Numlock Awards: Please Don't Stop the Music
Rihanna has entered the Best Original Song category.
Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter. Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition comes from Michael.
I wanted to start diving into some of the below-the-line categories, and a few of you have requested a dive into the Music branch, so let’s kick off with Best Original Song.
As I noted last year, Steve Pond over at The Wrap has a great breakdown on how many votes you need to land a nomination. Last year, before the 2022 invites went out, that number was 64 for Best Original Song; the magic number to guarantee a nomination this year is 65.
As Numlock’s resident music critic — my Spotify Wrapped indicated Movie Tunes, Hollywood, and Show Tunes were my top genres — let’s dive into the nominees.
Best Original Song
“Applause” from Tell It Like a Woman, music and lyrics by Diane Warren
We wrote about Diane Warren last year, and we’re writing about Diane Warren this year. Luckily, in the interim, she received an honorary award from the Academy, so she can finally put that on the resume. This is her fourteenth nomination, and it’s for some teeny tiny film no one saw… sort of like her thirteenth nomination! And twelfth, and eleventh…
The nominated songs have really dipped in relevance since the days of nomination four, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from Armageddon. Seeing as the film barely got a domestic release, I don’t think this will be Warren’s year, but she clearly still has five dozen or so fans in the Music branch who are willing to vote for her time and time again.
Also, this might be her worst nominated song. Absolutely nothing here works. “Give yourself some applause, you earned it”? “Pat yourself on the back, you found the faith”? Diane, you’re nominated against Lady Gaga, whose own song “Applause” is a verified bop, and this is what you’re bringing to the table? I actually asked ChatGPT to give me a Diane Warren song in the style of her Oscar-nominated works, and it came up with something better than this. Does it fit the theme of the movie? Who can say, since no one saw it:
“Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick, music and lyrics by Lady Gaga and BloodPop
The original Top Gun won in this category for “Take My Breath Away,” one of the more enduring Best Original Song winners. “Hold My Hand” might not have had the same cultural cache — “Take My Breath Away” was a number one hit, while “Hold My Hand” peaked at number 49 on the charts — but it’s a perfect throwback ’80s jam from a former winner in this category, Lady Gaga. (Her co-nominee, BloodPop, has worked with everyone from Beyoncé to Madonna.) According to director Joseph Kosinski, they had put a call out for submissions for songs when Lady Gaga reached out with “Hold My Hand.” And, as Tom Cruise has explained, it was the “missing piece” the movie needed.
You almost feel bad for everyone who got married before May 2022, because this is the perfect wedding jam. “But if you decide to, I’ll ride in this life with you. I won’t let go ’til the end. So, cry tonight, But don’t you let go of my hand. You can cry every last year, I won’t leave ’til I understand. Promise me, just hold my hand.” That, ladies and gents, is art.
“Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, music by Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Goransson, lyrics by Tems and Ryan Coogler
Sort of a bummer return to music for Rihanna, “Lift Me Up” is a pretty tepid ballad from the Black Panther sequel that had to figure out how to proceed after Chadwick Boseman’s death. It’s pretty wild that Ryan Coogler, a man mostly known for directing, has two Oscar nominations, one for this Rihanna song and another for producing Judas and the Black Messiah. I don’t think this will be his first Oscar win, and I don’t even anticipate Rihanna performing a snippet of this during her Super Bowl performance.
The song works in the movie, but that’s mostly because the movie is pretty downbeat. Bummer songs can win, but even then they usually have more of an oomph to them (“My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic or “Remember Me” from Coco).
“Naatu Naatu” from RRR, music by M. M. Keeravani, lyrics by Chandrabose
I am so deeply sorry to every nominee who has to compete against this. You simply will not win. The RRR team already picked up the Globe and the Critics’ Choice Award. I’d like to see the crowd on their feet dancing to “Applause” from Tell It Like a Woman the way this crowd went absolutely bonkers for “Naatu Naatu” at the Chinese Theatre:
Also, I think there are sometimes unofficial bonus points for the song actually happening in the movie instead of playing briefly in the background or just over the end credits, and “Naatu Naatu” is a huge burst of energy during a widely beloved film.
“This is a Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once, music by Ryan Lott, David Byrne, and Mitski, lyrics by Ryan Lott and David Byrne
While “This is a Life” is certainly a vibe, it’s incredibly low-key. In other words, it is the exact opposite of “Naatu Naatu.” This is the second nomination for David Byrne — he won Best Original Score for 1987’s The Last Emperor. I almost feel like this has even less of a chance than the Diane Warren song just given the fact that she probably earns a respectable amount of votes every year given the insane losing streak. I also think a lot of us saw this nomination and thought — oh, there’s an original song in there? It’s hardly your main takeaway from EEAAO.
What’s your pick for Best Original Song? Feel free to email me to either praise my advanced musical taste or denigrate my Lady Gaga-loving heart.
Naatu Naatu should absolutely win - it’s fabulous!!!
Naatu Naatu should win!
I wrote about the superiority of diegetic music at the Oscars (sorry for plugging)