The inexplicable victory of ‘Naatu Naatu’

March 19, 2023

The inexplicable victory of ‘Naatu Naatu’


t’s odd, if not downright inexplicable, isn’t it? The last time an Indian film won Best Song at the Oscars, was ‘Jai Ho’ from Slumdog Millionaire, released in 2008.

Since 2008, Indian music hasn’t created as many Oscars worthy songs, until RRR came along and won Best Song at the Oscars for a song called ‘Naatu Naatu’.

Let us all take a moment to wonder how this song, an assault on our senses, won. RRR is one of the most popular films to come out of India in recent times. However, if a song like ‘Naatu Naatu’ where samples, drums and bass and that typical, almost nonsensical mixture of North and South Indian music are loosely tied together had enough merit to win, then by this logic several Bollywood songs qualify.

Among them is a track from the soundtrack of Raincoat, a 2004 film where every song - but in particular the solo male and female versions of the same song ‘Piya Tora Kaisa Abhiman’ - should have qualified.

‘Pani Pani Re’ and ‘Chhod Aaye Hum’ from 1996 film called Maachis should’ve had a competing chance.

If these songs and films are too old, how about ‘Apna Time Ayega’ from Gully Boy?

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Jiye Dhadak Dhadak Jaaye’ and ‘Mann Ki Lagan’ which opened doors to a qawwali-ghazal genre in Bollywood, also had merit.

In the nominated songs for Best Song at the Oscars 2023, Rihanna’s ‘Lift Me Up’ should’ve won instead of the monstrosity that is ‘Naatu Naatu’.

For a singer and performer, who is well-known for electronic dance heavy music, ‘Lift Me Up’ was challenging. It was Rihanna’s comeback to music, and it was a song that was exactly what it needed to be. The film itself was without its original leading man, the late Chadwick Boseman. Wakanda Forever needed that vulnerability but more than that, it was Rihanna’s spellbinding vocals that did the magic. She left her clubbing shoes behind for a much more difficult song. Rihanna’s vocals are on top of the music, making it a challenging effort. She delivered a song that will be remembered because of its rhythm, how it flows, the uplifting moments, sonic treatment, and that cadence.

It’s like after giving an award to Adele, Eminem, Lady Gaga over the years, the Academy decided to become so diverse that they went on and rewarded the least appealing song among contenders. In fact, what was ‘Naatu Naatu’ doing in the Best Song category? Did Hollywood run out of good film songs? Maybe the Academy, in its wisdom to woo the Indian market decided to reward a song that will give you a severe headache, so much so that you will remember it for years to come.

But here is the lesson: best original song category needs to be revamped. When you have films like Tar where music is a plot device, it is time to rethink your methods.

‘Naatu’ from RRR may have beaten ‘Lift Me Up’ from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, sung by Rihanna; ‘This Is a Life’ from ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once, performed by Mitski; ‘Applause’ from Tell It Like a Woman by Sofia Carson and Lady Gaga’s ballad from Top Gun: Maverick called ‘Hold My Hand’ but overall, these nominations are also a bit boring.

Where was Trent Razor and Atticus Ross who actually sang for Bones and All? Or, the biggest crime of all in my opinion: ignoring the most unlikely collaboration: ‘Turn Up The Sunshine’ by Diana Ross featuring Tame Impala. I rest my case. 

The inexplicable victory of ‘Naatu Naatu’