One of the nominees is clearly better than the rest, but what does “Best Original Song” even mean?
Who Should Win: “All the Stars” – Kendrick Lamar and SZA (from Black Panther)
Serving as the ending credits theme for one of Marvel’s best movies to date, Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars” is also one of the standout songs of 2018. Fittingly, it’s up for four Grammys in addition to its nomination for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscars.
Like the movie it’s attached to, “All the Stars” is a stylish song. Built over a repetitive synth loop, the track’s melody of is driven mostly by a mix of drums and quiet, low film-horns (think Inception). Co-producer Al Shux has said in interviews that “All the Stars” was built from short highlights from an earlier, longer song, and the result is breathtaking in how much it does with relatively little.
“All the Stars” begins with a distorted, lightly auto-tuned voice delivering the line “Love/Let’s talk about love”, before vocalist SZA launches into one of 2018’s catchiest choruses. The one-two punch of weird bridge and awesome hook was more than enough reason to keep people’s attention into the credits of Black Panther this time last year. Additionally, Lamar’s and SZA’s verses are excellent, drawing lyrical parallels to the emotional core of the movie, without tethering themselves to it. With lyrics seemingly about confronting hardship and entitlement, having doubts about love and the future, and at times invoking the imagery of the movie, “All the Stars” is just as much a logical continuation of Lamar’s musical career as a song off a film soundtrack.
Not only is the song a perfect theme song for Black Panther, it’s also just a great Kendrick song.
In terms of quality alone, “All the Stars” blows every other nominee out of the water. There’s really no question who should win Best Original Song.
Who Got Snubbed: “A Place Called Slaughter Race” – Sarah Silverman and Gal Gadot (from Ralph Breaks the Internet)
As the Oscars are an award ceremony honouring achievements in film, Best Original Song is a bit of an odd category. In fact, I would argue that the “Best Original Song” in a year of movies may not always be the best original song attached to a film. Instead, the “Best Original Song” at the Oscars should account for the significance of the song within its movie.
In that respect, the “Best Original Song” of 2018 was “A Place Called Slaughter Race” from Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Ralph sees video-game character Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) trying to find her place in the vast and strange new world of the internet. When Von Schweetz meets Shank (Gal Gadot), a racer from the online game “Slaughter Race,” the two bond over racing, and Von Schweetz begins to toy with the idea of leaving her own arcade and friends to become a racer in Shank’s game instead.
Along the way, Von Schweetz is advised to follow her dreams by every Disney Princess, finally culminating in a performance of a song about following your dreams: “A Place Called Slaughter Race.”
The main goal of Ralph is to send-up Disney movies and tropes while embracing them at the same time, and nowhere does the movie achieve this better than with Von Schweetz’s Disney Princess song. Taking its musical cues from the likes of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, the song juxtaposes show-tune finesse with lyrics like “hate to see you end up dead”, and “as I’m called through this fog of mace” as Von Schweetz wonders if she’s meant to stay in “this lawless car-ballet”.
While it may not be as excellent a song as “All the Stars”, Ralph’s GTA-inspired ode to destiny is the most meaningful song of 2018 within its own film. If context is considered when deciding this category’s winner, then Sarah Silverman ought to get a shout-out.
Other Notable Snubs: “Sunflower” – Post Malone and Swae Lee (from Into the Spider-Verse), “Maybe It’s Time” – Bradley Cooper (from A Star Is Born), “OYAHHTT” – Boots Riley (feat. Lakeith Stanfield) (from Sorry to Bother You),