academy honorees from the decade to top the Billboard Hot 100, and seven more Oscar recipients reached No. 1 in the '80s. But Eminem's "Lose Yourself," from 2002's 8 Mile, was the last Oscar winner to top the charts. And the 2014 champ, John Legend and Common's "Glory" from Selma, halted at No. 49, further evidence of an amicable separation in recent years between radio play and the Oscars.
That could change this year with Furious 7's triple-platinum "See You Again," performed by rapper Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, which spent 12 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. And two other candidates also had strong Hot 100 showings this year: The Weeknd's "Earned It" and Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do" — both from Fifty Shades of Grey — each peaked at No. 3 on the chart. (A third Fifty Shades contender, Sia's "Salted Wound," didn't chart).
Generating buzz on the other end of the musical spectrum is the deceptively named "Simple Song #3," a stunning operatic track performed by Sumi Jo in Youth, which stars Michael Caine as a retired orchestra conductor.
Issue-oriented films also offer resonant contenders: "Til It Happens to You," written by seven-time nominee Diane Warren and Lady Gaga and performed by Gaga, is the coda to college sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground. "Before I saw any footage, I heard about these stories, and I was like 'Holy shit, I have to be involved,' " says Warren, who adds that she hears from abuse survivors almost daily about the song's impact. "I don't think I've ever had a song that's had this kind of power." Fellow documentary Racing Extinction features two songs penned by 2013 nominee J. Ralph: "One Candle," written and performed with Sia, and "Manta Ray," written and performed with Antony Hegarty.
Leon Bridges' gospel-oriented R&B track "So Long" concludes Concussion, a drama about the doctor who linked pro football with debilitating brain injuries. "Though no one is ever going to be able to write a song as good as [Sam Cooke's] 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' I was inspired by that," says Bridges. And the fight for equality for same-sex couples motivated "Hands of Love," the end-title track to Freeheld, performed by Miley Cyrus and written by Linda Perry, who wrote the song within an hour of seeing a rough cut of the film.
Brian Wilson's descent into and escape from mental illness are chronicled in the biopic Love & Mercy, which includes — along with Beach Boys hits — "One Kind of Love," co-written by Wilson (with Scott Bennett) about wife Melinda.
Though Jonathan Demme's tale of a washed-up rocker, Ricki and the Flash, didn't perform at the box office, the Academy may look favorably on the movie's one original tune, "Cold One," written by Johnathan Rice and Jenny Lewis and performed at a pivotal point in the film by Meryl Streep.
If voters are looking to the lighter side, Pitch Perfect 2's sweet "Flashlight" fits the bill, as do the bouncy "Feels Like Summer" from Shaun the Sheep Movie, Meghan Trainor's lilting "Better When I'm Dancin' " from The Peanuts Movie and Keegan DeWitt's gentle, ukulele-based "I'll See You in My Dreams," from the indie film of the same name.
It's never wise to count out 007, so expect Spectre's "Writing's on the Wall," performed by Sam Smith and penned by Smith and Jimmy Napes, to be a contender. Several Bond themes have been nominated over the years, but Adele's "Skyfall" is the only one to take home the trophy.