Update 1/30: The Academy has pulled the nomination for "Alone Yet Not Alone" because it felt the song's composer was improperly influencing voters. It has chosen not to replace the song with another song, so there are only four nominees this year.
Late last month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences longlisted 75 options for the Best Original Song award for this year's Oscars and the nominated songs offered some surprises from some recognizable artists and some that will have to learn to adjust to the spotlight rather quickly. As the Oscar conversations continue to advance over the coming six weeks, get to know this year's picks.
"Alone Yet Not Alone" From Alone Yet Not Alone
Possibly the most surprising Oscar nomination this year, "Alone Yet Not Alone" comes from a Christian movie of the same name set in the mid 1700s and follows young sisters who moved to Ohio from Germany and are taken captive by a Native American tribe. The song is a slow, string-heavy piano number that gives thanks to God. Composer Bruce Broughton, who was previously nominated for the Best Original Score Oscar in for his work on the 1986 film Silverado, wrote the music and lyricist Dennis Spiegel, who has penned words for songs in Nineties TV series like Zorro and Xena: Warrior Princess, gave the hymn its message. But perhaps the most curious thing about the song is its singer: Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic evangelical Christian author. The video for the song opens with prayer in which Tada reminds God that she is quadriplegic and asks for a smooth performance. It gives way to a very smooth performance indeed.
"Happy" From Despicable Me 2
Upbeat, buoyant and soulful, Pharrell Williams' "Happy" perfectly captures the euphoria that Despicable Me 2's Gru feels with his new lease on life. "When I made 'Happy,' I was at a point in my life when I could completely understand what Gru was going through," Williams said in a video interview. "This day you just wake up and everything clicks." Apparently that feeling stuck around well after the movie, since Williams ended up making the first-ever 24-hour music video in which the song repeated 360 times and spotlighted Williams dancing, as well as celebrities like Steve Carrell, Magic Johnson and the movie's lovable minions.
"Let It Go" From Frozen
Disney ballads are perfect Oscar fodder and "Let It Go" is one of the standouts from the the blockbuster animated film. The song was penned by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and in the film, it's performed by veteran Broadway actor Idina Menzel. Disney also released a cover version this past fall, performed by pop star Demi Lovato.
"The Moon Song" From Her
Karen O is best known as the shrieking frontwoman of rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs. On this track cut for Spike Jonze's Her, she trades her trademark yelps in for a more softer, folk approach. The song marks her first Oscar nomination and she co-wrote the lyrics with Jonze. It's not the first time they've worked together; Jonze enlished Karen O to write the soundtrack for his 2009 adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
"Ordinary Love" From Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
U2's "Ordinary Love" is an ode to Nelson Mandela, whom the band worked with in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. Bono relayed that sentiment in accepting this year's Golden Globe for Best Original Song, adding, "This man turned our life upside down. . . because he didn't have rage or anger or these things. That's why you should see this film." In his four-star Rolling Stone review, senior writer David Fricke added that "Ordinary Love" is about the seeds of dreams, and U2 play it perfectly. Here's hoping we're treated to an intimate live rendition at the ceremony.