Oscars 2020: Best Original Song Shortlist

We begin out shortlist breakdown, and begin with the easiest one of the bunch to go over, mostly because I did all the work already when I went over all the eligible songs a few days ago. So if you want to go back and listen to all the ones that didn’t make it and see what my thoughts were about what was potentially going to be on this list, go do that. Otherwise, I’ll post all the shortlisted songs here anyway and we’ll still go over them.

But, here’s your shortlist for Best Original Song this year:

“Turntables,” from All In: The Fight for Democracy
“See What You’ve Done,” from Belly of the Beast
“Wuhan Flu,” from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
“Husavik,” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Never Break,” from Giving Voice
“Make It Work,” from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
“Fight For You,” from Judas and the Black Messiah
“lo Sì (Seen),” from The Life Ahead
“Rain Song,” from Minari
“Show Me Your Soul,” from Mr. Soul!
“Loyal Brave True,” from Mulan
“Free,” from The One and Only Ivan
“Speak Now,” from One Night in Miami
“Green,” from Sound of Metal
“Hear My Voice,” from The Trial of the Chicago 7

Well, 2½ of my personal choices for the category are on here. “Wuhan Flu,” “Husavik” and the other song from Jingle Jangle. So that’s nice, I guess. I’m not remotely surprised the Shaun the Sheep song got left off. HOWEVER… the Over the Moon exclusion is a bit surprising (not fully though, since while listening to it, I did hear some things that I was bumping against in the melody that I’m sure probably did it for them too. Either that or they’re racist. I’m pretty sure we can all agree those are the only two options and that there’s no complexity or gray area to be had here whatsoever).

Other quick thoughts about this list — “Tigress and Tweed” got left off. That’s surprising. Kinda glad the Onward song got left off. And oh shit, JT got left off for Trolls. Good for them! I liked the song, but just… good for them. He didn’t need this and frankly I’m happier that he’s not here. Otherwise — kind of a boring category. Which we pretty much knew going in anyway. There wasn’t a whole lot of songs I loved this year and not many particularly memorable ones. Mostly this just tells me how much of a walk the category would’ve been if Billie Eilish got in here with her Bond song. I mean, she’ll still probably win it next year, but next year I already know there’s a whole slew of contenders for her to deal with (because I’m pretty sure Lin-Manuel’s gonna have multiple film songs in contention, from both Vivo and In the Heights. And that’s before you consider if Little Mermaid comes out and if his Tick, Tick… Boom directorial effort comes out and has an original song of his in it. And that’s just him! Who the hell knows what other stuff pops up between now and then).

I guessed 15 for a shortlist and ended up getting 9 of them right. With a Jingle Jangle song swap thrown in (I had the other song on there in place of the one they chose. So I was right there, even though I was ultimately wrong. So I’ll take solace in that fact). The six misses were “See What You’ve Done,” “Make It Work” (the swap), “Show Me Your Soul,” “Loyal Brave True” “Wuhan Flu” and “Green.”

I will say, though, if you expand my list to the longlist of songs I felt had any sort of shot to be nominated, I did have 14/15 on there. So 9/15 straight up and then 14/15 in the 30-or so songs I felt could be contenders. Which is amazing. The one miss was “See What You’ve Done,” which is a song I liked but it somehow didn’t register with me that it was written by MARY J. BLIGE. You know… two-time Academy Award nominee Mary J. Blige who was nominated for both an acting Oscar and in this very category three years ago. And had I known that, I probably would’ve put the song on my list of contenders, even if I probably wouldn’t have had it on the shortlist I guessed more than likely. Long story short, I’m an idiot. Still, 14/15… that tells me that they’re still operating on the level that I understand and I’ve not fallen out of touch with prognosticating this category.

Seeing as how I had almost all of these guessed, there’s not really much analysis to be had. Since… kinda figured they could go for these. So let’s just get into each of the songs and how I think they could shake out come final list time (since only a third of this list will make the final category. So we’re gonna have to figure out what’s getting left off. Which, in a year like this, with some potential locks… that might make it easier. We’ll see).

