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A music fan's preview of the 2023 Oscars

Music superstar Rihanna will perform the Oscar-nominated song “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” at the 95th Oscars.
Music superstar Rihanna will perform the Oscar-nominated song “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” at the 95th Oscars.Dennis Leupold

by Luke Taylor

March 08, 2023

The Oscars is a night that’s supposed to be about celebrating film, first and foremost, but the musical components of the awards ceremony are numerous. The Cube Critics at MPR News have already shared some of their picks for this awards season, but here’s a preview of the night for music fans.

A man in sunglasses poses for a portrait
Writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Lenny Kravitz
Mark Seliger

The 95th Academy Awards air live on ABC at 7 p.m. Central, Sunday, March 12. It will feature several live-music performances. Among the announced performers so far is Grammy-winning musician Lenny Kravitz, who is set to perform the “In Memoriam” segment during the program, which pays tribute to those in the film industry who died over the past year.

Most of the musical performances during the Oscars are tied to the category of Best Music (Original Song). Here’s a rundown of the five nominees up for that award.

“Applause” from Tell It Like A Woman • Sofia Carson

“Applause” appears two times in Tell It Like A Woman, which combines seven short films all written, directed by, and starring women — with the exception of an animated short. Each of the seven films portrays a change of heart by one or more of the characters. Singer and actor Sofia Carson’s “Applause” fits the affirming and positive themes that weave throughout this collection of short films with such lyrics as, “You're bold, you're bad, you're strong / So give yourself some applause, applause, applause.” The song is heard twice in the course of Tell It Like A Woman; the first time we hear it is during the denouement of the sixth short, “Sharing a Ride,” and then we hear it again during the entire work’s end credits. 

Tell It Like A Woman is not nominated in any other categories, but “Applause” stands a decent shot at taking home the Oscar. It has a strong pop sensibility that builds to a crescendo with a descant repeating the chorus in the outro. Moreover, “Applause” has already won awards for Best Original Song in an Independent Film at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards; Best Original Song at the Capri Hollywood International Film Festival in Italy (the short, “Lagonegro,” with Eva Longoria, was shot on location in Italy); Outstanding Song for a Drama/Documentary at the Society of Composers & Lyricists awards; and a nomination for Best Original Song at the Satellite Awards.

Look for Sofia Carson, accompanied by songwriter Diane Warren, to perform “Applause” during the 95th Oscars telecast on Sunday.

“Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick • Lady Gaga

A very strong contender to take home the award in this category, “Hold My Hand” features Lady Gaga’s soaring vocals and it follows a widely embraced pop-song approach to dynamics that contrasts softer verses and louder choruses.

Similar to “Applause,” Top Gun: Maverick’s “Hold My Hand” can stand on its own as a pop song independent of the film. Lady Gaga, who always impresses with her multifaceted and chameleonlike artistry, wrote the song about being committed to someone in the face of any hardship. This approach stands in contrast to Kenny Loggins’s songs “Danger Zone” and “Playing With The Boys” — which are inextricably linked to the 1986 Top Gun film by dint of lyrics directly referencing parts of the film. In fact, “Danger Zone” is included in the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack. (Speaking of the 1986 release, the love theme from that film, Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” took home the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1987.)

No stranger to the Academy Awards, Lady Gaga was nominated for Best Original Song in 2016 for “Til It Happens to You” (The Hunting Ground), and she went on to win the award in 2019 for “Shallow” (A Star Is Born). Although she has done so in the past, Lady Gaga will not be able to perform at this year’s Oscars because she is working on an upcoming film.

For its part, “Hold My Hand” has already won three awards for Best Original Song at other industry awards programs, and has been nominated in that same category in eight others, including the Oscars. The film Top Gun: Maverick has received Oscar nominations in five other categories: Best Picture, Film Editing, Sound, Visual Effects, and Writing (Adapted Screenplay). It’s fair to rule out awards in the first and last categories in that list, but the rest of those, as well as Best Original Song, could land some additional hardware in Top Gun: Maverick’s cargo hold.

“Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever • Rihanna

The third nominee in this category, another strong contender, is a much warmer ballad, but can also enjoy a life both inside and outside the film. Rihanna’s vocals are at the center, and they display her range while exuding a serene sincerity. “Lift me up, hold me down, keep me close, safe and sound,” she sings. “We need light, we need love.” 

The song won Best Original Song in a Feature Film at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards. It also won Outstanding Original Song at the Black Reel Awards, Best Song at the African American Film Critics Association Awards and Outstanding Music Video at the NAACP Image Awards. Furthermore, it has received nominations in 11 other industry awards programs, including the Golden Globes. 

Wakanda Forever itself has received nominations for Actress in a Supporting Role (Angela Bassett), Visual Effects, Costume Design, and Makeup and Hairstyling, all categories in which it is highly likely to earn the Oscar statuette. The Original Song category is highly competitive, and even though the votes will be in and the winners decided before Sunday night, Rihanna’s scheduled performance of “Lift Me Up” during the Oscars telecast is sure to impress. Rihanna wowed the world with her recent Super Bowl Halftime Show, so don’t be surprised if she takes home an Oscar statuette for this song, too.

“Naatu Naatu” from RRR • Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava

Yet another strong contender, “Naatu Naatu” won Best Original Song at the Golden Globes back in October. RRR is a film from India that is set during the Raj when India was under the direct rule of Britain, and Music (Original Song) is the only category in which the film received an Oscar nomination.

“Naatu Naatu” stands out as the only diegetic entry among the nominees in this category. The song anchors a pivotal scene where two Indian men challenge their British occupiers to a dance competition. The music video for “Naatu Naatu” is excerpted directly from the film, and the sound of “Naatu Naatu” is joyous and frenetic, befitting a big Bollywood song-and-dance number. 

Comparisons will likely be drawn to the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire, which had eight wins at the 81st Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Original Song, “Jai Ho.” Whether or not “Naatu Naatu” takes home the statuette on Sunday, the song will get viewers dancing as singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava will make their Oscars debut performing it.

“This Is a Life” from Everything Everywhere All At Once • Son Lux, Mitski, David Byrne

“This Is A Life,” personnel-wise, is the entry in this category that hews most closely to The Current’s playlist. That said, the song is the most sonically alienating of the five entries. “This Is a Life” is a post-modern piece of art rock, which is not surprising given it’s the work of experimental outfit Son Lux. It’s also unsurprising that Mitski and David Byrne are collaborators in the work, given their fondness for expanding artistic boundaries. Son Lux, along with Byrne and Oscar-nominated actor Stephanie Hsu, will perform “This Is A Life” during the Oscars broadcast. 

It's unlikely “This Is a Life” will take this award; it’s only been nominated in one other industry award program. That said, Everything Everywhere All At Once is nominated in nine other Oscar categories, including Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role (Michelle Yeoh), two for Actress in a Supporting Role (Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis) and Actor in a Supporting Role (Ke Huy Quan), as well as in the category of Music (Original Score). Also composed by Son Lux, that score features the contributions of Mitski and Byrne along with Randy Newman, André 3000, and Moses Sumney.

So even though it may not win for Best Original Song, given its recent accolades at the Golden Globes and at the SAG Awards, Everything Everywhere All At Once may win just about everything else.

This story was updated with new information on Lady Gaga being unable to perform at this year’s Oscars ceremony.

A collage of people enjoying music and beverages
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Emma Eubanks for MPR

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.