While diverse, this year’s nominees in the Academy Awards’ Best Original Song category are competing on an even playing ground. Most of the writers and performs are first-time nominees, with two-time Best Documentary winner J. Ralph and, now, eight-time Best Original Song Nominee Diane Warren as the exceptions. Still, it’s an Oscar-winner free game and has many hitmakers vying for a very rare award for musicians to nab.
From booming ballads to sexy themes for BDSM love stories to emotional rap tracks, this year’s roster of nominees are representative of the year in music and film. The winner will be announced during the Oscars ceremony, which will air on February 28th at 7 p.m. EST on ABC. But until then, listen to the nominations for Best Original Song below.
As a movie, Fifty Shades of Grey was a far cry from Oscar bait, but its soundtrack launched the Weeknd’s year of pop radio domination. The Weeknd co-wrote the song with Stephan Moccio, Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville and Ahmad Blashe, and it reached Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100, proving that the singer can be a hitmaker without sacrificing the boudoir vibe that has earned him critical acclaim. Like the movie it anchored, the Weeknd’s hit single took sexiness just below the NC-17 level, and an Oscar win would be the perfect way to wrap up his incredible year of shattering the mainstream.
“Manta Ray” by J. Ralph and Antony
“If I had to pick one artist to represent the fate of humanity, it would be Antony,” composer J. Ralph told Rolling Stone of choosing the Antony and the Johnsons singer for “Manta Ray.” The song appears in Racing Extinction, a documentary that premiered on Discovery in December and explored how the human footprint has exacerbated the extinction of half the planet’s species. J. Ralph also composed “One Candle” with Sia, and this collaboration with chamber pop vocalist Antony is a surprise inclusion in the Best Original Song nominations. While Antony is a first-time nominee, J. Ralph has been nominated in the category before for 2012’s Chasing Ice track “Before My Time.” While he has never won for the category, he’s taken home the trophy for Best Documentary twice.
“Simple Song #3,” by David Lang
It’s a tough order to deliver the song that perfectly sums up a fictional conductor’s life, but composer David Lang delivered with the emotionally incisive “Simple Song #3” for the film Youth starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda. The reflective, powerful track is a dark horse in a category dominated by big pop hits and buzzy, young artists. Even though Lang is also a first-time nominee for Best Original Song, he’s no newbie: the composer won a Pulitzer in 2008 for his composition The Little Match Girl Passion.
On the heels of her Golden Globes win for her role on American Horror Story: Hotel, an Oscar win for Lady Gaga could be a huge beginning to a career relaunch. The evocative track from the documentary The Hunting Ground exploring campus rape was co-written by Gaga and Diane Warren, who has been nominated in this category eight times and as recently as last year with Beyond the Lights track “Grateful” by Rita Ora. Showcasing Gaga’s voice over a simple piano and string arrangement, the track was a perfect follow-up to her Grammy-winning standards debut with Tony Bennett. A win would be triumphant for both songwriters following Gaga’s critical and commercial miss with most recent album Artpop and help break Warren’s losing streak at the show.
Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes’ Golden Globe win was a shocker, but the voters love a Bond theme. From the latest 007 film, Smith goes classic with his booming, string-assisted ballad that recalls previous Bond theme and Academy Award winner “Skyfall” by Adele. While several theme songs from past James Bond films have been nominated — including Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” and Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only” — Adele’s “Skyfall” is the only theme from the franchise to actually win the award at the ceremony.