Since its inception in 1934, the Best Original Song category has been a fixture at the Academy Awards, adding musical magic to the glitz and glamour of the Oscars. Over the years, many of these Best Original Song winners have transcended their cinematic origins, becoming beloved classics that resonate far beyond the silver screen. Think of timeless tunes like “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, the cozy crooning of “White Christmas” from Holiday Inn, the hauntingly beautiful “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and the raw energy of “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile. Music, with its diverse and subjective nature, has allowed numerous nominated songs to carve their own path to fame.
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In the last decade, the Academy has celebrated an eclectic mix of Oscar-winning songs that have left audiences in awe. These songs range from sultry Bond film ballads to enchanting Disney melodies, from stirring anthems tied to the Civil Rights movement to creations by iconic pop stars, and even a jazzy ode to the City of Angels. These Best Original Song Oscar winners not only enriched the films they graced but also etched their names in pop culture, some even becoming cultural phenomena in their own right.
10.2016: “Writing’s on the Wall”
In 2015, amidst a pool of five nominees, Sam Smith’s original song, “Writing’s on the Wall,” secured the coveted Oscar, winning over its fellow contenders, including “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Gray. The victory was hardly surprising, given the song’s lineage within the distinguished tradition of James Bond theme songs. While it ascended to the #1 spot on the UK Singles Chart, its reception was somewhat mixed in comparison to its predecessors, failing to make a substantial mark on American charts.
Selected over Radiohead’s proposed composition, “Writing’s on the Wall” stands as a testament to Sam Smith’s remarkable songwriting and vocal prowess. It’s worth noting, however, that only the instrumental version of the song appears on the film’s soundtrack. Characterized by a deliberate, slow tempo and a recurring melody, the song may strike some as less melodic. Yet, it embodies the quintessential Bond essence, complete with sweeping orchestration, an intriguing minor chord progression, and lyrics that delve into the realms of love and longing.
9.2020: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”
In 2019, the Oscar for Best Original Song went to “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” a delightful creation by the legendary Elton John and his esteemed collaborator Bernie Taupin. This toe-tapping tune features not only Elton John but also the talented Taron Edgerton, who graced the screen in Rocketman. The song emerged victorious among a pool of four other nominees, with the added intrigue of two Disney songs in the mix. “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” embodies the quintessential essence of an Elton John composition – it’s a joyful, upbeat, groove-infused track that exudes a delightful retro vibe and, of course, boasts a stellar piano solo.
Crafted specifically for Rocketman, this song delves into the tapestry of Elton John’s career, echoing themes of redemption and personal liberation. Its infectious melody and repetitive chorus make it a bona fide sing-along anthem, tailor-made for those moments when you just can’t resist joining in. Although it was originally intended for the film, the song’s universal appeal and radio-friendly sound have allowed it to transcend its cinematic origins.
8.2021: “Fight For You”
‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ (2021)
In 2021, “Fight For You,” a compelling creation co-written and performed by the talented H.E.R., claimed the prestigious Oscar. This remarkable song didn’t stop at the Oscars; it also secured nominations at the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Grammys. “Fight For You” may only make its appearance during the closing credits of Judas and the Black Messiah, and it graces the film’s soundtrack. However, the song’s significance resonates profoundly, delving into themes of racism, police brutality, and the unwavering call for justice.
Judas and the Black Messiah, recounting the story of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party, remains eerily pertinent in today’s world. Director Shaka King, in an interview with Variety, expressed his desire for the film’s theme song to encapsulate the essence of “something contemporary with echoes of 1968.” Consequently, the song emits a distinct retro vibe, inviting listeners on a nostalgic journey back in time. H.E.R. delivers a seamless vocal performance, complemented by funky drum beats and a soulful ambiance. Her scatting during an instrumental bridge adds a unique touch, culminating in a harmonious and evocative conclusion. “Fight For You” stands out as a song that defies conventions, skillfully weaving a tapestry of sounds that harmoniously bridges the past and the present.
7.2022: “No Time to Die”
‘No Time to Die’ (2021)
In 2022, the eponymous theme song for the 25th Bond film, No Time to Die, emerged victorious, beating out formidable contenders, including “Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7 and three others. This win marked the third time a Bond song has claimed the coveted Oscar. Critics heaped praise upon the orchestral ballad, which was masterfully performed by Billie Eilish and composed by both Billie and her brother, Finneas O’Connell.
