2024 Oscars: The good and the not-as-good from the nominated songs

The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday.
Rich Polk/Golden Globes 2024/GettyImages

The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday and were met with the usual chorus of shock and yawns that always accompany such self-congratulatory lists. There was also plenty of indignation when somebody’s personal favorite was unfairly overlooked for somebody else’s personal favorite.

Often, these “snubs” create most of the buzz around the award, and become exhibit A about whatever political, racial, gender, or (fill-in-the-blank) issue you care to soap-box. Fortunately for us, the Best Song category almost never leads to such hand-wringing. They just get some right and some wrong.

But I’m here to set that straight. So, let’s take a quick look at who got the nods, and who didn’t.

This is how it works. The Music Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences whittles all eligible songs down to a fifteen-title shortlist. This year, there were 94 eligible songs. Five of those shortlisted songs will receive nominations, and – you guessed it – one of them gets the 13.5-inch trophy. (I’m waiting for someone to write an award-worthy song about that 13.5-inch trophy. Maybe Bloodhound Gang.)

A look at what got nominated for Best Song at the 2024 Oscars

Everyone expected that Barbie would snag two of the spots among the final five songs. Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster had three songs shortlisted, but Academy rules mandate that no movie can have more than two nominees in this category. Yeah – I have no idea why either.

Two other movies – John Carney’s sweet musical family comedy Flora and Son and Blitz Bazawule’s The Color Purple remake – snagged two spots on the shortlist. Therefore, almost half the shortlisted songs came from just three movies.

Here are the five songs that received nominations:

“What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish and Finneas, from Barbie

“I’m Just Ken” by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt from Barbie

”It Never Went Away” by Jon Batiste and Dan Wilson from American Symphony

The Fire Inside” by Diane Warren from Flamin’ Hot

“Wahzhazhe” by the Osage Tribe from Killers of the Flower Moon

How does this compare to what should have been selected (AKA – what I would have picked)?

It was a foregone conclusion that “What Was I Made For” was going to get a nomination. It will almost certainly win. The Eilish/Finneas siblings are probably going to take home some Grammy statuary as well for this beautiful, self-searching ballad from one of the most successful movies of all time. The fact that I personally think it is a misguided production that fails to build properly didn’t seem to sway the voters, and it is such a well-written song that I have no real problem with that.

Ronson’s “Ken” song, performed by Ryan Gosling, was an almost perfect overly-dramatic self-pitying lament that captured Ken’s Sisyphean circumstance perfectly. It has just enough heart to keep it from devolving into pure camp.

I liked Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night,” Barbie’s third entry on the shortlist, but it fell victim to the numbers rule. So far, so good.

As for the other three, I would not have voted for any of them. Instead, I would have gone with Lenny Kravitz’s “Road to Freedom” from Rustin, “High Life,” written by Gary Clark, director John Carney, and star Eve Hewson from Flora and Son, and “Dear Alien (Who Art in Heaven),” written by Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley, and director Wes Anderson for Anderson’s Asteroid City.

“Road to Freedom,” with its jazzy horns and Kravitz’s soulful vocals, captures Rustin’s aspirational triumph quite well. “High Life” may be the best combination of song quality and film usage amongst this year’s contenders. It comes at the climax of Flora and Son and perfectly sums up the love/hate relationship between mother and son at the heart of the story.

Hewson (whose dad, Bono, has two Oscar nominations but no wins himself) delivers a proud working-class anthem on guitar, while co-star Oren Kinlan, as her teenage son, contributes a strong rap verse to help bridge to generational gap. And “Dear Alien” (along with the rest of the soundtrack) is the best thing about Asteroid City, a mess of a comedy that wallows in Anderson’s penchant for quirkiness. “Dear Alien” is the definition of “quirky” in just 81 seconds.

Despite that, I have no real complaint with the Academy recognizing the Osage chant from Flower Moon, or letting Diane Warren get yet another crack at the Oscar (to date – 15 nominations for Best Song without winning). And Jon Batiste’s big emotional ballad “It Never Went Away” is a powerful number from one of today’s most important pop artists. So I’m having a hard time getting too worked up about the omissions of a couple of my favorites.

But here is something I will get worked up about. “Yes No Okay,” Charli XCX’s song from 2023’s magnificently subversive comedy Bottoms deserved recognition. I think it should be a contender for the actual trophy right alongside Billie Eilish and Finneas, but at the very least, the song had to be shortlisted. Its lyrics – “Yes, No, Okay – I don’t know” – repeated over a pounding beat for three minutes somehow manages to capture the ethos of one of the year’s best movies, while giving you something to dance to. That’s sorta kinda exactly what these songs are supposed to do, right?

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