TORONTO - After a breakout year that saw the Weeknd score a chart-topping album, several No. 1 hits and a slew of Grammy nominations, 2015 would seem like a tough one to top for the Canadian pop sensation.
Then days into 2016, Oscar came calling.
The Toronto singer — whose real name is Abel Tesfaye — added to his growing list of accolades with an Academy Award nomination for best original song.
The Weeknd received the nod for his slinky hit "Earned It" from the "Fifty Shades of Grey" soundtrack. He shares the honour with fellow Canadian songwriters Ahmad Balshe (a.k.a. Belly), Jason (DaHeala) Quenneville and Stephan Moccio.
"I believe that 'Earned It' was hugely instrumental in launching the career of Abel on a worldwide level, and there's that to feel proud for as well," said Moccio, during a phone interview from Santa Monica, Calif.
"That song allowed him and his brand to cross barriers and to cross many cultures.... It has good, old-fashioned R&B strut. It's waltz. It has this beautiful falsetto male voice. It has beautiful classical sound at the same time. It's just a lot of great things that perhaps will keep it classic in time — and only time will tell. But it's amazing."
"Earned It" made its debut on Dec. 23, 2014, ahead of last year's Valentine's Day premiere of "Fifty Shades of Grey." But the track clearly proved to have staying power with Oscar voters who selected the seductive, slow-tempo tune among its nominees.
"That's a testimony ... to the song, the artist, a lot of elements — and I don't take that for granted," said Moccio, who co-produced and co-wrote about a third of the Weeknd's hit album "Beauty Behind The Madness."
"At one point, there were perhaps hundreds and hundreds of songs submitted (for Oscar consideration) and eventually dwindled down to some 70-odd songs. And now, to make the top five is a big deal."
This year's best song category is stacked with industry heavy-hitters.
British singer Sam Smith, who won the Golden Globe for best original song with "Writing's On the Wall," is nominated for the "Spectre" track along with collaborator Jimmy Napes. Pop diva Lady Gaga and songwriting legend Diane Warren received the nod for "Til It Happens to You" for the sexual assault documentary "The Hunting Ground."
"Manta Ray" from "Racing Extinction" and the "Simple Song #3" from "Youth" round out the list.
"Some great songwriters are in this category, and here we are standing next to all of them," said Moccio, who grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont.
"I don't know if you want to call it luck. We all worked hard. But I just feel very proud.
"It's a very sweet moment when you actually set energy and thought and intent towards something and it realizes itself.... It's hugely satisfying."
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