Drenched in R&B influences, this romantic, dramatic, and suspenseful composition seamlessly aligns with Bond’s intricate storyline, replete with betrayal and concealed truths. It’s a mesmerizing melody that tantalizingly alludes to deeper, enigmatic layers, making it the ideal companion to Daniel Craig’s exceptional portrayal in the Bond film
6.2017: “City of Stars”
‘La La Land’ (2016)
In the year 2016, the musical sensation La La Land graced the Oscars with not one, but two nominations for Best Original Song. The illustrious title of victor was bestowed upon “City of Stars,” a creation penned by the renowned songwriting duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with composition by the talented Justin Hurwitz, who also claimed the Academy Award for Best Original Score for the film. “City of Stars” not only secured the Oscar but also clinched a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award, while earning a Grammy nomination for good measure.
Within La La Land, this enchanting song makes not one, but two appearances. First, it’s serenaded by the charismatic Ryan Gosling, standing alone on the Hermosa Beach pier as the sun sets, casting an enchanting aura. Later, it transforms into a captivating duet with Emma Stone, the two seated side by side at the piano in their apartment. The song embarks with an iconic piano riff, weaving its melancholic notes throughout the narrative, harmonizing seamlessly with the film’s visuals. While Gosling and Stone may not boast the vocal prowess of seasoned crooners, their rendition lends an authentic touch to the lyrics, which evoke the essence of finding love and chasing dreams in a city notorious for both making and shattering aspirations. “City of Stars” might embrace simplicity, but it’s an auditory gem, cherished for its evocative ambiance.
5.2018: “Remember Me”
In the year 2017, amidst a competitive lineup that included another delightful creation by Pasek & Paul from The Greatest Showman and three additional contenders, the heartwarming melody “Remember Me” from Coco emerged as the triumphant Oscar winner. Crafted by the talented songwriters behind the beloved Frozen, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, “Remember Me” not only claimed the Academy Award but also secured a Critics’ Choice Award, alongside nominations for a Golden Globe and a Grammy. Notably, this Oscar victory bestowed upon Lopez the distinguished title of the first-ever double EGOT winner, signifying his exceptional talent recognized across multiple Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards.
“Remember Me” is deeply rooted in the rich tapestry of traditional Mexican music, and its harmonious strains resonate in various forms throughout the film’s narrative. From the spirited mariachi rendition by Ernesto De la Cruz (ably portrayed by Benjamin Bratt) to the heartfelt acoustic lullaby tenderly sung by Héctor (embodied by Gael García Bernal) to a young Coco, the song traverses time and emotions. It blooms into a heartwarming duet between Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) and an older Coco (gracefully portrayed by Ana Ofelia Murguía) and transforms into a bilingual pop sensation when performed by Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade. Each iteration of this enchanting song carries an air of delight, infuses warmth, and evokes profound sentiment. “Remember Me” eloquently captures the sweet essence of music as the universal language, uniting people and cultures, bridging generations, and even rekindling the spirit of those who have passed on. It’s an immensely touching celebration of the power of music to connect us all.
In the year 2014, the stirring theme song of Selma, titled “Glory,” claimed a well-deserved victory at the Oscars. Its success extended beyond the Academy Awards, as it also clinched a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Award, and a Grammy, while impressively charting in the top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. This powerful composition was co-written by the talented performers John Legend and Common, in collaboration with Rhymefest, resulting in a harmonious blend of beautiful orchestration and profoundly meaningful lyrics.
“Glory” commences with a gentle piano accompaniment that perfectly complements John Legend’s emotive vocals. As the song unfolds, a soul-stirring choir joins in, the beat quickens, and Common’s impactful rap verses take center stage. The song masterfully strikes a chord by seamlessly combining sweeping instrumentation, John Legend’s memorable chorus and bridge, and Common’s lyrical verses that serve as poignant historical lessons about the Civil Rights movement.
“Glory” serves as the ideal soundtrack for the film’s end credits, immediately following Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech in the movie. In this speech, Dr. King speaks of the glorious anticipation of the coming of the Lord. The lyrics and music of “Glory” imbue the song with a sense of importance and gravitas. Listening to it, viewers are transported back to the year 1965, while also being reminded that the struggle for justice and equality persists to this day.
