This year’s Oscar song competition is the usual mix of musical superstars and intriguing unknowns. But for the first time in 30 years, four out of the five entries have a past Oscar winner among their writers.
And for only the 14th time in Oscar history, one of the nominated songs is not sung in English; “Naatu Naatu” is the fourth nominee to be performed in an Indian language (including two from 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and one from 2012’s “Life of Pi”).
“Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman”
Diane Warren, who recently received an Honorary Oscar for her body of work, earned her 14th competitive nomination for this little-seen anthology of seven short films made by women directors. “I needed a song that could tie it all together,” she says.
Sofia Carson sings what Warren calls “a positive, empowering song. A lot of times we humans don’t love ourselves enough. Look in the mirror for a minute and give yourself some applause, some respect, some love.”
“Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick”
Lady Gaga, along with writer-producer BloodPop, collaborated on this appropriately retro power ballad for Tom Cruise’s blockbuster sequel to his 1986 hotshot Navy pilot movie. Says Paramount motion-picture music president Randy Spendlove: “When we showed the movie to Gaga, early on, she wrote this amazing song, and as that evolved, we asked her to contribute to the score. She’s written the love theme, which is the heartbeat of the movie.”
Her anthem fared better in Europe than in America as a single, but it drove the soundtrack to No. 17 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart. This is Gaga’s fourth nomination; she won the song Oscar for “Shallow” from 2018’s “A Star Is Born.”
“Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”
Composer Ludwig Göransson (who won an Oscar for the first “Black Panther” score) and director Ryan Coogler traveled to Lagos together to research African music. There, they recruited Nigerian artist Tems to sing on the score and co-write the song, for which Coogler had already begun writing lyrics; Rihanna was later signed to co-write and perform.
With the West African stringed kora adding color, the swaying ballad helps to “embellish the spirit of T’Challa,” Göransson says, referring to the character played by Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in 2020 and to whom the film is dedicated. “Lift Me Up” went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 song chart, and Rihanna’s huge Super Bowl half-time show audience served to remind voters of her presence in the race.
“Naatu Naatu” from “RRR”
The exuberant, large-scale production number, a third of the way into the Indian-produced, Telugu-language “RRR,” has actors Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. doing a high-energy, hook-step dance that became a TikTok sensation. The song, in Telugu, was written by M.M. Keeravaani (who scored the film) and Chandrabose.
Only three foreign-language songs have won the Oscar, and only one in an Indian language (“Jai Ho” from 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” was a combination of Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi). Says Keeravaani: “The coda, the end part of the song, consists of so much stamina, you cannot
call it merely a song — it is an action sequence.”
“This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
Son Lux, which scored Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s popular multiverse comedy, wanted to create a closing song that was specific to the film but different in tone, says the trio’s Ryan Lott, who co-wrote it with previous Oscar winner David Byrne (“The Last Emperor”) and Japanese-born Mitski.
“We wanted to leave audiences with a final summation, one that serves both as a palette cleanser and as a reminder of what the film is about at its core,” Lott tells Variety. “Originally, the idea was actually quite different—to bottle the high energy of the film, shake it up, and pop the cork. But it was actually David Byrne’s insight that what we really needed was something that would remind us that this is, in the end, about choosing each other and the lives we share together over everything else that might be out there.”