One of the big stories of this week’s Oscar nominations was the announcement that, for the first time in history, only two songs have been given the nod in the Best Song category: Bret McKenzie’s “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets and the Rio number “Real in Rio,” which was co-written by legendary Brazilian musician Sérgio Mendes. Below, Bruce Broughton, who is chair of the Academy’s Music Branch Executive Committee, explains how just a brace of songs came to receive noms and why the situation might prompt a rule change.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you surprised only two songs were nominated this year?
BRUCE BROUGHTON: I was surprised. I think everybody was surprised. The good news is that, the way the rules are set out, there could have been no nominations. But we do get a fairly large response from voters. So it’s not like it was a group of seven people who sat together and thought, “Oh screw it, we’re gonna come up with two.” I mean, it’s not like two lousy songs were nominated. They’re both good songs. It’s just that there’s just two of them.
The music branch introduced a new nomination voting system a couple of years ago. Could you explain it?
It’s a 1 to 10 point scale, but the lowest you can vote for is 6. So, if you saw a song that was really not worthy of nomination, you might give that a 6 or a 6.5 or a 7. If you thought it was really terrific, you could give it a 9 or a 9.5 or a 10. Then all these things are added up. Any song that makes at least 8.25 will be nominated. If there’s only one song that has reached that point level, then the next highest point-getter will be moved up so there will be a contest.
So it is possible you were one just one “good” song away from not having a category at all.
Yeah. It was an element of the rule there was a lot of conversation about. It was like, “Do we really want to risk not having a category?” The reason that led to this was that we wanted to be sure that the best songs would come out.
What kind of reaction have you had from music branch members?
Surprise. I’ve gotten a few phone calls. I’ve got some emails. I can say this: The music branch is famous for modifying its rules. I’m sure that we will look at this one and see whether it actually produces the effect that we wanted or whether it actually does something that we really didn’t want and didn’t intend. Because we don’t want to find that worthy songs and creative people are excluded from being recognized.
You might care to know that, on Tuesday, I spoke to both Sérgio Mendes and Bret McKenzie and they were both perfectly happy about the fact only two songs had been nominated.
[Laughs] I’m sure they will. And good luck for both of them.
I believe Madonna’s Golden Globe-winning song “Masterpiece” was ineligible for nomination because it was the second song on the closing credits of W.E. rather than the first. Is the rule governing that situation one the branch might also reconsider?
No. That one I doubt would get reconsidered.
Do you know if both nominated songs will be performed at the ceremony itself?
I’m not really sure. The governors have a meeting with the producers [of the show], I think, next week. At that they’ll talk about how the songs will be performed. I would say, this year, if the show goes long, it won’t be because of the songs!