The 2016 Oscars' Original-Song Nominees: Which Ones Suck?

When Oscar season rolls around, think-piece season on diversity and representation in entertainment rolls around too. There’s no missing it. In my usual flair for hating on things people typically like for no reason other than enjoyment, the Oscar nominations for Best Original Song are almost like the highest of the high; the sappiest of the sap. No Best Original Song has been worth a damn since Eminem won for “Lose Yourself” at the 2003 Academy Awards and Three 6 Mafia(!) won an Academy Award for “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” in 2007. "Let It Go"? Distinct yet annoying when you're forced to watch Frozen 200 times. "Skyfall"? It's Adele. You say anything bad about Adele, you're basically fighting a horde of zombies. And if we're talking Oscar snubs, "Happy" should have won for Despicable Me 2. I have a minion to prove it, dammit!

Adele winning for the theme song to Skyfall was due, like almost all things now, to the power of “Adele." Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” wasn’t nominated this year because even though its the first rap song in the history of YouTube to crack a billion views mostly because it's a tribute song to Paul Walker, is a terrible song if you subtract all of the Paul Walker vibe out of it. Seriously. If Vin Diesel had sung “See You Again” at the end of Furious 7, I would have teared up and maybe even said, “Give Furious 7 all the Oscars!” Instead, I left annoyed because nobody can really say goodbye without sounding like they’re fighting over how to say it right.

So, that’s why “See You Again” sucks and why it didn’t get nominated, no matter how somber a song it may be and how it should be perfect Oscar fodder. As for the actual Best Original Song nominees, who will probably win? (Sorry, "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction and ”Simple Song #3" from Youth, y’all are participation trophies and dope tuxedoes and dresses for this.)

THE WEEKND, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”

History: If you needed a song that was the launching point for The Weeknd’s 2015, this was it. It’s as stripped down a Weeknd as can be. A ballad where a guy who has made a living daydreaming and vocally subscribing to thoughts of enjoying drugs and sleeping with as many faceless models as possible showed genuine interest in a woman. It was a shock, a literal detour from everything The Weeknd had done prior. People loved it, it officially shoved The Weeknd into conversations of being a pop star. By the end of the year, he had the highest selling album of a male R&B singer. And that album, Beauty Behind The Madness is as pop and insular as you can get.

Does This Song Suck?: As shitty a human being The Weeknd has been on records, he’s genuinely excited, actually happy when a woman in his life doesn’t pull a him. Basically, it’s him admitting that two people (him, mostly) are completely fucked up and just because he’s the right kind of fucked up, said girl should love and appreciate him. Its lecherous, its rather seedy and if you know The Weeknd, all his discussions of “love” actually turn into, “yes, you’ve treated me nice so I can now sleep with you and even still feel like a scumbag about it.” On the same album where “Earned It” exists, The Weeknd also admits to calling a girl at 5:30 p.m. for the sole purpose of sleeping with her. Apparently no woman is worth being called at lunch? Or dinner? Or breakfast? Nope.

Will It Win Best Original Song? I give it a solid 60 percent chance. It’s the most transitive of all the nominees, soccer moms can at least tell you about it and The Weeknd before their daughters come up and tell you the truth. Because there’s nothing more truthful than admitting the Weeknd has made a career off of drugged-out nights and hedonism. Oh, and a Michael Jackson replica record, which I’ve already covered before.

SAM SMITH, “Writing’s On the Wall”

History: Sam Smith, English golden boy, was the next person after Adele to record a theme for a James Bond film. Which again, means we can drive home those “male Adele” jokes and that Sam Smith only operates at 25 percent of his big-voice, emotional powers when Adele is in full 100 percent global unfuckwittable monster. Seriously, did you see her rap Nicki Minaj’s “Monster” verse with the rap hands to match? She cannot lose at anything now. Ever. She could go and coach the Texans and lead them to the Divisional Round with James Corden at starting QB. Matter of fact, James Corden COULD BE the next starting QB. Wait, where the hell did I go? Oh yes, Sam Smith and “Writing’s On The Wall." 83 million views on YouTube, already won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song …why does this song suck again?

Does This Song Suck?: It attempts to be a little brother to “Skyfall." If you’ve seen Spectre, you’d know its easily one of the worst Bond films in recent memory because of how much it wants to be a big budget yet cheap in nature Bond flick. Smith sounds like a higher pitched version of James Blake and cobbles together all of these moments of dread and you expect all of it to come into one big, massive sweep. But that never comes. It operates like it wants to be a big time Bond ballad, big pianos, sweeping backing arrangements but it just lacks something. So “suck” may be too strong a word for “Writing’s On The Wall”. Mediocre may be better.

Will It Win Best Original Song? It’s the obvious favorite. The last three winners of the Best Original Song category have been “Skyfall,” “Let It Go” and “Glory” by John Legend and Common. At least two of them also won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. One (“Skyfall”) swept by winning a Grammy, an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The odds are in Smith's favor. Mediocrity may win again!

LADY GAGA, “Til It Happens To You”

History: A song about rape and sexual assault from a documentary about rapes and sexual assaults on college campuses and how the incidents not only go unreported, but how the victims are largely discredited despite the statistics.

Does This Song Suck? From subject matter and the gravity of everything, it takes the concept of the disruption of innocence and adds Lady Gaga’s temper for making big, Broadway-like ballads. The result is a sobering piece of work. The video itself? Graphic and yet...necessary.

Will It Win Best Original Song? It damn well better. If the Academy has a hard-on for certain songs that either sweep up the nation or have a conscience, then it probably will bend over backwards to give “Til It Happens to You” something. Unless it too is obsessed with anything that may exist in the same solar system as Adele and we’re stuck with a rather hollow Bond theme as a winner.

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell