Adele vs. ‘Les Miserables’ battle reflects Oscars’ changing taste in music

Fifteen years ago, “Suddenly” from “Les Miserables” would have been the clear frontrunner for Best Original Song at the Oscars. It’s a sentimental ballad, written for a prestigious musical by its original composers, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer. And it’s the only nominee from a film entirely driven by music. So why are most of our experts betting on pop superstar Adele?

Once upon a time, a classy love theme or a crossover Disney ballad were music to the Academy’s ears, but the same rules don’t apply anymore. Looking back, 1999 may have been the tipping point. That was the year Phil Collins won for “You’ll Be in My Heart” from “Tarzan,” a typically safe choice for conservative Oscar voters, but it met with widespread criticism because of the songs it beat, including indie songwriter Aimee Mann‘s “Save Me” from “Magnolia,” and the audacious “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.” That award came to symbolize how out-of-touch the Academy was with popular modern tastes.

Perhaps Oscar voters aren’t overly concerned with looking cool; given the choice, they usually opt for a warm, feel-good “King’s Speech” over a young, upstart “Social Network.” However, there was a perceptible paradigm shift in the race for Best Song; in fact, the very next winner in the category was Bob Dylan‘s “Things Have Changed” (from “Wonder Boys”), a title that fittingly describes the next decade of music honorees.

In 2002, Eminem won for his “8 Mile” rap anthem “Lose Yourself,” defeating, among others, “I Move On,” an original song written for the Best Picture-winning musical “Chicago.” In 2004, the Spanish-language “Al otro lado del rio” (from “The Motorcycle Diaries”) upset “Phantom of the Opera’s” “Learn to Be Lonely.”

-ADDPREDICTION:85:20:Click to predict Best Song Oscar:ADDPREDICTION-

Then, in 2005 Oscar picked a winner that would have seemed impossible any earlier: “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” by the group Three 6 Mafia from “Hustle & Flow.” It was the second rap song in four years to win an Oscar; compare that to the Grammys where no rap song has ever won Record or Song of the Year. In just a few years, the conservative Academy was starting to seem downright radical.

That was followed by rock star Melissa Etheridge‘s environmentalist anthem “I Need to Wake Up” from the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” which beat a trio of new songs from “Dreamgirls” in 2006.

In 2007, “Falling Slowly,” from the acclaimed indie musical “Once,” prevailed against three songs from Disney’s “Enchanted” co-written by Oscar darling Alan Menken. Disney also lost the next two races, with “Down to Earth” (“WALL-E”) falling to the Bollywood-style hit “Jai Ho” (“Slumdog Millionaire”) in 2008 and a pair of Randy Newman songs from “The Princess and the Frog” losing to hit-maker T-Bone Burnett‘s “The Weary Kind” (“Crazy Heart”) in 2009.

Disney won the next two races: in 2010, for Newman’s old-fashioned “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3,” but then in 2011 for Bret McKenzie‘s unusual, tongue-in-cheek “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets,” which was the very first Oscar awarded to a Muppet movie.

So it’s no wonder experts are betting on Adele for her theme from the James Bond film “Skyfall,” even though only three other Bond tunes have ever been nominated and none have won. It turned out to be pretty easy out here for a “Pimp,” so it might be a cakewalk for a universally loved chart-topper like Adele. And, lucky for her, Phil Collins is nowhere in sight.

11 thoughts on “Adele vs. ‘Les Miserables’ battle reflects Oscars’ changing taste in music

  1. Adele is a superstar. Skyfall is a very good pop song at the top of the charts. Unfortunately, Suddenly just has great lyrics which actually contributes to the story and provides an emotional arc for the lead character. But since when did motion pictures let anything like that stand in the way of money and audience?

  2. What’s the issue here? If it’s Nicki Minaj vs. Les Miz, then there is. Adele’s songs are not exactly strange to the people who listen to Les Miz (not to say that Les Miz fans cannot like Minaj). And the Oscars like Bond themes.

  3. I disagree with most of the recent oscar-winning songs, some of which really degrade the prestige and appeal of winning an Academy Award. But Skyfall is not just a popular song, it’s also a very classy one, that perfectly fits the Bond series while bringing Adele’s unique style, so she sure deserves to win for reminding us what a high-quality movie song sounds like.

  4. Skyfall is such a boring and repetitive song!! What lazy rhyming: Sky FALL, tum-BALL, stand TALL , ALL, in SKYFALL !! wth?!?! i hope they choose something unusually like Pi’s Lullaby!! and what is that other song from Ice Change or something? what movie was that !?

  5. Too bad the Oscar voting isn’t about following the rules! The song is supposed to be integral to the movie and relating to the story being told. Skyfall has nothing to do with the movie except using the title! The Oscars are becoming a joke!

  6. I have to say that Skyfall is written after reading script for the movie. So if you watched the movie then you can say the song just fits absolutely perfect.. + it’s Adele who wrote and sung it, so.. she’ll win this one like all the awards through the years.

  7. Suddenly is an unmemorable, indistinct song using the same three chords that every other song in Les Mis does – created purely to give the film a chance of winning best song. Skyfall will rightly win, and this article misses the mark in suggesting there is any competition between the two. Skyfall isn’t reflective of anything. It’s just a far better song. If anything it’s a battle Between Pi’s Lullaby and Skyfall – and righty so.

  8. i think suddenly from les mis should win because its a timeless book, musical, and now movie! the song was written especially for the movie and fits in with every other song. i think that kind of effortless transition deserves to win not only for the amazing musical score but for the actors in the movie and timeless tale.

  9. Not sure about the premise of this article. “For Your Eyes Only,” “Nobody Does It Better,” and “Live and Let Die” lost to other pop songs, not songs from the classic type of music-driven films.

    And sometimes it’s about the status and popularity of the singer or nominee. Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” beat out Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” and “Footloose.” Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me” beat out a song from A Chorus Line. Springsteen won some years prior to Dylan. So a superstar recording artist winning an Oscar is nothing new.

    In the cases of 8 Mile, Hustle & Flow, Once, and Crazy Heart, those were music-oriented films.

    “Last Dance,” “Fame,” and “Flashdance… What a Feeling” were not stuffy ballads. Just too many other factors/variables to cite a trend with Skyfall.

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