The nominees are in, the telecast is set, and the 91st annual Academy Awards are just days away.
For a period of time, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences reportedly considered showcasing just two of the five Best Original Song nominees, per Variety. But to our excitement, this was wisely walked back. This year, the category is stacked with heavyweights and hits across genres, and they will all be spotlighted on Hollywood’s biggest night.
Fans are already planning to tune in for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s planned rendition of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born. The recent Grammy-winning single is the clear frontrunner for Best Original Song, and Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson’s powerhouse arena anthem has also taken home the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award in this same category. But there’s healthy competition from the beloved superhero blockbuster Black Panther, the Coen Brothers-helmed Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the empowering feminist documentary RGB, and the feel-good nostalgic hit Mary Poppins Returns — and they will make their case at this year’s ceremony.
“All The Stars” from Black Panther
Music by Kendrick Lamar, Mark “Sounwave” Spears, and Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith; lyric by Kendrick Lamar, SZA, and Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith
Black Panther did not come to play, and it shows: the film’s original soundtrack was helmed by none other than Kendrick Lamar. Lamar enlisted his TDE collaborator SZA for “All the Stars” — she belts out the song’s soaring chorus over strings and hazy beat, while Lamar raps about power and legacy in verse that strives to capture the inner conflict in the film’s protagonist, the king and superhero T’Challa.
“Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is amazing, from its cast to its director. The magnitude of this film showcases a great marriage of art and culture," Lamar said at the time of the song’s release. "I'm truly honored to contribute my knowledge of producing sound and writing music alongside Ryan [Coogler] and Marvel’s vision."
The Black Panther soundtrack earned an Album of the Year nomination at this year’s Grammys, and “All The Stars” got a nod in several major categories, including Record and Song of the Year. While the Oscars have extended an invitation to Lamar and SZA to perform, they are the only nominees yet to confirm if they’re taking the stage — although the Academy says the script is still getting last-minute tweaks. This is both Lamar and SZA’s first Oscar nomination.
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Music and lyric by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
This anthem from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs makes a 180-degree turn into Americana and country (complete with a harmonica!). While Buster Scruggs star Tim Blake Nelson and Willie Watson sing in the film, the Academy announced that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the longtime country singer-songwriters who wrote “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings,” will be performing at this year’s ceremony.
The song — which tells the mournful yet tongue-in-cheek story about a duel between two cowboys — is playfully rendered in the style of Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson. Speaking to Variety, Welch said “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” is a loving send-up of a classic style of country music, complete with twang and a few “yippee-kay-ay”s.
“The more peculiar restraints you put upon a song, the more fun it is, so this was kind of a dream assignment,” Welch said. “And [the Coens] didn’t tell us to do this, but if you’re writing a gunfight song between two singing cowboys, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to put some yodeling in?”
“I’ll Fight” from RGB
Music and lyric by Diane Warren
Ten-time Academy Award nominee Diane Warren is the songwriting superpower behind “I’ll Fight,” which was created for the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG (which is also nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category). The song is performed by Jennifer Hudson, who will be taking the stage at the Oscars, per the Academy.
In conversation with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, Warren said she envisioned a song that conveyed strength and perseverance.
“It’s almost like Jennifer Hudson’s voice became [Ginsburg’s] avatar — because that’s what she really sounds like to us,” Warren said. “She’s a diva! She’s a notorious RBG. So I didn’t want it to be soft. I wanted it to have power.”
Warren has made a name for herself by capturing big, powerful emotion in her music: she’s previously been nominated for Oscars for her work on Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” and fellow nominee Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens To You.”
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns
Music by Marc Shaiman; lyric by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
The Academy, ever so cryptic, confirmed that “The Place Where Lost Things Go” will be performed at the show after all — but left some key information out.
“Spoiler Alert: ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ from ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ will be performed on the #Oscars,” the Academy tweeted. “BONUS SPOILER ALERT: It will be performed by a surprise special guest!”
The immediate thought is that Emily Blunt will be taking the stage to reprise the song — but a Variety report has confirmed Bette Midler, a longtime friend of songwriter Marc Shaiman, will be performing it instead.
Shaiman expressed his excitement about the performance on Facebook. "Could I have ever imagined that one day Bette Midler would sing a song I co-wrote with Scott Wittman for a sequel to 'Mary Poppins' at the Academy Awards?! My heart is exploding," he wrote.
Prepare for some feels. In the film, Mary Poppins sings “The Place Where Lost Things Go” to comfort the young Banks children, and songwriters Shaiman and Wittman are no strangers to capturing sweeping emotion in song — this is Shaiman’s seventh Oscar nomination, and he’s also up for Best Original Score.
“Shallow” from A Star Is Born
Music and lyric by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andrew Wyatt
There could be 100 people in a room, and 99 of them don't believe in you, but all it takes is one — and when Bradley Cooper took a chance on Lady Gaga, “Shallow” was born.
“Shallow” is a rare arena rock anthem that has become a beloved hit since its release last year. According to Vulture, if “Shallow” takes home Oscars gold, it will mark only the fourth time in the 21st century that an actual chart-topping hit wins for Best Original Song — but it could pave the way for future pop hits to be real contenders for Hollywood’s most prestigious award.
And it’s looking good for “Shallow.” Even when A Star Is Born was shut out of major awards such as the Golden Globes, “Shallow” has persevered, racking up award after award and delivering some electrifying performances from Lady Gaga (and, sometimes, Cooper). The pair will take the stage (though Cooper says he won’t be in character, unfortunately) at the ceremony, and it’s safe to say: we’re far from the shallow now.
The 91st Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, February 24 at 8 p.m. EST.