Will Rihanna’s Super Bowl Show Help Her Steal the Momentum From ‘RRR’ in Oscars’ Best Song Race?

Will Oscar voters choose a superstar or go for a high-energy dance number from an Indian-language film? That’s the dilemma facing voters as they mull over the five best song nominees for 2022 – and voting begins today.

Rihanna (“Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), Lady Gaga (“Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick”) and ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne (“This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once”) are in the running. Yet, even with all that star power, the presumptive frontrunner of late has been seen as “Naatu Naatu,” from the Telugu film “RRR.”

More from Variety

It all depends on what’s caught the fancy of voters during the run-up to the six-day voting period. Oscar history is rife with examples of songs that outpolled the expected picks at the last minute, simply because voters couldn’t escape the radio play (or, nowadays, TikTok) of the newest hit.

Complicating the ability to predict an outcome is that Rihanna is once again seen as a hit artist at the moment — even though the “hit” is not “Lift Me Up,” or any other particular song, for that matter, but her Feb. 12 Super Bowl halftime appearance.

Her set was as polarizing as nearly every halftime show, and Rihanna missed a campaigning opportunity in not working even a snippet of “Lift Me Up” into her medley. But the show remains a topic of discussion more than two weeks after the ballgame, on into the just-opened Oscar voting window.

The statistics for the song race point in two different directions. During the past 30 years, Oscar voters have chosen a popular singer-songwriter 16 times, or more than half of all the wins – everyone from Bruce Springsteen (“Philadelphia”) and Bob Dylan (“Wonder Boys”) to Eminem (“8 Mile”) and Adele (“Skyfall”).

Lady Gaga, nominated along with BloodPop for the “Top Gun” anthem, is on that list; she won for “Shallow” from 2018’s “A Star Is Born.” Might voters take into account the fact that she already has an Oscar, or will her considerable contributions to the year’s biggest box-office hit (she also collaborated on the film’s score) help to sway votes her way?

Rihanna earned her first nomination for co-writing the “Wakanda Forever” song (along with score composer Ludwig Göransson, Nigerian singer Tems and director Ryan Coogler).

It was her first solo effort since 2016 and reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the fact that it was a heartfelt tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman – who was supposed to star in the “Black Panther” sequel until his shocking and unexpected death from colon cancer – could make a difference to voters, with or without any Super Bowl bump.

The song “This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a total wild card. The movie is beloved, having received 11 nominations in all, on its way to currently being a perceived frontrunner for best picture. But the song – by Byrne, Ryan Lott of the band Son Lux and Japanese-born singer-songwriter Mitski – made no impact on the charts. Byrne, too, is a previous Oscar winner, as one of three composers who contributed to the score of “The Last Emperor” in 1987.

Veteran songwriter Diane Warren received her 14th nomination for “Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman.” But almost nobody saw the seven-part anthology film directed solely by women, and the fact that Warren received an honorary Oscar in November for her entire body of work may suggest to voters that she already has the statue she’s always deserved.

This brings us back to “Naatu Naatu” (written by M.M. Keeravaani and Chandrabose) from “RRR” and the flip side of those statistics. Over the past 30 years, 15, or precisely half, of the best song wins came from films that didn’t win in any other category. Oscar observers have come to call this the “consolation prize” factor: voters often give a music award to films that won’t win anything else.

India didn’t enter “RRR” for International Film, so the song nomination is the Academy’s only acknowledgement of the film. The crowd-pleasing action-drama-musical, whose wildly popular “Naatu Naatu” had already become a viral sensation, gained even more attention when the song won a Golden Globe, besting both Gaga and Rihanna (and two other, non-Oscar-nominated songs).

A win would make “Naatu Naatu” the first song from an Indian-produced film to win at the Oscars. (Indian composer A.R. Rahman’s 2008 win for “Jai Ho” was from the British-produced “Slumdog Millionaire.”) And Oscar voters love to celebrate an underdog.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.