Who will win the Best Original Song Oscar?


Emily Hahn

The 89th Academy Award winners will be announced on February 26, and five worthy contenders will be vying for the Best Original Song prize. The nominees are “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, “The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls, and two songs from La La Land, “Audition” and “City of Stars.” There are noteworthy stories behind all the nominees, and it should be interesting to see who will walk away with the golden statuette.


“How Far I’ll Go” is from the Disney animated movie Moana, and is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer of the Broadway musical Hamilton. If Miranda wins the Oscar, he will become the youngest person to have completed the rare EGOT feat. EGOT is an acronym for the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. There have only been 12 artists who have accomplish the “grand slam” of entertainment by winning all four awards, and at the age of 37, he would be the youngest ever to earn the recognition. He would narrowly beat out Robert Lopez, who at age 38 completed the feat in 2014 after winning the Oscar for his song “Let It Go” from Frozen. Frozen, like Moana, is also a Disney movie, and a win for “How Far I’ll Go” will continue the long tradition of Disney animated features taking home the Oscar. 12 songs from Walt Disney Studios have won the Oscar, the first being “When You Wish Upon A Star” from the 1940 film Pinocchio. Coincidentally, if “How Far I’ll Go” wins this year, it would make Miranda the 13th EGOT winner and will give Disney its 13th Oscar.


“Empty Chair” is a piano ballad co-written by the American composer J. Ralph and British singer-songwriter Sting, formally of the band The Police. The song is from the documentary, Jim: The James Foley Story, and a win would be a second given to any documentary, the first being “I Need to Wake Up” from the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth. This seems unlikely, considering An Inconvenient Truth was a much more acclaimed movie, having won the best documentary award as well, while Jim: The James Foley Story isn’t even nominated in the best documentary category this year. The current nomination is the third for J. Ralph and fourth for Sting, but neither have a win on their record, and history seems to be working against them to bring home the prize this year.


“Can’t Stop the Feeling” is by far the most commercially successful song among the five nominees, being one of the most sold and downloaded songs of any kind (not just from movies) in 2016. The Justin Timberlake hit from the animated feature Trolls was co-written by Timberlake and the prolific hit-makers Max Martin and Shellback. The shear popularity of the song would seem to make it a huge favorite, but the Academy Awards do not necessarily reward movies based on popularity. As a comparison, none of the top 30 movies with the biggest box office earnings in 2016 were even nominated for best picture. Another bad sign for “Can’t Stop the Feeling” is that it did not win the Golden Globes for best song.


“City of Stars” from La La Land walked home with the Golden Globes for best original song, making it a favorite for the Oscars. However, it’s faced with a challenge not present during the earlier competition, a second song from La La Land, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul wrote both songs, and they should be concerned that the fans of their movie may split their votes between the two songs, allowing a nominee from a different movie to sneak away with the prize. The last movie to have two songs nominated was The Princess and the Frog in 2009, and it failed to win the award. Interestingly, when An Inconvenient Truth became the only documentary to win for best original song, it beat out three difference songs from the musical Dreamgirls. If similar fate awaits the two La La Land songs, the lucky beneficiary may be Timberlake and his song-writing partners. If Timberlake can add an Oscar to his long list of accomplishments, it would be interesting to see how his fellow Mickey Mouse Club member and current Oscar rival, Ryan Gossling, would react. Gossling, who sang in the song “City of Stars,” might get the last laugh if he can land an upset, and win the Academy Award for best actor. The added drama of this friendly rivalry between old friends definitely makes the best song category more interesting this year. Unfortunately, Ryan Gossling and Emma Stone are not scheduled to sing the songs from La La Land at the ceremony this year, unlike the performers for the other three nominated songs. Perhaps Gossling did not want to be overshadowed by Timberlake.