Beyond 'Shallow': A Look At The Oscars Picks For Best Original Song

Jan 22, 2019
Originally published on January 23, 2019 9:35 am

There was some surprises in this year's 2019 Oscar nominations, but for people paying attention to the best original song category, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow" from A Star Is Born was absolutely sure to make the cut.

Aside from Gaga, other songs in this year's category include: "All The Stars," from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar and SZA, "The Place Where Lost Things Go" from Mary Poppins Returns by Emily Blunt, "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs written by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, and "I'll Fight" from the RBG documentary written by Diane Warren and performed by Jennifer Hudson. But despite the tough competition, NPR Music's Stephen Thompson believes "Shallow"is the highly-favored front runner in the nomination pool this year.

"It is a true movie showstopper," Thompson says. "And it's a good example of an original song in a movie that is actually integral to the movie in which it appears."

Thompson explains that it's tricky to determine what causes a song to win, but he's noticed that, though it's not a requirement, a lot of the Best Original Song winners over the years have been ones woven into the movies.

As for songs that got snubbed in the category? Thompson says he "could've filled a field" with songs that he would've liked to see nominated, citing Sade's "The Big Unknown" from the film Widows, "Girl in the Movies" by Dolly Parton from the Netflix film Dumplin' and, Thompson's favorite, The Coup's "OYAHYTT" from Sorry To Bother You.

The 91st annual Academy Awards take place Sunday, Feb. 24 in Los Angeles.

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There were some surprises in this year's Oscar nominations, but this next conversation is about one that will have surprised absolutely no one who's been paying attention in the best original song category. There was one song you could be pretty sure was going to make the cut.


LADY GAGA: (Singing) I'm off the deep end. Watch as I dive in. I'll never meet the ground.

KELLY: That, of course, is Lady Gaga singing her song "Shallow" from "A Star Is Born." It does have competition in this category, and here to talk about that is NPR's Stephen Thompson. Hey there, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hi. Good to be here.

KELLY: So is "Shallow" the hands-down favorite one to beat this year?

THOMPSON: I think it's the most likely winner of all the Oscar nominations this year. It is a true movie showstopper, and it's a good example of an original song in a movie that is actually integral to the movie in which it appears.

KELLY: Right. It's actually part of the plot...


KELLY: ...As they're making their way through it. I will confess to being completely biased, and I love this song.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

KELLY: I've had it on replay in my car ever since the movie came out, but run us through the other nominees real quick.

THOMPSON: Well, you've got "All The Stars" by Kendrick Lamar and SZA from "Black Panther."


SZA: (Singing) This may be the night that might dreams might let me know. All the stars are closer. All the stars are closer.

THOMPSON: You've got "The Place Where Lost Things Go," which is a very sweet ballad from "Mary Poppins Returns."


EMILY BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Nothing's really left or lost without a trace.

THOMPSON: "When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings" from the "Ballad Of Buster Scruggs," that's written by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch.


TIM BLAKE NELSON AND WILLIE WATSON: (As Buster Scruggs and The Kid, singing) Yippee-ki-yi-yay. He shalt be saved when...

THOMPSON: Then you've got a song called "I'll Fight," written by Diane Warren and performed by Jennifer Hudson. That's from the "RBG" documentary.


JENNIFER HUDSON: (Singing) So I'll fight, fight that war for you. I'll fight, stand and defend you. Take your side...

KELLY: You know, for the last few years, we've talked a lot about the Academy Awards and attempts to diversify what you see on stage, diversify the nominees, diversify the voices. Does this current batch of nominees reflect that?

THOMPSON: It's a relatively diverse field. What I - what I like about it is that it's stylistically diverse. You have a cowboy song - kind of a traditional cowboy song in that "When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings" from "Buster Scruggs." You have kind of a traditional Oscars ballad in "I'll Fight." "The Place Where Lost Things Go" is a very traditional Disney nominee and, I think, a sweet song. "Shallow," obviously is your showstopper. And then you've got "All The Stars," which is a - which is a true kind of pop hit.

So I like the fact that when you listen to these songs, they don't all sound the same. They're not all kind of traditional movie ballads like you sometimes get.

KELLY: Any song you think should have made the nominee list and didn't?

THOMPSON: For me, the song that would have really filled out this field perfectly is a song from the movie "Sorry To Bother You" by The Coup which is led by the movie's director, Boots Riley. The song title is billed as an acronym, but it stands for, oh, yeah, all right, hell yeah, that's tight. And it has this this great, infectious, wonderful energy that I would have loved to have seen on an Oscars stage.

KELLY: All right. Well, I'm going to let you take us out on that one. Since we won't be hearing that on the Oscars stage, we'll hear it now. That's NPR music's Stephen Thompson. He's also a panelist on Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thank you, Stephen.

THOMPSON: Thank you.


THE COUP: (Singing) Oh, yeah. All right. Hell yeah. That's tight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.