Why 2014′s Best Song Oscar Race is the Closest in Years

Paul Grein
Yahoo Music

For the first time in 15 years, there's a genuine horserace for the Oscar for Original Song. The power ballad "Let It Go" from "Frozen" seems to have the inside track, but Pharrell Williams's exuberant "Happy" from "Despicable Me 2" is giving it a real run for its money. "Happy" has been #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 the past two weeks and will probably move up to #1 this week. Idina Menzel's recording of "Let It Go" is holding at #18, and will probably climb higher.

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This is the first time that two top 20 hits have competed for Original Song since 1998. The nominees that year included "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (from "Armageddon") and "When You Believe" (from "The Prince Oo Egypt"). "When You Believe," which had been a #15 hit for Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey, won the award, besting "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," which had been a #1 smash for Aerosmith.

If either "Let It Go" or "Happy" is announced as the winner on Sunday, this will be the 10th time in the past 25 years that a song from an animated movie has won for Original Song. Songs from animated movies had won Oscars dating back to "When You Wish Upon a Star" from 1940's "Pinocchio," but the contemporary winning streak started with "Under the Sea," from 1989's "The Little Mermaid."

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"Frozen" and "Despicable Me 2" are also squaring off for Animated Feature Film. Both movies are blockbusters. "Frozen" has grossed $384 million in the U.S. since its release on Nov. 22. "Despicable Me" has grossed $368 million since its release on July 3.

The "Frozen" soundtrack, which is about to log its eighth straight week at #1 or #2 on the Billboard 200, will soon be joined at the top of the chart by Williams's "G I R L," his first solo album since 2006. The album is being released the day after the Oscars, where he will perform "Happy" (which will be included on the album).

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Robert Lopez, who co-wrote "Let It Go" with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, is vying to become the 12th winner of the celebrated "EGOT," signifying those versatile (and lucky) people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Lopez picked up the first leg of the EGOT in 2004 when he won a Tony for Best Score for "Avenue Q." (He won two more Tonys in 2011 for "The Book of Mormon.") He won a Daytime Emmy in 2008 for his work on "Wonder Pets!," an animated series for Nickelodeon. He won a Grammy two years ago for "The Book of Mormon," which won as Best Musical Theater Album.

Lopez, who turned 39 on Feb. 23, would be the youngest person to complete an EGOT. That distinction is currently held by Rita Moreno, who was 45 in 1977 when she completed the awards sweep. Three other people were under 55 when they completed their EGOTs: Whoopi Goldberg (46), composer Marvin Hamlisch (51), and producer Scott Rudin (53).

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Here are the seven other EGOT winners, and their ages when they completed the sweep: composer Richard Rodgers, 59; composer Jonathan Tunick, 59; director Mike Nichols, 69; director/screenwriter/comedian Mel Brooks, 74; Helen Hayes, 76; John Gielgud, 87; and Audrey Hepburn, who completed it posthumously.

The fine print: This counts only awards won in competition. Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, and James Earl Jones also qualify if you include honorary awards.

Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez would be the fourth married couple to win an Oscar for Original Song. They would follow Alan & Marilyn Bergman (who won for both "The Windmills of Your Mind" and "The Way We Were"), Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager ("Arthur's Theme [Best That You Can Do"]) and Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie ("Up Where We Belong"). Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova ("Falling Slowly") were romantically involved, but weren't married.

Williams took home four Grammys on Jan. 25. (He would have won a fifth, but the Grammys don't have a category for Best Hat.) He won three awards as a featured artist on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," which won for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. He also won Producer of the Year (Non-Classical).

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Williams told the Los Angeles Times that he modeled "Happy" after the music of Curtis Mayfield. That R&B great was never nominated for an Oscar, though his hit songs from 1972's "Superfly" were certainly worthy of a nomination.

Deep trivia: If "Happy" were to win, this would be the second year in a row that a song with a one-word title has taken the prize. "Skyfall" won last year. Since the Original Song category was introduced in 1934, just two other songs with one-word titles have won: "Gigi" and "Fame."

This year's other nominees are "Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" and "The Moon Song" from "Her." The members of U2 wrote "Ordinary Love" in honor of Nelson Mandela. Spike Jonze, the writer, director, and co-producer of "Her," co-wrote "The Moon Song" with Karen O, vocalist for the New York band Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

This is U2's second nomination for Original Song. The band members were nominated for "The Hands That Built America" from 2002's "Gangs of New York."