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7 Most unlikely Best Original Song Oscar nominations

Jon O'Brien

BY Jon O'Brien

10th Mar 2023 Music

7 Most unlikely Best Original Song Oscar nominations

Jon O'Brien explores some of the most surprising and subversive Best Original Song nominations from the Oscars history 

This year’s Best Original Song Oscar line-up initially looked to be a case of same old, same old. There were two epic superstar ballads (Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up”/Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand”), while eternal bridesmaid Diane Warren (no wins from 13 nominations) received another token nomination with a forgettable number from a film no-one outside the Academy had ever heard of.  

However, RRR’s “Naatu, Naatu,” Indian cinema’s first ever nod, and “This Is A Life,” the ultra-cool collab between David Byrne, Son Lux and Mitski proved the category still occasionally has the power to surprise. Here’s a look at seven other occasions when voters thought outside the music box.

“Husavik” (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga)

Who’d have expected a song performed by Hollywood goofball Will Ferrell to be recognised by the Oscars? And from a film about a competition once considered impenetrable to Americans too. But as with pretty much every number from The Story of Fire Saga, Netflix’s amusing but affectionate tribute to the joys of the Eurovision Song Contest, “Husavik” is a pitch-perfect homage.  

"Who’d have expected a song performed by Hollywood goofball Will Ferrell to be recognised by the Oscars?"

Sung by Ferrell and Swedish songstress Molly Sandén (with the latter’s vocals mimed by Rachel McAdams) in the rousing finale, the epic ballad was sadly robbed of victory in both the film and real life. And the entirely ignored “Ja Ja Ding Dong” should feel even more cheated! 

“Manta Ray” (Racing Extinction) 

Although previously recognised at the Mercury Prize and BRITs as the lead vocalist of Antony and the Johnsons, Anohni was still very much regarded as a cult concern. So, she inevitably stood out among chart-toppers Sam Smith, The Weeknd and Lady Gaga after becoming the first ever openly transgender Oscar-nominated artist in 2016.  

Even more so with a song inspired by the mating call of a now-extinct bird species’ last survivor. Anohni’s quivering tones always sound utterly heart-breaking, of course. But the tragic subject matter of “Manta Ray”—recorded for sobering environmental documentary Racing Extinction—took the singer, and indeed the category, to new emotionally-devastating heights.  

“Everything Is Awesome” (The Lego Movie) 

A relentlessly perky piece of techno-pop performed by the guys behind “D**k in a Box”, “Everything Is Awesome” couldn’t be further removed from the stately ballads that typically dominate Best Original Song. But even the stuffy Academy couldn’t resist The Lego Movie’s optimistic ode to everything from to “rocks, clocks and socks” to “figs and jigs and twigs.”  

"The Lonely Island also brought some welcome organised chaos to the 2015 Oscars stage"

The Lonely Island also brought some welcome organised chaos to the 2015 Oscars stage, roping in the song’s other credited artists, Canadian twins Tegan and Sara, producer Mark Mothersbaugh and the voice of Lego Batman, Will Arnett, for a spectacle that sat somewhere between Saturday morning kids TV and an acid trip

“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (Hustle and Flow) 

“For anyone keeping record, Martin Scorsese, zero Oscars. For Three 6 Mafia, one.” 2006 host Jon Stewart’s quip was a reminder of just how arbitrary the Oscars can sometimes seem. The Tonight Show favourite was, of course, referring to the shock of Memphis’ finest rap collective pipping the universally-loved Dolly Parton to the Best Original Song Academy Award with a number titled “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”  

Performed by Taraji P Henson and Best Actor nominee Terrence Howard in the gritty musical drama Hustle and Flow, the hip-hop track joined Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” on the exclusive club of winners that needed a severe profanity warning. 

“I’ve Seen It All” (Dancer in the Dark)  

Björk’s iconic outfit at the 2001 Oscars—the white swan dress that famously laid eggs—slightly overshadowed the fact she was nominated that same night too. The eccentric Icelandic was recognised for “I’ve Seen It All,” one of many highly-affecting numbers from her troubled leading lady stint in Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark.  

As tragic heroine Selma, Björk tries to convince the world she can cope with losing her eyesight (“You've never been/To Niagara Falls/I have seen water/It's water, that's all”). Sadly, she couldn’t convince the Academy her string-soaked, twitchy electronica was worthy of denying the more traditional grumpy old man fare of Bob Dylan. 

“Blame Canada” (South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut) 

Perhaps the most subversive Best Original Song nomination ever, “Blame Canada” emerged from the brilliantly warped minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. A protest song about The Great White North’s harmful effects on America’s children, the Broadway-style showtune takes aim at ice hockey, 1970s singer Anne Murray and, of course, the farting-obsessed, cartoon-within-a-cartoon Terrance and Phillip.  

"Perhaps the most subversive Best Original Song nomination ever"

The standout from Cartman and co’s big screen adventure, brought to life at the 2000 ceremony by a committed Robin Williams, undeservedly lost out to Phil Collins. But proving revenge is a dish best served in a crude animation about foul-mouthed tweens, his saccharine ballad received a South Park takedown a year later.  

“Miss Misery” (Good Will Hunting) 

One thing the Best Original Song category has never been is ahead of the curve. Which is why Elliott Smith’s 1998 nomination for “Miss Misery” was such a shock. A virtual unknown outside of Portland’s alt-rock scene, the singer-songwriter was personally selected by director Gus Van Sant to soundtrack Matt Damon’s academic and emotional journey in Good Will Hunting.  

And he subsequently became an overnight cult hero with a tender Oscars performance refreshingly free of the usual showboating. Smith, who sadly died just six years later, had initially refused to play the acoustic number at the ceremony until producers informed him they’d simply have to find someone else who would.  

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