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We rank the nominees for the Academy Awards category: best original song

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Every year, Pop Culture Happy Hour's Stephen Thompson ranks the Oscar nominees for best original song. Here's Stephen on this year's list.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: So I'm going to do this countdown-style, from fifth place to first. For the sixth year in a row, the Oscars nominate a song written by Diane Warren. This year, it's from a movie very few people have seen called "Tell It Like A Woman." Let's hear a little bit of "Applause" performed by Sofia Carson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APPLAUSE")

SOFIA CARSON: (Singing) Give yourself some applause. You deserve it. Give yourself some respect 'cause you've earned it. Give yourself some love 'cause you're worth it.

THOMPSON: So among other things, it feels like this might be the first time this song has ever been played on the radio. "Applause" has left almost no cultural footprint. There is no way this song would have been nominated if it hadn't been written by Diane Warren. She is beloved in Hollywood. She spends most of her time writing songs for movies. The Oscars love her for a reason. But this song is so generic, it could have been written by ChatGPT. If you watch the Oscars, time your snack break for when they perform it.

Fourth place is a much better song - Rihanna's "Lift Me Up" From "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFT ME UP")

RIHANNA: (Singing) Burning in a hopeless dream. Hold me when you go to sleep.

THOMPSON: "Lift Me Up" is a pretty song, lovely vocal by Rihanna. My issue is that it is slow. It's uneventful. It doesn't really convey anything that connects it to the movie. You could drop "Lift Me Up" over the closing credits to just about any film. It would work fine. To me, if you're the best original song, the song should feel like an extension of the movie, or what's the point?

Third place - this is a movie song. It's Lady Gaga's "Hold My Hand" from "Top Gun: Maverick."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD MY HAND")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) So cry tonight, but don't you let go of my hand.

THOMPSON: "Top Gun: Maverick" is a sequel to a movie from 1986, and the song is also a throwback. It's big, it's emotive. It's got a video where Lady Gaga is writhing around on a piano on an airstrip. There's footage of planes whooshing around, rulebooks getting tossed into trash cans. It fits the movie's vibe, even if the song itself isn't super interesting lyrically.

Next up - a song I love from my favorite movie of last year. This is Son Lux, David Byrne and Mitski performing "This Is A Life" from "Everything Everywhere All At Once."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS A LIFE")

MITSKI: (Singing) This is a life...

DAVID BYRNE: (Singing) Every possibility.

MITSKI: (Singing) ...Free from destiny.

BYRNE: (Singing) I choose you...

THOMPSON: One of my biggest complaints about this category is that they tend to nominate way too many songs that just roll over the closing credits. I like movie songs that are woven into the plot. "This Is A Life" is a closing credits song, but it really chews on the ideas and themes of the movie. It's also a beautiful song - sweeping, emotional, thoughtful. In most years, this would be my runaway favorite. But this year, we've got a song called "Naatu Naatu." It's written by M. M. Keeravani and Chandrabose for a pivotal scene in the movie "RRR."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NAATU NAATU")

KAALA BHAIRAVA, M M KEERAVANI AND RAHUL SIPLIGUNJ: (Singing in non-English language).

THOMPSON: Basically, the song sets up a vigorous dance battle an hour into a sweeping epic. The whole scene is an absolute feast. It's a battle between good and evil with choreography that helped the video go viral last year. It absolutely radiates joy and energy and charisma. I think it's going to win. I think it should win. And I can't wait to see it performed on Oscar night.

Stephen Thompson, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NAATU NAATU")

BHAIRAVA, KEERAVANI AND SIPLIGUNJ: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)