By Reza Mardian
The Oscars wouldn’t be the same without the Best Original Song category, just like how movies wouldn’t be the same without their original songs. Year after year, movies continuously give us new songs that bring a whirlwind of emotions. From the 37th Academy Award-winning song “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” to the 89th Academy Award winner “City of Stars” from the 6-time Oscar winner “La La Land.” This year, we have been blessed with five extraordinary nominees whose work is being celebrated by the Academy. From legendary 13-time Academy Award nominee Diane Warren (“Somehow You Do” from “Four Good Days“), 28-time Grammy award-winning performer Beyoncé (“Be Alive” from “King Richard“), recent Grammy and Golden Globe Winner Billie Eilish (“No Time to Die” from the movie “No Time to Die“), first-time nominee Van Morrison (“Down to Joy” from “Belfast“), and the man behind the ground-breaking musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto“).
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is often a good indicator of who will win an Oscar, including this category since Best Original Song has very few precursors in the lead-up to the Academy Awards. Since Billie Eilish won the Golden Globe for her Grammy Award-winning song “No Time To Die,” many are predicting her to win the Oscar. But HFPA isn’t always correct at telling us who will win the Oscar in this category, especially since they don’t overlap with the voting body of the Academy. They have been wrong when predicting category 13 of the last 23 years, including last year when Diane Warren’s “Io Si” from “The Life Ahead” would lose out to H.E.R’s “Fight For You” from “Judas and The Black Messiah.” This year is another exciting category because I don’t think Eilish has it in the bag as much as many think. I think there’s a very good chance Lin-Manuel Miranda wins out over her. Here are the reasons why…
The Organic Oscar Campaign
The best kind of Oscar campaign is an organic one. It’s one of the reasons why “Parasite” won Best Picture. It’s also the reason why Frances McDormand’s non-campaigning works, and she keeps winning Oscars. Despite all of the money spent on Oscar campaigns, sometimes quality does indeed win out the day no matter what.
Among all of the nominees this year for Best Original Song, only two names have the most organic campaign going for them. The first one is Diane Warren, who’s been nominated 13 times and has yet to win an Oscar, with her last five nominations being earned in the last five years. The music branch voters really want her to win regardless of the song she writes or if the movie was even seen. Such a narrative might be good at securing her nominations, but winning requires the personal subjectivity of the song and the film. This is primarily why she’s been unable to win.
That leaves us with the second name on the list: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Now, this is someone who has a lot of organic narratives working in his favor; he’s only one Oscar away from being crowned an EGOT; he’s also a respected songwriter and performer with his hands all over many different projects in Hollywood. Yet, among many of his organic narratives, two stand out.
The first is how he wrote the most ground-breaking song from the movie he was nominated for, “Encanto.” While the smash-hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” was not submitted for the Oscar shortlist, it has remained at #1 on the Billboard charts for several weeks, with the soundtrack album also rising to number one. The album contains the song “Dos Oruguitas,” which was the song submitted and nominated for the Oscar. By voting for Lin in the Best Original Song category, it might as well be a way to honor him for the musical work he delivered for the whole album.
If you don’t think rewarding the breakout musical success story of 2021 is a good enough reason, here’s the second organic narrative that might affect Academy voters’ decision-making process: Lin was involved in four movies eligible for Academy Awards this year. “Tick, Tick…Boom!” (which received Best Actor and Film Editing nominations), “Vivo,” “In the Heights,” and of course, “Encanto.” Despite this, his only nomination this year came from “Encanto” for Best Original Song. Being the mega superstar he is, with “Hamilton” seeing a resurgence during the pandemic because of its debut on Disney+ and having been a previous nominee before with “Moana,” voters may feel inclined to reward him some way. Everyone else has at this point, so they might as well fall in line next.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Against All Other Nominees
So, we’ve established that Lin-Manuel Miranda has several factors that might affect the Academy’s voting decision. But what about the other contenders? For Warren to win out over Miranda, her film would have to be more widely seen, which in this case is almost impossible when compared to the widespread appeal of “Encanto.”
