Most people tune into the Academy Awards for the glitz, glamour and the best picture trophy, but for music lovers the real show is all about best original song.
This year’s battle for Oscar is a little less fierce than in past years — two songs penned by Indian-born songwriter A.R. Rahman for Slumdog Millionare are up against a tune by Peter Gabriel from Wall-E — but the songs might be the most interesting to vie for the prize yet.
That’s thanks to Rahman, whose songs O Saya, which features Sri Lankan songstress M.I.A. on vocals, and Jai Ho brilliantly fuse American-electro sounds with traditional Indian melodies, a musical combination that’s never graced an Academy Award stage.
While it’s a good bet one of Rahman’s tunes will win, Peter Gabriel’s Down To Earth — a fun, but relatively laid-back affair — has history on its side. Some of the more recent winners haven’t been boisterous over-the-top tunes like Slumdog’s are, but rather quiet, introspective singer-songwriter sounds.
Last year’s winner Falling Slowly was a passionate duet by The Frames’ Glen Hansard and Czech songstress Markéta Irglová. It was a victory for indie rock fans, but not so much for outside of the box artists.
Melissa Ethridge, Jorge Dexler, Bob Dylan and Phil Collins have all taken home a trophy too, and while the songs were award-worthy, they all fit a similar singer-songwriter mold.
If it’s not guys or gals with guitars (or, in the ’80s, pianos), it’s ensemble musical numbers. Songs from the Little Mermaid, Fame, Mary Poppins and Dirty Dancing have all won Oscars; the most nominations and wins belongs to Sammy Cahn, a Broadway lyricist.
Despite the fact that plenty of the music world’s most acclaimed tunes have won best original song (Take My Breath Away, I Just Called to Say I Love you, Que Sera Sera have all been victorious), some of the most memorable winners have come from unlikely artists.
It’s hard to forget Three Six Mafia’s thrilling 2005 performance of Hustle and Flow’s It’s Hard Out There For a Pimp — and their even more stunning win, becoming the first African-American music group to ever take home an Oscar. And, although they didn’t snag the main prize, Beyoncé’s pitch perfect, ’60s-style pairing with Jennifer Hudson on Dreamgirls’ Listen was easily one of Oscars’ most memorable duets ever.
So while Peter Gabriel could follow in the footsteps of many other big name solo artists — Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, Neil Young and Elton John have all been up for the award — Rahman’s brilliant fusion of multi-cultural musical styles, and the fact that he’s somehow not up against Springsteen’s remarkable track for The Wrestler, likely means his name will be called on Sunday.
Even if one of his tunes is triumphant, though, it’s doubtful we’ll see an influx of cross-cultural sounds in the future. But, unlike the Grammy’s, this will be one night where the best song will win.