The Oscars are just days away, with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, and Kendrick Lamar and SZA have emerged as the two strongest contenders for this year’s Best Song award.

Gaga and Cooper are up for their hit song “Shallow”, from A Star is Bornwhile Lamar and SZA have received a nod for “All the Stars”, which was the lead track from the Black Panther score.

Here’s a breakdown of each track:

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“All the Stars”

Kendrick Lamar co-executive produced the Black Panther soundtrack and has writing credits on all of its 14 tracks. He also appears in various skits and features. On “All the Stars” ft SZA, the duo reflect the film’s story of identity, self-worth and overcoming obstacles. The track features a stuttering drum beat and synths that provide the intro and backing for Lamar’s defiant verse, and an infectious pop hook from SZA accompanied by an emotional violin sequence.

Critically, it received mixed reviews, with Pitchfork criticising it for failing to stand up to other works by either artist and calling it “uncharacteristically conservative for these two stars, all in service of a bigger picture”.

However, a recent article in Spin declares that it is a better track than “Shallow”, commenting that the “heavily synthesized sound doesn’t detract from the warmth of the song... because of the emotional urgency in the performances by Lamar and SZA”.

Noisey also backed “All the Stars”, writing: “A win at the Oscars would mean much more than beating Gaga. It would mean that movies like Black Panther have a place at the biggest shows in Hollywood.”

“Shallow”

The original theme from A Star is Born created huge anticipation for the release of the film. “Shallow” opens with a tender acoustic guitar and Cooper’s warm, slightly rasping voice. But the song is really about Gaga, who plays Ally in the film, who rouses the song into something far more than a generic ballad and up to a hair-raising climax, against the crash of pedal steel guitar and dramatic drum beats.

Reactions to “Shallow” were almost unanimously positive, with The Guardian going so far as to brand it the “defining song of 2018... because it speaks to those whom life has not always been fair”.

Recent Oscar winners for Best Original Song include “Remember Me” from Coco, La La Land’s City of Stars, and Sam Smith’s theme from Spectre. 

The voting academy typically favours ballads, as seen in the most recent winners, which suggests that “Shallow” is likely to be favoured over the pop-friendly “All the Stars”.

The 91st Academy Awards ceremony takes place at the Dolby Theater in LA on 24 February. 

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