Academy Award for Best Original Song
The Academy Award for Best Original Song is one of the awards given annually to people working in the motion picture industry by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is presented to the songwriters who have composed the best original song written specifically for a film. The performers of a song are not credited with the Academy Award unless they contributed either to music, lyrics or both in their own right. The songs that are nominated are performed during the ceremony and before the award is presented.
The award category was introduced at the 7th Academy Awards, the ceremony honoring the best in film for 1934. Nominations are made by Academy members who are songwriters and composers, and the winners are chosen by the Academy membership as a whole.
"There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyrics and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits."
The original requirement was only that the nominated song appear in a motion picture during the previous year. This rule was changed after the 1941 Academy Awards, when "The Last Time I Saw Paris", from the film Lady Be Good, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, won. Kern was upset that his song won because it had been published and recorded before it was used in the film. The song was actually written in 1940, after the Germans occupied Paris at the start of World War II. It was recorded by Kate Smith and peaked at No. 8 on the best seller list before it was used in the film.
Kern got the Academy to change the rule so that only songs that are "original and written specifically for the motion picture" are eligible to win. Songs that rely on sampled or reworked material along with cover versions, remixes and parodies, such as "Gangsta's Paradise" in the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, are also ineligible.
This rule means that when a film is adapted from a previously-produced stage musical, none of the existing songs from the musical are eligible. As a result, many recent film adaptations of musicals have included original songs which could be nominated, such as "You Must Love Me" in the 1996 film Evita, and "Listen", "Love You I Do", "Patience" in the 2006 film Dreamgirlsand "Suddenly" in the 2012 film Les Misérables.
There was a debate as to whether or not Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who were awarded the Oscar in 2008 for "Falling Slowly", were in fact eligible. "Falling Slowly" has been released on two other albums – The Swell Season, Hansard and Irglova's duo project and The Cost, by Hansard's band The Frames. The Swell Season was released in August 2006, and The Cost in February 2007, before the release of Once. However, the AMPAS music committee determined that, in the course of the film's protracted production, the composers had "played the song in some venues that were deemed inconsequential enough to not change the song's eligibility". The same issue arose two years earlier with "In the Deep" from Crash, which appeared on Kathleen "Bird" York's 2003 album The Velvet Hour after being written for Crash, but before the film was released. The current Academy rule says an eligible song "must be recorded for use in the motion picture prior to any other usage", so recordings released prior to the film will not disqualify a song as long as the film version was "recorded" before then.
Number of nominations
Until the Academy Awards for 1945 (awarded in 1946) any number of songs could be nominated for the award. For the 1945 awards, 14 songs were nominated.
From 1946 to 2011, each member of the Music Branch of the Academy was asked to vote using a points system of 10, 9.5, 9, 8.5, 8, 7.5, 7, 6.5 or 6 points. Only those songs that received an average score of 8.25 or more were eligible for nomination. If no song qualified, there would be no nominees. And if only one song achieved that score, it and the song receiving the next highest score would be the two nominees. This system usually resulted in five nominations each year, except for 2010 when four were nominated, 1988, 2005, and 2008, when only three were nominated; and 2011 when only two were nominated.
Following the two song competition in 2011, the rules were changed once more. The number of nominations is now contingent upon the number of submissions. Depending on the amount received by the Academy there would be five, three or no nominations each year. Since then, there have always been five nominees, except in 2013 when one was disqualified.
The first film to receive multiple nominations was Fame in 1980. Only four films have featured three nominated songs: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Dreamgirls, and Enchanted. Dreamgirls and Enchanted lost on every nomination: An Inconvenient Truth original song "I Need to Wake Up" defeated all three of the nominated songs from Dreamgirls, while "Falling Slowly" from Once defeated all three of Enchanted's nominations. After these two consecutive defeats, a new rule was instated in June 2008 that a film could have no more than two songs nominated.
Performances at the awards ceremony
Nominated songs are usually performed live at the televised Academy Awards ceremonies. Although pre-televised ceremonies were broadcast on the radio, the tradition of performing the nominated songs did not begin until the 18th Academy Awards in 1946, in which performers included Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Dinah Shore, and Dick Haymes.
In the early years, the songs were usually not performed by the original artists as in the film. For example, in 1965, Robert Goulet performed all the nominated songs at the ceremony. (Ironically, in the case of "The Look Of Love", sung by Dusty Springfield in Casino Royale, the positive reaction to the performance by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 on the 1968 telecast led to their version being released as a single and eventually becoming the bigger hit.) In 1970, this was reversed and only the people who had performed the piece in the film were permitted to perform the song on the live telecast, even if a hit version was performed by another act.
However, since Oscar nominees for 1970, 1971 and 1972 had all been major hit records by other artists, in 1973 the rule was amended again and it became standard to first offer either the original artist or artists who performed the song in the film a chance to perform it at the ceremony, followed by the artist or artists who had the hit record with it.
