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Giving the Oscar nominees for Best Original Song

Finneas, left, and Billie Eilish perform "What Was I Made For?" during the 66th annual Grammy Awards. (Chris Pizzello/AP)
Finneas, left, and Billie Eilish perform "What Was I Made For?" during the 66th annual Grammy Awards. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

Whether in “Barbie” or “Killers of the Flower Moon,” an original song can underscore the emotions of characters and advance the story all at once. 

Oscar-nominated original songs from this year include the heartwrenching ballad “It Never Went Away” from “American Symphony,” the comedic tune “I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie,” and many more. And the winner of the category doesn’t just come down to the most popular movie or song, though it factors in. The Academy tends to base its pick on other characteristics, says Variety’s Jon Burlingame.

“One of the things I think that appeals to Academy voters is the idea that the song not only has to speak to the subject of the movie itself,” Burlingame says, “but somehow take on a grander, perhaps more universal quality.”

Jon Burlingame on this year’s nominees for Best Original Song

  • What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish, from “Barbie”

“This song brings a kind of depth of emotion to Barbie. Perhaps a seriousness, in a way, that was sort of unexpected given all the sort of smart comedy that comes before it. Because it’s fairly late in the film when you hear this.”

Watch on YouTube.

  • I’m Just Ken” by Ryan Gosling, from “Barbie”

“The fact that you actually see the song being performed on camera is often a big help because that means that there’s something directly related to what’s going on in terms of the plot itself.

“But the issue with ‘I’m Just Ken’ is that, number one, it’s a comedic song. So it’s not a sort of serious, emotional tune like the Billie Eilish one. And when you look at the streaming numbers, the Billie Eilish song has done over 600 million streams versus the 100 million streams for the Ken song. And when you take into account the fact that there are 10,000 Academy voters, sheer popularity sometimes does factor in.”

Watch on YouTube.

  • It Never Went Away” by Jon Batiste, from “American Symphony”

“This is the only true love song in the batch and in Jon’s performance, it’s definitely the most heartfelt.

“If you’ve seen the film, then you realize that it’s sort of contrasting Batiste’s career high point with the really serious medical condition that his wife is facing back home before her leukemia.”

Watch on YouTube.

  • Wahzhazhe” by Osage Tribal Singers from “Killers of the Flower Moon”

“The lyrics in Osage mean to get up, to stand up, to be proud, to be recognized. And I think that’s exactly what the Academy did here. 

“By honoring a song that you actually see performed at the very end of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ it’s in a way, I think, an acknowledgment of the pain felt by the Osage people for the crimes depicted in the film and it’s a kind of acknowledgment of Native American music generally that has never happened before at the Academy Awards.”

Watch on YouTube.

  • The Fire Inside” by Becky G and written by Diane Warren, from “Flamin’ Hot”

“I’m not sure this is Diane’s year again.

“She’s been nominated 15 times over the last, get this, 36 years. And she’s never won a competitive award. However, in 2022, the Board of Governors voted her an honorary Oscar. So she does have the shiny gold object on her mantelpiece. And that may be a factor in people not voting for Diane this year because she already has one. 

“The other thing is, if you look at the top 200 movies of last year, ‘Flamin’ Hot’ didn’t even make the top 200, so it becomes a factor that very few people actually saw the film itself.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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