With award season well and truly upon us, there are many opportunities to reflect on what contributes to a film’s high quality. From acting to directing, costumes to screenplay, countless decisions are made that ultimately take a film from mediocrity to greatness.
One of the cogs in these well-oiled machines is the music. Originally composed film scores or carefully curated soundtracks are used to create atmosphere, tension and anticipation to help elevate the movie experience. A film’s music can elicit emotional responses from audiences and often summarise a movie’s entire vibe.
The opportunity to include original songs in a film score unlocks creativity and expression for artists and musicians, harnessing their musical abilities and talents to contribute to another art form, sometimes in a way that can transform an entire film.
And so, it seems only right that their contributions are valued and honoured at the highest level in the form of Academy Award nominations. This year has seen some strong entries into the category, with some films receiving recognition for multiple original songs. But alas, there can only be one winner, so here is our ranking of the nominations for Best Original Song at the 2024 Academy Awards.
5. ‘The Fire Inside’ from Flamin’ Hot; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
Created for the biopic Flamin’ Hot, about Richard Montañez, who is said to have invented the popular US snack, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, while working as a janitor, ‘The Fire Inside’ was written by 15-time Academy Award-nominated Diane Warren.
However, despite Warren’s recognition and experience, the song is the weakest entry on the list. Recorded by US singer Becky G, it is a relatively uplifting track, however it is lacking in unique style, and has very little impact on the listener. It doesn’t reflect the feel of the film as well as the other contenders and is a surprising nomination.
4. ‘Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)’ from Killers Of The Flower Moon; Music and Lyric by Scott George
One of many great things to come from Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, Killers Of The Flower Moon, its original song has been recognised by the Academy. A traditional tribal song of the Osage people, it provides an atmosphere representative of the film and its authentic themes.
At the end of the movie, Scorsese emphasises the presence of the Osage, and the music reflects the feelings and beliefs of the community while enticing audiences. Comforting and haunting simultaneously, it is a strong and unique contender in this category.
3. ‘I’m Just Ken’ from Barbie; Music and Lyric by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt
Having already secured the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Song, ‘I’m Just Ken’ became one of the most popular talking points of one of the most talked-about movies. Performed by Ryan Gosling and the other ‘Kens’ in a theatrical, choreographed dance number, it echoed themes of old Hollywood and 80s power ballads at the same time, complete with green screen backgrounds and typical dance formations.
Its title, a play on the classic Barbie slogan: “She’s everything, he’s just Ken”, represents one of the movie’s key themes of Ken being an accessory to Barbie, further exploring the reversed gender dynamics in Barbieland compared to the real world. Simultaneously clever and silly in its lyrics and executed by Gosling with confidence and lack of pretension, ‘I’m Just Ken’ is an unforgettable original song.
2. ‘It Never Went Away’ from American Symphony; Music and Lyric by Jon Batiste and Dan Wilson
American Symphony is a biographical documentary about the highly commended musician Jon Batiste, and what better way to represent and honour his work than with an original song, which has received a nomination by the Academy.
It begins with an enticing slow piano start, accompanied by faint, candid background noises, before developing into a classically beautiful ballad, with touching lyrics sung by the soft but raspy tones of Batiste. A simple but charming piece of music, it perfectly captures the testing but inspirational themes of the movie, making it a fair contender in this category.
1. ‘What Was I Made For?’ from Barbie; Music and Lyric by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
Another entry from Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, and the winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Song, ‘What Was I Made For?’ marks Billie Eilish’s second entry into this category, having won the award in 2022 for ‘No Time To Die’. By far the strongest nomination in the list, this gentle but heartbreaking track summarises Barbie’s dark and challenging themes while capturing a sense of nostalgia and belonging.
Eilish’s trademark sound, complete with spine-chilling lyrics and a melancholic orchestral backing track, has made the song a commercial and chart success, reaching number 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 and being nominated for five Grammys, including Song of the Year. Its motifs are teased throughout the movie as Barbie (Margot Robbie) develops self-awareness. Still, its feature behind a touching montage representing the highs and lows of womanhood fully captures the song’s sheer excellence and relevance to the movie’s themes.