When neither of those is able to do so (or in rare cases where the telecast producers decide to go with someone else), the Academy chooses more well-known entertainers to perform the song at the ceremony. For example, Robin Williams performed "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut at the 72nd Academy Awards instead of the film's voice actors, Trey Parker and Mary Kay Bergman (Bergman died a few months before the show). Beyoncé Knowles sang three nominated songs (one of which was a duet with Josh Groban) during the 77th Academy Awards even though she had not performed those songs in any of the respective films.
That same year, the song "Al otro lado del río" (On The Other Side Of The River), which was featured in the film The Motorcycle Diaries, won the award, becoming the first song in Spanish and the second in a foreign language to receive such an honor (the first winner was the title tune to Never on Sunday, which was sung in Greek in the film by its star, Melina Mercouri). It was written by Uruguayan composer Jorge Drexler, but the producers would not let Drexler perform the song during the show for fear of losing ratings. Instead, the song was performed by Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas. Drexler's acceptance speech for the award consisted of him singing a few lines a cappella and closed by simply saying "thank you".
At the 80th Academy Awards, "That's How You Know" from the film Enchanted was performed by Kristin Chenoweth, rather than the film's star, Amy Adams. However, Adams performed "Happy Working Song", which was nominated from the same film.
In 1985, Phil Collins was passed over to perform his nominated composition "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)". According to representatives of both Collins' record company and Columbia Pictures, this was because the producers of the telecast were not familiar with his work. Ann Reinking performed the song instead, with Collins sitting in the audience. In 2009, Peter Gabriel, who was originally scheduled to perform his nominated song "Down to Earth" during the live broadcast, declined to perform after learning that he would be allowed to sing only 65 seconds of the song during the ceremony's Best Original Song nominee performance medley. Gabriel still attended the ceremony, with John Legend performing the song in his place, backed by the Soweto Gospel Choir.
The 84th Academy Awards did not feature performances from either nominated song ("Man or Muppet" from The Muppets or "Real in Rio" from Rio). No reason for this was given by Oscar producers. This was only the third time that Best Original Song nominees were not performed (the others were in 1989 and 2010). At the 2013 Oscars, only three of the five nominees were performed, with the eventual winner, the theme from Skyfall, being the only one performed separately on its own as opposed to being part of a musical montage sequence. The 88th Academy Awards also had three of the five nominees performed. Anohni, performer and writer of "Manta Ray", one of the two nominated songs cut from the ceremony, boycotted the ceremony for this reason.
List of winners and nominees
Winners of multiple awards
- Number of nominations in parentheses
- 4 : Sammy Cahn (26) (twenty-five as lyricist, one as composer and lyricist)
- 4 : Alan Menken (14) (composer)
- 4 : Johnny Mercer (18) (sixteen as lyricist, two as composer and lyricist)
- 4 : Jimmy Van Heusen (14) (composer)
- 3 : Ray Evans (7) (composer and lyricist)
- 3 : Jay Livingston (7) (composer and lyricist)
- 3 : Tim Rice (5) (lyricist)
- 3 : Harry Warren (11) (composer)
- 3 : Paul Francis Webster (16) (lyricist)
- 2 : Howard Ashman (7) (lyricist)
- 2 : Burt Bacharach (5) (composer)
- 2 : Alan and Marilyn Bergman (15) (lyricist)
- 2 : Sammy Fain (10) (composer)
- 2 : Oscar Hammerstein II (5) (lyricist)
- 2 : Joel Hirschhorn (3) (composer and lyricist)
- 2 : Will Jennings (3) (lyricist)
- 2 : Al Kasha (3) (composer and lyricist)
- 2 : Jerome Kern (7) (composer)
- 2 : Henry Mancini (11) (composer)
- 2 : Giorgio Moroder (2) (composer)
- 2 : Randy Newman (12) (composer and lyricist)
- 2 : Stephen Schwartz (5) (four as lyricist, one as composer and lyricist)
- 2 : Ned Washington (11) (lyricist)
Foreign-language song winners
- Manos Hatzidakis was the first to receive this award for a song originally written in a language other than English, in 1960 for "Never on Sunday" (Greek title "Ta Paidia toy Peiraia") from the Greek film Never on Sunday (Greek title Pote tin Kyriaki).
- Jorge Drexler was the second foreign language songwriter to win the Best Original Song Oscar, for "Al otro lado del río" from The Motorcycle Diaries in 2004. That year another foreign language writing pair were nominated, composer Bruno Coulais and lyricist Christophe Barratier for "Look to Your Path" from the French film The Chorus.
- A. R. Rahman and Gulzar are the third and fourth foreign language composer and songwriter respectively to win in the Best Original Song category, which they shared for the Hindi song "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, at the 81st Academy Awards in 2009. That same year, "O... Saya", another partly Hindi song from the same film by Rahman and M.I.A., was also nominated, making it the first time two foreign language songs from the same film were nominated in the category.