3.2023: “Naatu Naatu”
Against some formidable competition, including renowned artists like Lady Gaga and Rihanna, the chart-topping international sensation from RRR, titled “Naatu Naatu,” emerged victorious at the 95th Academy Awards. This triumphant song, crafted by the talented trio of M. M. Keeravani, Rahul Sipligunj, and Kaala Bhairava, etched its name in history as the first-ever song from an Indian film to clinch an Oscar. Notably, it’s also the first Telugu-language composition to achieve this remarkable feat.
“Naatu Naatu” notched up an Oscar win that was nothing short of momentous, and it’s a recognition well-deserved. Anyone who has had the pleasure of listening to this musical gem can attest to its infectious qualities. The song’s lively tempo, irresistibly catchy rhythm, and the infusion of Indian folk melodies with vibrant salsa elements make it nearly impossible not to groove along.
This tune is a jubilant celebration of friendship, family, community, and the bonds that connect us all. Given its universal appeal, it’s no wonder that “Naatu Naatu” swiftly captivated hearts across the globe. In fact, it even achieved viral status on platforms like TikTok, where enthusiasts from all corners of the world endeavored to showcase their prowess (or perhaps their lack thereof) in mastering the song’s spirited choreography, as featured in the movie.
2.2014: “Let It Go”
In 2013, there were only four nominees, but it was hardly a shocker when “Let It Go” emerged as the victor. Crafted by the talented duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and brought to life by the incredible vocal prowess of Broadway legend Idina Menzel, “Let It Go” didn’t just win an Oscar – it became an enduring cultural phenomenon that continues to captivate audiences a decade later.
This sensational song didn’t stop at an Academy Award; it also secured a Grammy, soared to the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100, and achieved the remarkable feat of being translated into a staggering 44 different languages.
“Let It Go” isn’t just any song; it’s iconic. It’s renowned for its irresistibly catchy, sing-along quality and its indelible association with a pivotal scene in the Disney film. Elsa, with her hair flowing free, donning a new gown, and conjuring an enchanting ice castle, has become inseparable from the song. It evokes a profound sense of empowerment and liberation.
Menzel’s performance is nothing short of spectacular, soaring over a multi-layered orchestral arrangement that steadily builds, culminating in a jaw-dropping final note that has aspiring vocalists worldwide striving to reach its heights.
Ultimately, “Let It Go” is more than a song; it’s a powerful anthem about shedding the shackles of concealment and embracing one’s true self, a message that continues to resonate profoundly with audiences around the globe.
‘A Star is Born’ (2018)
After the release of A Star is Born in 2018, its hit song “Shallow” absolutely took the world by storm and was undoubtedly the clear winner of the Best Original Song category. Crafted by Lady Gaga along with a few other talented songwriters, this masterpiece was performed by Gaga herself alongside Bradley Cooper. “Shallow” not only clinched a Golden Globe but also secured a Critics’ Choice Award, a BAFTA Award, and two prestigious Grammys. The song’s impact was nothing short of a global phenomenon, topping multiple music charts, remaining on the Hot 100 chart for an impressive 45 weeks, and ultimately becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.
“Shallow” serves as a musical motif throughout the film, with its most iconic rendition taking place during Gaga and Cooper’s performance at The Greek Theater. This particular moment is pivotal in the narrative, mirroring the song’s lyrics, as the characters grapple with their identities while yearning to delve deeper into their relationship, discovering solace in each other’s presence. The song itself is a compelling blend of country, pop, and power ballad elements. It kicks off with the instantly recognizable acoustic guitar riff, followed by Cooper’s heartfelt vocals and a captivating melody. Gaga’s entry on the second verse adds depth, and as she bursts into the chorus with her powerful voice, the song truly takes flight. Gaga guides us through an instrumental bridge that steadily builds, culminating in a breathtaking final chorus sung as a duet between the two characters. “Shallow” not only complements the cinematic moment in the film but also stands as a standalone piece of music. It effortlessly immerses the audience in the characters’ emotional journey while carving out its own place as an iconic musical gem.