The 92nd Academy Awards features a compelling Best Original Song category that features three previous winners, two newcomers, an 11-time nominee still looking for her first win and one glaring snub.
The big name of the bunch this year is, of course, Elton John, who earned his first nod since The Lion King for Rocketman‘s “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” written with his long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin. Meanwhile, Randy Newman will vie for his third Oscar with Toy Story 4‘s “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” as will the songwriting team of Krisen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who wrote “Into the Unknown” for Frozen II.
Acclaimed songwriter, Diane Warren, earned her 11th Best Original Song nomination for “I’m Standing With You” from Breakthrough, while Harriet star Cynthia Erivo complemented her Best Actress look with a Best Original Song nod for “Stand Up,” written with Joshua Brian Campbell.
Unlike last year, when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” seemed destined to win from the moment it arrived, this year’s category doesn’t necessarily boast a clear frontrunner. John and Taupin are perhaps most likely, having just won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, but Newman and the Lopezs are proven Oscar darlings, and it’s always possible that this could finally be Warren’s year.
It’s worth noting, though, that there was one significant snub that arguably outshines any of the nominees: Beyoncé and her Lion King song “Spirit.” The track earned a Golden Globe nomination and was shortlisted for the Oscar, but was ultimately shut out completely.
The 92nd Academy Awards will air February 9th at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Listen to the nominees for Best Original Song below.
Toy Story 4 — “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away”
Randy Newman has had one of the most fascinating careers in popular music: He’s an acclaimed songwriter with a back catalogue filled with biting cultural and political satire who is, nevertheless, best known for the cheery, big-hearted tunes he’s written for Pixar movies.
Newman was born into a family of film composers, and he’s balanced his pop career with an array of projects over the years, picking up 22 Oscar nominations along the way and winning two: Best Original Song for “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters, Inc. and “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3. “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” is another vintage Pixar offering from Newman, a rollicking, gospel-tinged piano rocker with a family-friendly message of self-love. It’s sweet, it’s fun and it’s mind-boggling to think it came from the same mind that came up with “Short People.”
Along with his Best Original Song look, Newman was also nominated for Best Original Score for Marriage Story.
Rocketman — “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”
Like Newman, John has a widely celebrated (although not as prolific) side hustle in film music. This, however, marks just his fourth Oscar nomination, and he was last up in 1995, when he and Tim Rice ended up dominating the Best Original Song category with their Lion King soundtrack (“Hakuna Matata” and “Circle of Life” were both nominated, while “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” won).
While John has either worked solo or with Rice on his past film projects, for his biopic Rocketman he teamed with long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin for their first bit of film work together since the 1971 movie Friends. To that end, when “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, John pointed out that it was the first award he and Taupin had ever won together.
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” is a soulful rocker that finds John singing alongside Rocketman star, Taron Egerton, who also re-recorded all of John’s hits for the movie. The musician spoke about how important that choice was, saying, “I wanted his interpretation of me, through Bernie’s lyrics [and] my music — not just acting. I left Taron in the hands of [producer] Giles Martin, who I trusted implicitly because he’s brilliant. I didn’t want to be in Taron’s shadows, watching over the process, I trusted them to do what they needed to do, artistically, and listening back I’ve been astonished with the results.”
Breakthrough — “I’m Standing With You”
Another year, another Diane Warren power ballad. “I’m Standing With You” was written for the Christian drama, Breakthrough, and sung by its star Chrissy Metz — who boasts exactly the kind of booming voice necessary for Warren’s sweeping tunes.
Speaking on a panel last fall, Warren actually admitted that she was apprehensive about Metz’s desire to sing the tune and even left the studio when the actress came in for a test run. When she came back and heard the take, though, Warren said, “She blew me away. She had so much feeling and emotion in her vocal. And tone — her tone’s just beautiful. She just sang the fuck out of it and she sang the shit out of it. You’re lucky when that happens; you get both those things.”
This marks Warren’s 11th nomination for Best Original Song, and she’s still looking for her first win. She’s been nominated the past two years: in 2019 for “I’ll Fight,” from the acclaimed Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary, RBG, and in 2018 for “Stand Up for Something” with Common from Marshall. Other past nominations include “Til it Happens to You” with Lady Gaga from The Hunting Ground and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from Armageddon.
Frozen II — “Into the Unknown”
The husband-and-wife songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez is already two for two when it comes to the Oscars: The pair won their first in 2014 for the universal smash, “Let it Go,” from the first Frozen, then followed it up in 2018 with the Coco tearjerker, “Remember Me.” For Frozen II, Idina Menzel returned to sing “Into the Unknown” as Queen Elsa, while Panic! at the Disco recorded a version of the song for the end credits.
“Into the Unknown” was one of seven new songs the Lopezs wrote for Frozen II, and in an interview with Deadline, Anderson-Lopez spoke about shrugging off the challenge of following up a song like “Let it Go.”
“Every single human being keeps asking us, ‘How did you deal with the pressure of doing this, and following up ‘Let it Go?'” she said. “And the truth is, the directors we were working with and for immediately said, ‘Don’t do ‘Let it Go.’ We’re going to do a new story, and build it the same way we did the first time, by talking about character very deeply, and getting inspired by our lives now.'”
Harriet — “Stand Up”
Cynthia Erivo became just the third person to earn an acting and song nomination at the Oscars, picking up a Best Actress look for her turn in Harriet to go along with “Stand Up” for Best Original Song (the other two people to pull it off: Mary J. Blige for Mudbound in 2018, and Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born in 2019).
Erivo was a musical theater vet before recently jumping to film, and she shows her chops on “Stand Up,” a slow-burning, gospel-inflected ballad. Erivo notably co-wrote “Stand Up” with Joshua Brian Campbell, who went viral after performing his song “Sing Out, March On,” at Harvard’s 2018 commencement ceremony in honor of that year’s speaker, John Lewis.
“We recorded the song maybe a month or so after shooting,” Erivo told Billboard of “Stand Up.” “We drew on the whole experience to create a full picture of who she was. I wanted to bring the ‘then’ to the ‘now,’ to see ourselves in her shoes — to inspire people.”