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Emmys Preview: Handicapping The Nominees For Original Music and Lyrics

Which of these five nominated songs will take home Emmy gold?
  • Leslie Jones, Josh Groban & Sara Bareilles, and Rachel Bloom are among the nominees for Outstanding Original Music & Lyrics. (Photos: NBC, CBS and The CW)
    Leslie Jones, Josh Groban & Sara Bareilles, and Rachel Bloom are among the nominees for Outstanding Original Music & Lyrics. (Photos: NBC, CBS and The CW)

    Ah, Outstanding Original Music & Lyrics. An Emmy category that seemingly exists to reward Neil Patrick Harris' opening numbers at the Tonys, and occasionally give Saturday Night Live an extra award. I kid, mostly, although both of those things could very well happen yet again this year.

    Looking at this year’s Original Music & Lyrics category is to see a couple of tremendously worthy songs, a couple of lazy efforts, at least one ballsy bit of category fraud, and one last chance for a beloved musical series. Ahead of this weekend's Creative Arts Emmys (at which the Emmy for Outstanding Original Music & Lyrics will be awarded), here’s a look at the nominees, and our thoughts on who's most likely to take home Emmy gold.

    ”Beautiful Things Can Grow,” Song of Parkland (HBO)

    This gorgeous requiem, composed by Mark Sonnenblick from lyrics written by Parkland students Ashley Paseltiner and Molly Reichard, would be an emotional pick for Emmy voters. It captures the quiet terror in the aftermath of a school shooting (“Board up the shattered windows / Put up barbed gates”) while still putting forth a message of hope. It’s easily the most serious song in the set, which should help it stand out as well. That said, voters who simply check off familiar names instead of fully listening to all of the nominees are unlikely to throw their support this way.

    ”The Upper East Side,” Saturday Night Live (NBC)

    Despite enthusiastic performances from Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and host James McAvoy, this one is a bit of a miss for me. I could chalk this up to the insular New Yorkiness of the bit — Jones rapping about the Upper East Side as if it’s Harlem or the Bronx, with blandness backing up her boast — except I lived in New York for years, and I still didn’t laugh once. The song is exactly what you think a Leslie Jones rap about the Upper East Side would be. There’s no surprise here, except for my surprise at the song being nominated. I don’t think voters will take this one any further.

    "Holiday Party (I Did A Little Cocaine Tonight),” Documentary Now! (IFC)

    Now this is a bit of New York nerdiness I can get behind. The Documentary Now parody of the doc Original Cast Album: Company spoofs the recording of the original Broadway cast recording of one of Stephen Sondheim’s most recognizable Broadway musicals. Done anything short of perfectly, and Co-op would have invited raucous dissent from theatre fans. But each song parodied Sondheim’s style with flair and precision, with the “(Not) Getting Married Today” parody “Holiday Party (I Did A Little Cocaine Tonight)” earning the nod. From the flat dialogue in the song breaks, to the excellent patter replication, to the inclusion of a choir, “Holiday Party" is a triumph of both parody and songwriting. It may not win, but it certainly deserves the Emmy.

    ”Father & Son,” Flight of the Conchords: Live at the London Apollo (HBO)

    I’m a little annoyed at this nomination, to be honest. All of the other other nominated songs are part of a program, which is to say that they work within the narrative, be that fictional, documentary, or sketch. This song is not unique to this particular special — it’s just a Flight of the Conchords song (although admittedly a good one). Rewarding it here feels like an inappropriate use of the category. I don’t think it will win, but if it did it's the only choice I’d outright scoff at.

    ”This One's for You,” 72nd Annual Tony Awards (CBS)

    If I told you Tonys hosts Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban wrote a song, and you had to compose roughly what you thought it would sound like, you’d get this song. It’s a ton of fun, with some legitimately good laughs, but it's arguably just as unsurprising as the Saturday Night Live offering. Still, there's a good chance it will win. Recognizable performers plus an Emmy-friendly genre (Tonys songs won for three straight years in the early 2010s) give it a solid shot. And how ironic would it be if a song paying tribute to those who lose won?

    ”Anti-Depressants Are So Not A Big Deal,” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

    This is my pick for the win. Rachel Bloom and company’s decision to make an ode to anti-depressants by way of a La La Land parody is a stroke of genius. What better fit for normalizing SSRIs than the sunny sounds of Justin Hurwitz? The staging earns extra points, too, as all involved are decked out in La La Land-appropriate bold color hues. It has the same problem that nearly every Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song has, which is that it tends to get a little wordy in the verses, but hey, it’s the show’s final season, and this is a fitting final bow from a remarkable series.

    Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.

    TOPICS: 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, CBS, The CW, HBO, IFC, NBC, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Documentary Now!, Flight of the Conchords, Saturday Night Live, Song of Parkland, The Tony Awards, Josh Groban, Leslie Jones, Rachel Bloom, Sara Bareilles, Music and TV