Here’s all the 15 shortlisted songs for your listening pleasure:

“Turntables,” from All In: The Fight for Democracy

“See What You’ve Done,” from Belly of the Beast

“Wuhan Flu,” from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

“Husavik,” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

“Never Break,” from Giving Voice

“Make It Work,” from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

“Fight For You,” from Judas and the Black Messiah

“lo Sì (Seen),” from The Life Ahead

“Rain Song,” from Minari

You can listen to this song on Soundcloud.

“Show Me Your Soul,” from Mr. Soul!

“Loyal Brave True,” from Mulan

“Free,” from The One and Only Ivan

“Speak Now,” from One Night in Miami

“Green,” from Sound of Metal

“Hear My Voice,” from The Trial of the Chicago 7

– – – – – –

Okay, so the only help we get in this category is from BFCA and the Globes. The Globes nominated “Fight for You,” “Hear My Voice,” “Io si (Seen)” and “Speak Now,” while BFCA had “Fight for You,” “Io si,” “Speak Now” and “Husavik.” It should be noted that both also had “Tigress & Tweed,” which was not shortlisted. Not that I think it was a spectacular song, but just that it was considered a real contender here and they didn’t shortlist it.

If you went just on those precursors, you’d have your list of five right there. Will those be the five? Not sure yet. But what I’m gonna do right now is go through all fifteen songs and try to rank them in order from least likely to be nominated to most likely to be nominated. Very informally. My thoughts on this can and likely will change between now and nominations time. But for now, this is how I feel things are looking (it’s like what I did with the Animated Feature eligibles. I’ll use it when it comes time to guess nominees, but make appropriate adjustments based on what I’ve seen in the time since I did this):

15. “Make It Work,” from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

John Legend co-wrote all the songs on this soundtrack, by the way (and another co-writer does the Bruno Mars stuff). So that might explain how this got here, even though I’d like to think that it’s because it’s one of the only goddamn songs that actually fits the purpose of this list. This doesn’t feel like them at all, and wherever I have this ranked come nominations time, I can almost assure you it won’t be in the top five. This is one of those songs I’ll just happily let beat me. Because aside from a lot of people stepping on that Oscar stage, I’m not really sure what’s gonna appeal to the majority of voters on this, especially with what feels like about three-to-four spots already basically sewn up. Not to mention the fact that John Legend has another song on this list, and that seems more likely to get anywhere with them.

14. “Show Me Your Soul,” from Mr. Soul!

Very nice song, and Robert Glasper is someone I suspect has been broadly in contention before for them (since he did the Miles Ahead song and one for that Apollo documentary), so I know they’re familiar with him. Not sure they go for this at all, as nice as the song is. This might end up being top five in my own preferred list of songs for the category based on this shortlist, but it doesn’t feel like it stands any sort of shot to make it. Think about it — 375 music people voting on 15 songs. They’re gonna skew toward the ones everyone knows from the people they like to vote for.

13. “See What You’ve Done,” from Belly of the Beast

So it’s Mary J. Blige, yes. But that only gets you as far as a shortlist. No one really knows about this documentary, and it’s a rap song, which just isn’t really them. And they’re already straying a bit out of their comfort zone this year, potentially, so I can’t see this being the one that makes them do it. Honestly just gonna let this one beat me because I truly can’t see it happening.

12. “Wuhan Flu,” from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

I love the song and it’s catchy as hell… but will they really do this? I know I didn’t see the Buster Scruggs song getting on, but at least that was a good song on top of being a comedic song. This… I’d be legitimately surprised that they went here. Though I’d respect the shit out of them for doing it, just because it gives even more of a chance for Sacha to do something fun at the ceremony. But it’s basically just the same two lines over and over. I think people (like myself) voted for this because they remembered how fun the song was from the movie. But I think when you actually sit down and listen, you think, “Okay, maybe there’s really not all that much here.” Like I said, I’d love it, but I can’t assume they’re gonna do this. Better to not guess it and be pleasantly surprised if they do.

11. “Rain Song,” from Minari

So yes, it’s Minari. And you have to take this seriously as a contender because it’s from a film that will be a Best Picture player. But also remember that a song from Parasite was shortlisted last year. Just because they shortlisted it does not mean they’ll actually go there in the end. I honestly could make this as low as 13, because I really don’t think it’s gonna happen, but I wanted to show some respect for the fact that it’s Minari. Still… can’t see this happening and would rather just let it beat me and happen than force it in there when I don’t believe it’ll happen and, quite frankly, it doesn’t fit how they vote.

