The Music Awards Race at the Oscars, with a Hint of the WSA
On 25 April 2021, the awards season reaches its climax with the presentation of the Oscars. In the final days leading up to the event, Raf Butstraen takes a closer look at the nominees in the categories of Best Original Score and Best Original Song, while establishing quite a few links with the World Soundtrack Awards.
From a modest nomination at the 20th World Soundtrack Awards for the TV series Watchmen to the highest Oscar podium in Hollywood for the film Soul, the career of the American-British composer duo Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross has known a significant boost as of late. At the Oscar ceremony, the duo will be joined by their co-composer Jon Batiste. For Soul, the closing film of the 47th edition of Film Fest Ghent, Batiste composed the jazz score for everything connected to the earth in the film, while Reznor & Ross provided music for the events in “the great beyond”. The result is described as jazz with an ethereal, heavenly touch. Consequently, the trio will most likely take home the Oscar for best film music.
At home in rock music
Jazz is not the favourite idiom of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, who won their first Oscar in 2010 for their score for David Fincher's The Social Network and who are now, besides Soul, also Oscar-nominated for the score of Fincher’s latest film Mank. They feel more at home in the world of rock music, where they explore and break through the boundaries of the genre. One could even suggest they create (post-) industrial music, characterized by a sense of the uncanny. The atmosphere of Reznor & Ross’s work fits perfectly with the dystopian TV series Watchmen by Damon Lindelof, in which two groups of superheroes clash.
The World Soundtrack Academy was one of the first to recognise Watchmen's score with a nomination. At the Emmy Awards however, the series received a Primetime Emmy Award and a nomination for the song "This Extraordinary Being". Thanks to a Golden Globe and a Bafta statuette for Soul, Reznor & Ross are so far the most awarded composers of the year. Their work for Mank yielded nominations at both the Globes and the Baftas but was not awarded.
Looking back at the film music awards of the past months, the parallel between the nominations and winners of the World Soundtrack Awards and those of the Grammy Awards is striking. In the WSA category of Film Composer of the Year for instance, renowned names such as Hildur Guðnadóttir for Joker, Thomas Newman for 1917 and John Williams for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker are among the nominations. The Grammys selected the same names in the category Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. In the Best Song written for Visual Media department, the works "Into the Unknown" from Frozen II and "Stand Up" from Harriet are found among the nominations by both the WSA and the Grammy Awards.
As a composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir won twice at the World Soundtrack Awards. Her work "Stand Up" won at the WSA but lost against Billie Eilish and her Bond song "No Time to Die" at the Grammys for best song. Hildur Guðnadóttir thus seems to be on a winning streak, as both distinctions came on top of a previous WSA nomination as Discovery of the Year, an Oscar, a Bafta and an Emmy. Besides Guðnadóttir, composer Nicholas Britell also remains in a winning mood. His recent WSA award as Television Composer of the Year for the second season of the TV series Succession follows his 2019 award for Film Composer of the Year with his scores for If Beale Street Could Talk and Vice. At the World Soundtrack Awards, composers can thus switch between film and television work. Starting this year, documentary film will be added to the World Soundtracks programme as well. And before we forget: Britell also received the title Discovery of the Year for his score for Billy Jenkins' debut film Moonlight in 2017 at the WSA.
After twenty editions of the World Soundtrack Awards, all sorts of Ghent-based communities have come into being amongst composers, guests, honorary guests, producers, agents and performers. The prize winners could start a kind of community as well. Hildur Guðnadóttir is steadily piling up prize after prize and Nicholas Britell has also become a familiar face. Other guests are making themselves heard and are getting ready for the red carpet at the Oscars ceremony. Those who will see Terence Blanchard, nominated for the score in Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, will undoubtedly remember his jaw-dropping trumpet solo when he was guest of honour at the World Soundtrack Awards concert at Film Fest Ghent in 2017. The versatile James Newton Howard, who visited the festival in 2012, will also be seen on the red carpet in Hollywood on 25 April. His score for Paul Greengrass's News of the World has been competing with frontrunners Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste who won the BAFTA. Also amongst the Oscar nominees is Emile Mosseri. A new name to many, but with scores for The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Kajillionaire, the Amazon series Homecoming and the six-time Oscar-nominated Minari, he has already composed an impressive oeuvre at the age of 35.
Diane Warren & Sophia Loren
Those who are curious about the fortunes of WSA guests and composers will be watching the awards ceremony for the Oscar for Best Original Song with interest. Diane Warren was previously nominated for a WSA Award and is now eligible for an Oscar for her "Io sì (Seen)", a song from The Life Ahead starring Sophia Loren. Daniel Pemberton was the 2014 WSA Discovery of the Year and has now an Oscar nomination with Celeste Waite for "Hear My Voice" from Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7. Also in the running are "Fight for You" from the powerful biopic Judas and the Black Messiah, "Húsavík" from the comedy Eurovision Song Contest and "Speak Now" from One Night in Miami, Regina King's directorial debut.
Working his way up
There is no lack of links between the World Soundtrack Academy and other film music academies. Not even with the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA), the film music critics who award their own prizes for the best film music every year. Not an easy task when you know that they choose from fifteen categories with five nominations each. While browsing through them, the name of Daniel Pemberton once again caught our eye, the composer of the year according to the critics. As a discovery of the WSA, Pemberton is thus working on an impressive career as composer.
Also discovered at the IFMCA: the nomination for World Soundtrack Awards - Tribute to the Film Composer in the category Best New Archival Release - Compilation. Indeed, the compilation album made for the occasion of the 20th World Soundtrack Awards (performed by the Brussels Philharmonic conducted by maestro Dirk Brossé) and dedicated to the music of all winners of the Film Composer of the Year Award. The nomination did not turn into a win, but is certainly not a one-off, as albums dedicated to the music of Alan Silvestri (2015), Carter Burwell (2018) and Marco Beltrami (2019) were also nominated in the past.
Nominees Best Original Score
- Da 5 Bloods - Terence Blanchard
- Mank - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
- Minari - Emile Mosseri
- News of the World - James Newton Howard
- Soul - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste
Nominees Best Original Song
- "Fight for You" (Judas and the Black Messiah) - Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; lyrics by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas
- "Hear My Voice" (The Trial of the Chicago 7) – Music by Daniel Pemberton; lyrics by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite
- "Húsavík" (Eurovision Song Contest) – Music and lyrics by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson
- "Io sì" (The Life Ahead) – Music by Dianne Warren; lyrics by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini
- "Speak Now" (One Night in Miami) – Music and lyrics by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth
The Oscars will be presented on 25 April 2021.
The 21st edition of the World Soundtrack Awards takes place on 23 October 2021.