Are we done with the Oscar for best song?

It has been there for almost a century and is still a special case. Even before we awarded supporting actors or best original screenplay, there was already a Oscar for best songawarded since the seventh edition in 1935.

So what is this for? Oscar? Surely to justify the importance of having a song as a showcase for your film, a piece that manages to transcribe the tone of the story into music, and convince the public to go see it. This sonic calling card will also continue the film’s notoriety, to the point that many Oscar-winning titles have become movie classics. music popular.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Moon River”, “Raindrops keep falling on my head”, the theme of Axis, “Fame”, “Be lost”… not to mention the songs of Disney. It’s to the point that we forget that very famous songs are actually from movies. And there are a lot of them, especially in the 1980s.

If a song can be a guarantee of long visibility for the film, it is all the more interesting for the authors and for the performers: a punctual but resounding promotional shot. This category is a call to the singing stars, who in addition to participating in a film project, potentially have the opportunity to perform in front of the cream of the cinema, broadcast live on television.

And that’s perfect for the Oscar ceremony, where we try to entertain the audience as much as possible to digest hours of awards ceremony: Adele’s vocal flights (“Fallen from heaven”), Celine Dion (“My Heart Will Go On”) or a young Michael Jackson (“good”) in 1973; the soberly moving performances of Bruce Springsteen (“Streets of Philadelphia”) or Elliott Smith (“Miss Misery”); and surprises that wake up the evening like Robin Williams who takes up “Blame Canada” of the movie South Parko Three 6 Mafia and sound “Here it is difficult for a pimp”.

A very (too) precise price

It is therefore a pillar of the ceremony, and yet one wonders what it is doing there: rewarding a certain piece is not something frequent among film festivals. It is an award found in some North American ceremonies such as the golden balloons or the Satellite Awards, but not in Europe. The best soundtrack (or the best composer) is voted for more often, for example at the BAFTAs or at the cease.

It is quite logical since she is part of the story, she accompanies us throughout the film. The best song? It is a specific moment that can happen at any time (even after the end), be an integral part of the narration or not, be interpreted by a character or serve as an extra-diegetic illustration. The price leaves a lot of freedom.

And yet, has very precise criteria: “An original song consists of lyrics and music, both original and written specifically for the film. There must be a clearly audible and intelligible (not necessarily visual) rendition of the lyrics and melody, used in the body of the film or as the first music heard over the end credits.” Therefore, an Oscar-nominated song must have been recorded for a movie before any other use.

In the selection process, applicants must, among other things, provide a score for the lead voice, as well as a video clip Maximum 3 minutes, which should show the context in which the song is used in the film. The jury will observe each of the clips and thus determine the 15 shortlisted songs, before a second vote to reach the five candidates that will compete for the Oscar.

If the criteria are so detailed, it is because in principle any song from a movie could win the Oscar.

Only the main composers who created the complete piece can win the prize. All potential collaborators, producers, arrangers and especially performers are excluded. Yes Elton John, Lady Gaga o Bruce Springsteen won the statuette, it’s not for his voice, it’s for his pen. When “My Heart Will Go On” won in 1997 for Titanicthat’s not celine dion who was invited to the stage, but the authors james horner and Will Jennings. Another important detail: the Academy does not accept songs that contain samples of other songs, which must have ruled out a good handful of candidates from the Academy. hip hop.

If the criteria are so detailed, it is because in principle any song from a movie could win the Oscar. In 1942, “The Last Time I Saw Paris” was chosen when it was already a hit in the United States long before it was used in the musical. lady be good. His co-composer Jerome Kern finds this decision unfair and launches a petition to change the rules. They will be the following year.

These instructions resulted in a few tricks to secure a spot at the Oscars: adaptations of musical comedies very often they contain an original song written for the film. The irony is that if there can be no covers or samples of existing songs, there can be remakes among the candidates. the music movie A star has been born has been adapted four times and three times nominated for an Oscar for best song: if “The Man that Got Away” performed by Judy Garland does not win in 1954, Barbra Streisand will take the statuette for “evergreen” in 1976, then Lady Gaga for “Little deep” in 2018.