Miranda didn’t get to win his first Oscar in 2016 due to “City of Stars” coming from a strong Best Picture contender, “La La Land.” This year, his film will face off against Best Picture nominees “Belfast” and “King Richard.” However, neither of them is as strong in this race as “La La Land” was, and neither has garnered as much momentum as “Encanto” has in terms of widespread appeal. Of course, people know who Beyoncé and Van Morrison are, but do they know these particular songs? Morrison’s unique Irish song really does capture what Kenneth Branagh’s film is all about, but it’s neither as catchy nor as emotional as “Dos Oruguitas.” While “Down to Joy” talks more about the joyous side of “Belfast,” Miranda’s “Dos Oruguitas” brings both pain and hope to the listener. If you watch “Encanto,” you know how powerfully this number is used towards the film’s end. It’s sung entirely in Spanish, but it transcends language when featured with the right scene and with the storytelling being this exceptionally strong. If that’s not enough, Miranda also wrote an English version for people to understand what the beautiful lyrics have to say.
Now that we have established how Miranda could win the Oscar over Warren and Morrison, there are still two stars he has to face: Beyoncé and Billie Eilish. Beyoncé’s “Be Alive” is an excellent song with robust lyrics, used skillfully during the ending credits of “King Richard,” another Best Picture contender. Plus, lest we forget, this is Beyoncé we’re talking about here. While she has conquered the music side of the industry, she does not have a good track record with Oscar voters. Her previous work on “Spirit” and “The Lion King” was shut out entirely by the Academy. With such international fame and recognition already bestowed upon her, and this being only her first nomination, she may not be as beloved by the Academy as we think.
That leaves us with one contender left: Eilish. She may have already won the Golden Globe for this song, but the song was released way before the film, well over a year ago at this point. Plus, the last two James Bond films have already won this category, with Adele winning for “Skyfall” and Sam Smith winning for “Writing’s on the Wall.” There’s a tremendous amount of love for both Billie Eilish as a performer and the song, but will that translate to the Academy? Could James Bond fatigue be settling in, or does the franchise have a newfound stronghold on this category the same way Disney does on the Best Animated Feature category?
The Academy’s Membership
There are three main trends the music branch voters are likely to vote for since the Academy extended its membership starting in 2015. 1. Show tunes are preferable. 2. The song has to be hopeful. 3. The song has to be bigger than the film itself. “Remember Me,” “Shallow,” and “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” all fit these categories. H.E.R’s “Fight For You” may not be a show tune, but it’s surprisingly hopeful and contextually relevant to what the film “Judas and The Black Messiah” had to convey. She also may have won because there weren’t any strong show tunes to challenge her, except maybe “Husavik,” which was a pleasant surprise nominee but was lacking a corresponding Best Picture nomination. Sure, Morrison and Beyonce’s works are just as hopeful as “Dos Origuitas,” but the reason why show tunes are preferable is that the older members of the branch are still around. The people that decided the Oscar wins for “Under the Sea” over “Part of Your World” or “Let it Go” over “Happy” are still voting on these awards, and very rarely does anything defeat a well-crafted show tune.
“Dos Oruguitas” also represents something more significant than itself, giving voters extra incentive to vote for it and feel good doing so. Being that it’s the only song not sung in the English language, it represents Latin culture in a way that international members would probably strongly respond to. This year, due to the increased diversity of membership and the highest voter turnout ever in Academy history, we saw more nominations for international films, such as “Flee,” “Parallel Mothers,” “Drive My Car,” and “The Worst Person in the World.” I believe that the music branch would want to extend this love and vote for “Encanto” to send a positive message that efforts to diversify and change for the better in the Academy are working. Sure, an Academy voter may be confused about why “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the song they’ve heard on the radio and played by their children a million times, is not on the ballot. Still, they’ll see a song from “Encanto,” they’ll know it’s by Lin Manuel-Miranda, and they’ll know how much the win would mean to others out there. The recipe for an Oscar win is there.
Do you think “Encanto” is going to win Best Original Song at the Oscars this year? What would you vote for? Check out the Next Best Picture team’s latest predictions for Best Original Song here and let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Reza and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @rezamardian13