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How Lady Gaga Could Beat Sam Smith at the 2016 Oscars

When the Academy Awards announced this year’s Best Original Song nominees this morning, the only mild surprise was the exclusion of Furious 7 tearjerker/chart-topper “See You Again” — a snub so mild in form but so wildly exciting in meaning because now the nasally Charlie Puth can’t add “Oscar nominee” to his Twitter bio. Among the predictable crop of nods for the award included Sam Smith’s weepy, Golden Globe-winning “Writing’s On the Wall” — a Jimmy Napes and Disclosure production that wriggles around in its own saccharine limitations — and Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You,” a Diane Warren cowrite that actually builds to its apex rather than diving headfirst and crashing into concrete (here’s looking at the Spectre theme).

It seems pretty clear that [insert obligatory “the writing is on the wall!” joke here, delete it, rethink it, and move on] Sam Smith’s track is the one to beat this year; the Golden Globes might mean nothing in the critical sphere, but there’s something to be said about a narrative and a trajectory. A win on that stage does nothing if not bring a spotlight to Smith’s corner, and Oscar voters too lazy to dig into the deeper cuts — “Simple Song #3” from Youth, “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction — might simply tick off a box based on name recognition.

The only real potential for an upset, then — barring a surge of support for the Weeknd’s slightly too sexy for stodgy Academy voters but still achingly emotional “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” — comes in the form of a string-laden Stefani Germanotta song. “You told me it gets better / It gets better in time,” Lady Gaga sings demurely as “Til It Happens To You” unfurls, a ballad used in the sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground. Besides it being the strongest song of the bunch from a structural standpoint, the track works as a puzzle piece in Gaga’s ongoing quest to return to the general public’s good graces.

Though her fans (hi) haven’t ever lost faith in her career arc, last year the 29-year-old stripped down the flash for an Oscar tribute to The Sound of Music in front of Julie Andrews herself, marking what many consider to be the stepping stone between the less-than-stellar ARTPOP era to a second-wind as a critically acclaimed adult-contemporary performer. It was the sort of show-stopping performance that might’ve been considered pandering had she not delivered each note so impeccably, had Andrews not embraced her onstage moments after, and had it not seemed in every second of her singing that it was the sort of moment she’d always been waiting for. The narrative is there: We beat her down, she stood back up brighter then ever, and showed us how wrong we’d been. Her redemptive arc started at the 2015 Oscars; how fitting it would be for it to carry her to a win this year.

And Gaga also has her own momentum coming off of the Golden Globes, what with her Best Actress in a Miniseries win for American Horror Story: Hotel. Though it’s largely a thanks-for-participating win (the Globe voters love packing the ballroom with A-list talent and rewarding them for simply attending), there’s still plenty of shine and attention emanating from the victory. Smith’s Spectre track certainly wasn’t the worst possible nominee (we’d probably give that to the Chipmunks & the Chipettes “Home” from, you guessed it, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip), but it’s one of the most publicly reviled Bond themes in recent memory, and Gaga’s contribution to the category has both a gorgeous song and a worthy, timely message going for it. Don’t be surprised to see Sam Smith onstage come February 28, but also don’t be shocked if Lady Gaga ends up walking away with the Oscar for Best Original Song.