This also means that musical biopics have almost no chance of being named, since we will use as much as possible the songs known by the artist in the center of the plot. Except Elton John, who managed to write an original song for his own biopic, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” which won an Oscar in 2019.

gender specialists

With four statuettes, the big winners in this category are, unsurprisingly, the composers and lyricists of musicals from the 1940s to the 1970s, such as Sammy Cahn, johnny merce Where Jimmy VanHeusenand the one who chained the victories with Disney from 1989 to 1995, alan meken. This tends to confirm the dominance of movies where music has an important, even fundamental, place in the story.

Ces noms ne vous disent probably pas grand-chose, et ce n’est past tellement lié au fait que ces références d’autrefois ont été oubliées par le temps, rather au fait que, depuis le début, ce sont les interpretes qui portent the song. Stars of musical films that are affirmed and confirmed, such as Bing Crosby in the 1940s, doris day Where Frank Sinatra the following decade, and later Barbra Streisand or Irene Cara. At the same time, several singers who were not actresses have become competition specialists, such as maureen mcgovern and jennifer warns.

For forty years, the artists of pop music are increasingly present (Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins, bob dylan, Annie Lennox…), and now almost always co-credited, a way to highlight their performance and totally play into the star system. When Adele or John Legend come for their prize, is necessarily more eye-catching to viewers than unknown songwriters.

And we can notice that certain recipes particularly appeal to the Academy. A bit in the same way that we often hear of “Oscar roles”, for ambitious performances (with, if possible, a physical transformation and a counter-intuitive, even historical character), there are models of “reward pieces”: sentimental ballads, full of emotion and arrangements (think violins!), which start softly and build in intensity, with an epic finale. if possible. It works just as well for Cartoon than for social dramas, documentaries or james link.

The limits of the formula.

The problem is that over time, the “best song” always seems to get farther from its source. As soon as we leave the intradiegetic piece in a musical or cartoon style, many opt for the ease of music in the end credits. Which is certainly a striking conclusion, but it may not have an aesthetic connection to the film either. The piece may have been created completely independently of the work, and even of its soundtrack.

for the doorbellNoah Gintell analyzed in 2021 that “The underlying pattern is clear: The Academy consistently glosses over tracks that meaningfully fit into the film’s narrative, and instead chooses superstar-driven titles that play over the end credits. These songs are solely thematically tied to the film and are intended to be performed at the Oscars, not to contribute in any way to the art of storytelling.” He also proposed to modify the selection method, so that the jury is no longer satisfied with just a 3-minute clip of the song, but listen to the piece again in its context. because right now it’s a bit “as if the entire Academy were voting for the Oscar for Best Picture based solely on the trailer of each of the named.

We can be optimistic and tell ourselves that things will get better: the Oscars have rightly been criticized for their inability to evolve, and we’ve recently seen major changes in both the selection process than in the results. Or consider that the Oscar for best song is secondary, and interests the average viewer as much as the technical Oscars. We have already seen in the past that certain named pieces fell by the wayside during the ceremony, stuck in potpourri, or even completely absent, due to lack of time or notoriety of the performer.

However, there is a bigger problem: the Oscars are no longer a big event, at least in terms of a television show. The ceremony attracts fewer and fewer spectators: the 40 million Americans who gathered each year in front of the event less than ten years ago are now half. the hearings it even sank to 10.5 million in 2021. The context is very particular, either because of the distribution of films or because of the conditions of the ceremony, but nothing guarantees that the evening will recover all its prestige.

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The Academy has already begun to reduce the number of awards it hands out live: eight awards will not be broadcast in March 2022 but will be added to the edit, including best soundtrack. The best song stays on the main show, but maybe just because billie eilish, Beyonce and Lin-Manuel Miranda are in competition.

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