2021 Oscars Best Original Song Nominees: Ranked
Put on your fanciest tuxedo and your finest gown, hop on the red carpet and prepare to bleed black and gold, because it’s Oscars season.
On April 25th, Hollywood’s finest will gather to celebrate another year in the film industry. And what a year it was. In a time like no other, with the pandemic wiping out in-person theaters and film screenings, the movie market had to adapt fast, and that’s exactly what it did.
With many films releasing to streaming platforms such as HBO Max, Disney+, or Netflix, filmmakers were able to churn out some true masterpieces, including some of my favorites, Promising Young Woman, and The Trial of The Chicago Seven.
But as much as the cinephile in me would love to rant about the Oscars for days, this is a music blog, and it is the music we shall discuss. One of the most important yet underrated categories at the Academy Awards is the category for best original song, which showcases the talents of artists and songwriters who play their part in the film industry.
This year, the lineup is more eclectic than ever, featuring everything from Eurovision hits to soulful tracks by some of R&B’s biggest talents. Here are our definitive rankings…
5. Husavik (My Hometown)–from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”– written by Fat Max Gsus, Rickard Göransson, and Savan Kotecha
Coming in at number five is the breakout hit from one of the most interesting films of 2020, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, which tells the tale of Icelandic singers Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdóttir as they are given the chance to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest. Written by Will Ferrel and featuring a star-studded cast including Rachel McAdams and Demi Lovato, this Netflix comedy has a lot to offer in terms of music.
As for the song itself, performed within the film by Will Ferrel and Molly Sanden, under the stage name My Marianne, Husavik is an anthemic ballad that pays homage to the simpler things in life, such as the importance of love and the therapeutic nature of home.
The song instantly makes any listener feel warm and fuzzy with nostalgia, echoing some of history’s greatest ballads. Lines like “Where the mountains sing through the screams of seagulls Where the whales can live ’cause they’re gentle people instantly make anyone feel right at home in nature. The true x-factor of Husavik comes in the chorus’s sudden switch from English to Icelandic, a beautiful moment that exposes audiences to a language that is foreign to most.
The only reason that Husavik isn’t higher on this list is that the lyrics and overall feel are a bit simplistic, devoid of a true depth and poetry that tug at the heartstrings. This song just felt a little bit forgettable, but overall, a great listen, and a great song for its respective film.
4) Speak Now–from “One Night in Miami”–Written by Leslie Odom Jr. and Sam Ashworth
Our fourth place winner comes from the 2020 film “One Night in Miami”, which explores the story of a fictional 1964 meeting between Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X, and their discussion of Black success during the civil rights movement. The film is a true masterpiece exploring the Black Power movement and the responsibilities of successful Black men.
But this film also contains a masterpiece of a song. Written by “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr, along with Sam Ashworth, Speak Now is an ode to one’s voice and true empowerment. Odom’s powerful vocals cut through the relatively unchanging guitar track, while slowly building in volume and power, giving the song a “slow burn” sort of feel, without the need for a true climax.
The lyrics are simple but not careless, with the chorus characterized by the phrase “Can you hear the bells ring out? Speak now. Speak now. Can you hear the angels singing loud? Speak now.” If this song had to be boxed into a genre, it feels like a fusion of R&B and Soul, with a touch of Odom’s broadway theatricality.
At this point, any and all “rankings” come down to my subjective nitpicks, but the only reason that “Speak Now” is only fourth on the list is the production. The background track feels relatively monotone, repeating the same few guitar chords in succession. Towards the end, vocal harmonies and some background synths begin to enter, but this payoff takes a long time to occur, so as a song, it’s not the most interesting from a listener’s perspective. But don’t get me wrong, in the context of the film, there could not be a more perfect song.
3) Io sì— from “The Life Ahead”– Written By Diane Warren, Laura Pausini and Niccolò Agliardi
The third-place award goes to this year’s Golden Globe winner for Best Original song, Io Si (seen), a power ballad performed by Italian artist Laura Pausini. This emotional song comes from the film “The Life Ahead”, a gutwrenching exploration of the relationship between a holocaust survivor and a Senegalese immigrant.
Io Si and its parent film hold a special place on this list due to the fact that they are both wholly international, birthed from the mind of Italian director Edoardo Ponti; and everyone knows there has never been a better language for a ballad than Italian. The melodies of Io Si are instantly captivating, even if you can’t understand the lyrics. For the curious souls out there, the chorus melody translates to…
“When you learn to surviveAnd accept the impossibleNo one believes youI do”
2) Hear My Voice— From “The Trial of The Chicago Seven”– Written by Celeste Waite and Daniel Pemberton
Coming in at number two is Celeste’s emotional and soulful track, Hear My Voice, from the film “The Trial of the Chicago 7”. This Netflix drama is based on the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged with conspiracy by the federal government arising from counterculture protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. A psychological and emotional thriller, this was hands down one of the best films of 2020, which explains its nomination for Best Picture.
But within this tale of hippies and rebellion, a musical gem is hidden, and that gem is Hear My Voice. Performed by British singer-songwriter and megastar Celeste, whose first album debuted at number 1 on the UK charts, this song is a jazzy anthem to empowerment.
The vibes are old school, characterized by smooth vocals and a background track that seems to just float on cloud 9. Hear My Voice reminds me of the greatest old-school records of Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald. Honestly, I could listen to this song all day whether it was in a film or not.
The one and only reason that Hear My Voice doesn’t come in at number at one is that our first-place winner is just that good. This timeless track defies boundaries and easily deserves the Best Original Song award as well as any other accolade you can think of.
1) Fight For You— From “Judas and the Black Messiah”– Written by Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II, H.E.R., and Tiara Thomas
And now the moment we have all been eagerly awaiting… our first place winner and undisputed top choice is H.E.R’s R&B masterpiece Fight For You. This phenomenal track hails from another Best Picture front-runner, “Judas and the Black Messiah”, a thrilling historical drama about William O’Neal, who, under the orders of the FBI, infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton.
Within this masterpiece of a film lies a timeless song by the queen of R&B herself, H.E.R.: Fight For You. The melodies are intricate, the harmonies are unique, and the vibe is ethereal and soulful. The production always provides something new, whether it’s an interesting drum fill or some never before heard chords. The rhythms are incredibly complex, proving that H.E.R always knows how to deliver a song. The lyrics are as poetic as they come, conjuring larger-than-life themes of civil rights and revolution.
“Freedom for my brothers
Freedom ’cause they judge us
Freedom from the others
Freedom from the leaders, they’re keeping us
Freedom gon’ keep us strong
Freedom if you just hold on
Freedom ain’t free at all, no”
This song separates itself from the other songs in the pack through its sheer x-factor. Everything in this track is new and fresh, and it suits “Judas and the Black Messiah” perfectly. There is no reason not to love Fight For You, inside a film or just on its own. I can guarantee I will be listening to it for days, and rooting for it at this year’s Oscars.
Whether you have seven spreadsheets and a lot of money on the line, or just enjoy a good awards show, this year’s Oscars are going to be extra special. 2020 was a year like no other for the film industry, with digital streaming clearly emerging as the dominant medium for the future.
Along with changing films, came changing music. Artists from around the world innovated and came out with some of the greatest original film songs to date across every genre, from R&B hits to power ballads.
Please take this list with a massive grain of salt. All five of these songs are masterpieces, and I encourage you to listen to all of them and watch their respective films.
For more information, check out our playlist below! And don’t forget, to raise a glass to the Oscars and to the artists that make this country’s entertainment industry run.