10. “Loyal Brave True,” from Mulan

You’d think I’d rate this higher, but if this isn’t from such a high profile movie, do they even bother with this? Christina Aguilera is someone who has an eligible song most years, but never in such a high profile film as this. The song sounds like something that theoretically would get on, but I can’t imagine anyone’s taking the film or song that seriously to vote for it. Usually people know when it’s time to vote for a Disney song. I know they’re gonna have a lot of publicity tied into this, but I feel like for the most part this branch is about two things: voting for their favorite people and generally sticking to what sounds the best. This doesn’t have a Diane Warren behind it and the song is just okay. I don’t think it passes the mustard for them. Feels like an also ran, and the lack of either Globes or BFCA love (and they’re built for a song like this) tells me it’s likely not gonna happen.

9. “Turntables,” from All In: The Fight for Democracy

Love Janelle Monae and one of these years they are gonna go for her in a big way. Most of them are now all very aware of her from that opening of last year’s ceremony and they’re now seeing her in movies and things. She’s getting closer to a nomination. And it’s a good song. But I’m just not sure this is the right song for them to embrace. I mean, I’m for it, but based on what I know about them, this would be a surprising choice. So I’d put this in that second tier of ‘maybe, but not the most likely’. You can potentially have this as high as 6 or 7 on this list when all is said and done. But right now, based on film notoriety (and yes, I know it was shortlisted in Documentary) and song type and everything… I just feel like it’s unlikely.

8. “Free,” from The One and Only Ivan

So this was originally my #15 song and I had no earthly idea why the fuck this song was even shortlisted. And then I found out that Diane Warren wrote it. And there you have it. So based on Diane Warren alone, this remains in the top tier to maybe get on. I’m not sure I have her getting nominated twice (because even for them, that’s overkill), but in that next tier (since it’s five nominated, five possible spoilers and then five also rans. That’s how you break this list down) that could happen. I’m almost certainly not gonna guess it in the final five, but I have to give it a certain amount of respect because I’ve seen this branch do some dumb shit in my time. So respect it, but don’t necessarily throw a vote there because you already know Warren’s got a spot on the final list anyway with her other song.

7. “Husavik,” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Honestly the only thing keeping me from having this higher is that I still can’t believe that they’re gonna let the Eurovision movie get nominated for an Oscar. But honestly, this is legitimately one of the best songs on this list, so it’s actually possible. I keep it here for one reason (#6, and you’ll see what I mean when we get there). But if I’m looking at legitimate contenders for that final spot or two, I’m only really going as low as #8, which puts this firmly in contention for a nomination. And, honestly, with time to sit and consider this… I might actually put this as a nominee. I’m very bullish on this song’s chances. But for now, I’m gonna stay reserved and let cooler heads prevail. But know that this is firmly in contention. Plus just imagine what they could do for whatever this imaginary ceremony is gonna be.

6. “Green,” from Sound of Metal

It’s because Sound of Metal is gonna get a bunch of nominations at the top and that has swung many a film onto the final category. That said, do I think this is a sure thing? Not at all. In fact, if you gave me just the songs and told me to guess, I’d probably have this closer to 11 or 12 in terms of likelihood of getting nominated. Because it just doesn’t feel like them. But the Sound of Metal part bolsters its chances. So, in the end, I think I end up probably not guessing this, but I have to take it very seriously just because the film is where it is in terms of nominations and status.

5. “Never Break,” from Giving Voice

He’s a previous winner and he sings an uplifting song for a documentary that won’t end up making the category because it wasn’t shortlisted. That’s almost perfect for how this Song category usually goes. Where you go, “Where the hell did they get this one from?” But in this case — it’s John Legend. It sounds just like something they’d go for. Could they decide not to? Absolutely. But at this point, what feels more likely than this to end up on there? That’s why this is here. It’s as safe a bet as any in this crazy ass year. Plus, this is a perfect montage kind of song, and they love that shit. So I’d lean more toward yes than no.

