Of the many films carrying original songs in the running for the Oscars, three stand out in different ways. The moods among them include a frenetic dance number, a haunting melody for anyone separated from loved ones, and…a nod to quantum physics.
“Naatu Naatu” from “RRR”
So you just saw the Indian smash”RRR” and thinks you might be possessed. A mysterious force makes you try an extraordinarily masculine dance – Riverdance on super-soldier serum. Blame composer Mr. M. Keeravaniwho, along with lyricist Chandrabose, concocted the film’s devilish earworm, “Naatu Naatu.”
“The chorus line, that’s the catchy phrase,” Keeravani says, singing the buzzy hook: “‘Naa-tu, naatu naatu naatu naatu naatu veera, Naa-tu.’ I was asked to do a catchy number that would be an aggressive dance. My job was very simple. It’ll stick.”
Keeravani says that in the Telugu language of India, “the exact meaning of ‘naatu’ is ‘country’ – it’s country music. It’s a genre. ‘I don’t want jazz, I don’t want no classic, I don’t want nothing but country, country, country, country.”
A showdown in the epic macho bromance sets off a high-stakes dance. “The backbone is rhythm – we call it ‘duff’. This instrument: ‘Dahng dahng da daka da daka da dahng da daka da daka da‘. This is the pulse of this song. The bass motif, all the other instruments, like the flutes – they take the back seat. Only the rhythm will take the front seat.”
The song has taken off internationally, with students and others posting videos online of their versions of the dance (Keeravani cites one of the American students he particularly likes). Why this The Bollywood song resonated with so many people? Perhaps it’s the unbridled energy and joy of the movie sequence.
“Not Alone” from “Devotion”
“Not alone” may not be what Joe Jonas fans expect – certainly not the brightly colored pop of the Jonas Brothers (“Suction cup” it’s not). Rather, the collaboration of him, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Bernard Harvey (AKA “Harv”) and Khalid builds from a bare, insistent pattern of piano chords ringing in the wide, wide open. It’s free and lonely. Jonas’ voice is simple, rougher than usual. Buzzing voices rise in the background, behind a rumble in the bass suggesting an engine. One can easily imagine being in a cockpit en route to a fateful mission, the lone pilot trying to send a message to his wife and child out of sheer willpower.
“JD wanted something that captured the raw emotion of the movie’s ending,” Jonas said of writer-director JD Dillard’s request for a song for the Korean War drama “Devotion.” Jonas also stars in the film as the teammate of Ensign Jesse L. Brown (played by Jonathan Majors), the first black American naval aviator.
“I was really moved by the letters that Jesse wrote [his wife] Daisy. They talked about part hope, part love, about this relationship they had, this bond, even though he couldn’t be physically there for her and their daughter at times. “, explains Jonas. “If he wrote this song, what would he say?
The song’s melody carries the pop influences of its creators, but its texture is something different – more adult, more emotional, not radio-oriented.
“Every little part of the song was really thought out. Those haunting four chords that repeat and repeat, we wanted it to sound like a military band or something ghostly, haunting.
“After the song ended,” Jonas says, “I was hit with a wave of emotion. I’m in the studio crying because of the storytelling, but also the journey to get here, to this place. and feel so connected to this work.”
“It’s a life” of “Everything everywhere all at once”
“Everything everywhere all at once” is an intoxicating multiversal brew that bends alternate realities through the madness of martial arts to invigorate a family. Son Luxfamous singer-songwriter Mitsky and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame David Byrne about : “It’s a life.”
Son Lux guitarist Rafiq Bhatia explains the idea: “With all of life’s possibilities ahead of us, we choose to be here, to do what we do in the midst of each other.”
“It’s a life” Mitsky sings dreamily in the song, with Byrne’s soothing voice fitting into “all the possibilities”. It’s a conversation continued from another universe. “Free from fate,” she continues; “I choose you and you choose me,” he replies.
After seeing a rough cut of the film, Byrne’s return to his directors and Son Lux was “If you could do a song at the end that reminds people of how much heart there is in this show – because they’re going to think, ‘Oh my God, my mind is blown, all this craziness, what dimension are we in?’ – to bring it back to the emotional center, how moving it is and mark that in the song….
“I think the guys did that,” Byrne continues. “They said, ‘We’re going to send this to Mitski; she’s going to record her voice, and you have to figure out how to work your voice around hers. So I wrote extra words in response to what she was singing, tried to do counter melodies, and then of course added harmonies, so it became like a little dialogue.”
At first, Mitski’s voice takes the lead and Byrne responds; later, he takes the lead and she responds. Around this, they intertwine and harmonize.
Outside of what Son Lux (founder Ryan Lott, Bhatia and percussionist Ian Chang) had put together, Mitski made tweaks such as incorporating a line of dialogue from the film that actress Stephanie Hsu sang at the instead of talking: “Sucked…into…a ba-a-agel.” Lott says, “I loved that Mitski took that moment and found a way to use that melody and those words as the background vocals at a special moment in the song.”
Lott points out that the song does not follow the common verse-chorus structure, but seems to be in two distinct parts separated by this “bagel” moment: “It feels non-cyclical and non-linear.”
Regarding the flights of fancy enjoyed by the multiverse tale, Byrne considers some of the ideas of quantum physics that twist his mind and says, “It makes you think the universe is more like a web, a network, a thing It’s a tangled network of relationships between all of these particles and therefore larger things, cosmic bodies and life forms and everything else, and we’re all somehow, in a cosmic way, connected. I use the word ‘tangle‘ in the song; I intentionally use these terms from quantum physics in the sense of a relationship.”
Perhaps the ideas are not expressed more vigorously than in the last words of the song: “C’est une vie / C’est our life.”
As Byrne says, “It’s not a song that smacks you in the head, but if you listen to it, it’s quite beautiful.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.