Adam Levine, the frontman for Maroon 5 and a host of The Voice, is one of the biggest pop stars in the world. He has won all the biggest music awards, played the world’s biggest arenas and scored multiple platinum and gold records. But he’s about to do something that he’s never done before, and that has him extremely excited: perform at the Academy Awards. On Feb. 22, Levine will sing Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois‘ best original song Oscar nominee “Lost Stars,” which was featured in John Carney‘s music-centric drama Begin Again in which Levine starred and sang it.
“It’s such rarified air that we’re gonna be in,” Levine marveled when we spoke on Friday, “as far as being a musician at that particular show. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Oscars and the way they put it all together. It’s the godfather of all awards shows. It’s just so far removed from what I do.” He added with a laugh, “Performing at the Oscars might be even better than being nominated!” (The person/people who perform a song in a movie are not nominated unless they also wrote its music or lyrics.)
An invitation from the Academy to sing on the stage of the Dolby in front of the biggest stars in the world and a television audience of hundreds of millions of people would be special under any circumstances, but Levine noted that this one has particular meaning for him: “It happened to me for a song that I sang in a movie that I was in, which makes it that much more special. That’s rarely the case. Usually there’s some sort of separation. It feels more legitimate and pure and involved in being there.”
Speaking of his more extensive involvement in Begin Again — which happened to be my favorite film of 2014 — he still can’t quite believe he was offered the opportunity. “It took a huge leap of faith on John Carney’s part because I had never acted before. He reached out to me and asked me, pretty randomly, if I was interested in acting. I actually said to him [that I was] not, until he called.” Levine said he quickly concluded, “If I only make one movie in my whole life, it seems like this one makes the most sense. I don’t know where it will go from here, but that was my part. I really, truly believe that, and I’m really happy it came my way.”
One of the things that most appealed to him about the film was that he could personally relate to the character that he was asked to play: a guy who rockets to super-stardom and doesn’t handle everything perfectly. “This guy was going through a lot of what I had been through,” Levine admitted. “When I saw it on paper, I just knew it was partially who I am and also part of what I think a lot of people go through when they experience any kind of success for the first time in music. Usually they’re insecure, and insecurity and large amounts of success don’t mix very well.”
But even more important to him was the opportunity to sing songs co-written by Alexander. He gushed, “I’ve known Gregg Alexander forever, as far as following his career, and he’s brilliant. I knew he could do amazing things.” He continued, “I remember when I first heard the New Radicals album [the band released only one, in 1999]. It almost existed in a bubble.” All of Alexander’s songs, he said, have a rare quality: “They never sound ‘decade-appropriate.’ They always just sound timeless. To me, you can’t tell if that New Radicals record is from the ’80s or ’90s or even the late-’70s or 2000s. His talent and his writing style is just incredibly timeless.” He added, “People don’t even really realize how many songs he’s written. He’s actually been a huge influence on so many songwriters and so many artists that have hits right now. Even our [Maroon 5’s] song that we have out right now [“Sugar”] sounds like Gregg Alexander. He’s underrated, in my opinion — until now.”
When Levine was finally able to check out the songs that Alexander and his writing partner of many years, Danielle Brisebois, had prepared for him to sing in the film (which was then called Can a Song Save Your Life?), he immediately knew that his faith had not been misplaced. “Sure enough, from the second I heard the music, I thought, ‘OK, yeah, this is exactly what I was expecting: brilliant, awesome, amazing music.’ It was so great. The minute I heard these songs, I could imagine myself singing them. And it seemed like no one else, in a weird way, was quite as equipped to do this as I was.”
The gem of the lot was “Lost Stars,” a metaphor-packed tune about people trying to find their way, which was to be sung by Levine and his co-star, Keira Knightley, at various pivotal points in the film. (This was the song that was requested to be the song that could save your life, Alexander has said.) “It was painfully obvious that the song shouldn’t be touched, Levine said. “It was perfect. It was beautiful. So I just thanked him [Gregg] — like, ‘Great, perfect, awesome. Let’s do it.’ It was instantaneous. I got into it really quickly and easily because that’s how he writes.”
On set, Knightley felt more confident in her acting than her singing, while Levine felt the reverse. “I kind of recall the entire experience being Keira complaining about her singing and being petrified of the whole thing and me complaining about my acting and being petrified about the whole thing,” he said, chuckling. “So we were kind of giving each other Tony Robbins-esque motivational speeches.” In the end, Knightley proved more than capable of singing well, and Levine turned in a fine performance, as well.
Levine also helped to keep “Lost Stars” from fading out of the public eye after it was excluded from the Golden Globe nomination on Dec. 11. On Dec. 15, he and a contestant on The Voice, Matt McAndrew, performed it as a duet on The Voice. It quickly rocketed onto the top 100 most played songs lists of Billboard and iTunes, leading to increased interest in the song as Oscar-nomination voting began on Dec. 29. The song was, of course, among the five nominees announced on Jan. 15 and is now in a hotly contested race without a clear frontrunner.
Whether or not “Lost Stars” wins an Oscar on Feb. 22, Levine will get his turn up on the Oscar stage. “At this point in my life, there are so many reasons for me to keep pinching myself that I’m starting to get worried,” he said, citing this special gig as a major one. “I wish I had written the song,” he added with a laugh, “but I get to do the next best thing, which is perform it!”