4. “Hear My Voice,” from The Trial of the Chicago 7

This sounds as close to what I’d expect out of them than almost anything else on this list. Plus the film is poised for a shit ton of major nominations and Daniel Pemberton is on the cusp of being recognized by them for the first time (I’m looking real hard at a Score nomination for him this year based on all those factors). This fits. Will it happen? Not sure. This can easily be a cast off, yet it can also be one of those nominees that in the future just looks like it fits on paper because it’s from the film that got a bunch of other nominations. Right now I’ll keep it here and then see what I think come closer to nominations time.

3. “Fight For You,” from Judas and the Black Messiah

If there was any chance this might not have gotten on, that fucking incredible guitar version of “America the Beautiful” at the Super Bowl sealed that deal. This is one of three songs to hit both BFCA and the Globes lists. That should tell you something. Has something gotten on both lists and been left off the category? Sure. But hell, what else is there this year? This feels like as good a song as any to make it on. And I think people are aware of H.E.R. and will be all too happy to support her and this film and what it stands for.

2. “Speak Now,” from One Night in Miami

Oh this is 100% getting nominated and looks like your de facto winner at this point too. Don’t pretend like everyone isn’t aware of the social import this film carries and will look to reward it somewhere and don’t think they aren’t very aware that the dude who sings this and co-wrote it is the guy from Hamilton. They’re fucking salivating at the chance to vote for this.

1. “lo Sì (Seen),” from The Life Ahead

It’s Diane Warren and everyone seems to know that it’s Diane Warren this time. This is starting to feel like the mid-2010s when everyone was very aware that Roger Deakins hadn’t won an Oscar and he’d start getting on for stuff like Unbroken, where they were starting to have the person outweigh the effort just because they’d ignored them for so long. So this will be nominated, to the point where I’m more confident in this getting on than I am in the presumptive winner getting on. Though this is also a legitimate contender for the win. It’s pretty much this or that. And that has other factors going for it, which is why I think, if both get on, that would be the favorite over this. Still, Diane Warren — nominated 2014 for Beyond the Lights, 2015 for The Hunting Ground, 2017 for Marshall, 2018 for RBG and 2019 for Breakthrough. How many people are really aware of most of those movies? They’re not. It’s her. She gets on. So don’t be an idiot. She’s getting on.

– – – – –

So that’s how I’m thinking in terms of power rankings, but not necessarily a 1:1 for how I think things are gonna go. Because if you asked me, right now, to put a mock category guess together the way I would for the Nominations Ballot, this is what I’d say:

“Fight for You,” from Judas and the Black Messiah

“Husavik,” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

“Io Si (Seen),” from The Life Ahead

“Never Break,” from Giving Voice

“Speak Now,” from One Night in Miami

Alternate: “Hear My Voice,” from The Trial of the Chicago 7

Dark Horse: “Free,” from The One and Only Ivan

Surprise: “Green,” from Sound of Metal; “Turntables,” from All In: The Fight for Democracy

Shocker: “Loyal Brave True,” from Mulan; “Wuhan Flu,” from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm; “Rain Song,” from Minari

Don’t guess: “Make It Work,” from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey; “Show Me Your Soul,” from Mr. Soul!; “See What You’ve Done,” from Belly of the Beast

I think the top seven will contain your most likely category. I think you take the top three and then pick two of the remaining four (the two that make the most sense to you) and call it a day. Do they go double Diane Warren? Maybe. But the three obvious ones should be on there. Do you go Eurovision? Do you go John Legend? Do you go Chicago 7? All valid. You’re not gonna get any more precursor help here, so it really just comes down to what you think you know about the branch and their history and what your gut tells you. At this point, I don’t see my thoughts changing all that much between now and then. I feel comfortable missing with Legend on, but that fifth spot is gonna be the one I might fluctuate on. It’s all gonna depend on if I decide “fuck it” and go “Husavik” or if I convince myself they’re gonna double dip Diane or throw Chicago 7 on here too. Still, as much as I think it’s a ‘meh’ year for the category, it likely shouldn’t be that hard to guess.

– – – – – – – – – – –

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