The 86th annual Academy Awards are shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent years for music fans. After nominating only two contenders for Best Original Song in 2012, and pitting the indomitable Adele against the likes of Hugh Jackman last year, in 2014 the Academy has chosen a comparatively deeper field of nominees. U2, Karen O, and Pharrell top the list of Best Song nods, while Arcade Fire's Will Butler and frequent collaborator Owen Pallett are up for Best Original Score.
U2 look like the probable favorites with "Ordinary Love," their Nelson Mandela tribute from the Idris Elba-starring biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The Irish rockers' first new song in three years just won the Golden Globe in the equivalent category. They're up against Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O's Her lullaby "The Moon Song," which includes lyrics co-written by director Spike Jonze, and Pharrell's viral sensation "Happy," from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. U2 have been nominated before, with "The Hands That Built America" from Gangs of New York, while Karen O was on the shortlist for the score to Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are but didn't get the nod.
Elsewhere in the Best Original Song category, don't underestimate Frozen's "Let It Go," written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and recorded in separate versions by both Demi Lovato and Idina Menzel. The Disney film's soundtrack has knocked Beyoncé's Beyoncé out of the Billboard 200 album charts' top spot for two straight weeks. Also in the Best Song running is Christian-themed movie Alone Yet Not Alone's eponymous theme song, with music by Bruce Broughton and lyrics by Dennis Spiegel.
In the Best Original Score category, Butler and Pallett are up for their work on Her. Pallett also records as Final Fantasy, so the ranks of Oscar nominees now include a man who made an album titled He Poos Clouds (which was remarkable, by the way). They face John Williams with The Book Thief, Steven Price with Gravity, Alexandre Desplat with Philomena, and Thomas Newman with Saving Mr. Banks.
Who's missing? Well, Paul McCartney's track for Dave Grohl's Sound City missed the cut, which makes sense but is a blow to the former Nirvana drummer's Oscar hopes (Sir Paul already has one, for the score to the Beatles' 1970 film Let It Be). Inside Llewyn Davis missed out in Best Picture, and its Justin Timberlake-featuring "Please Mr. Kennedy" wasn't even on the Best Original Song short list, ostensibly due to Academy rules on originality. Nor did Pussy Riot documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer move from the 2014 Best Documentary Feature short list to the nods. Also, Golden Globe nominee Taylor Swift won't be making a surprised face.
Meanwhile, Jared Leto might be more actor than musician, but the 30 Seconds to Mars frontman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, which also marks the acting debut of Deerhunter leader Bradford Cox. Leto won in the corresponding category at the Golden Globes.
Hear the Best Original Song nominees below.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom's "Ordinary Love"
Her's "The Moon Song"
Despicable Me 2's "Happy"
Frozen's "Let It Go"
Alone Yet Not Alone's "Alone Yet Not Alone"