Although the Oscars are primarily a night to celebrate film, live musical performances have become a staple of the award show. This was especially true this year, when the Academy decided that, for the second consecutive year, the Oscars would not have a host. These performances ran the gamut of quality: some were fantastic, some dull, and some were just bizarre. With this in mind, Street has ranked these performances from less–than–ideal to iconic. It should be noted, however, this ranking will only include the musical performances that were not written for use in the broadcast, so musical moments such as Janelle Monáe’s enjoyable opening number and Utkarsh Ambudkar’s skilled yet perplexing mid–show rap recap, will not be present.
8. Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
Yeah, this one was really weird. Unlike other unconventional choices that still worked (see Billie Eilish below), this just felt odd and out of place. Surprise performances are supposed to be exciting. They’re supposed to be a treat to everyone who tuned in to watch the broadcast. They are not supposed to make everyone question what is happening, and that is exactly what this performance did. There's no shortage of memeable screencaps of the audience members’ faces—from Idina Menzel’s shock to Martin Scorsese nodding off to Kelly Marie Tran mouthing along to every lyric—as Eminem seemed to randomly show up to perform “Lose Yourself” 18 years after 8 Mile was even somewhat relevant. The number of bleeps alone made it a nonsensical choice, and the tonal dissonance with the rest of the evening was truly bizarre.
7. Oscar–Nominated Scores
The best part of this performance was the fact that it allowed Eímear Noone to become the first woman to lead the Oscars’ 42–piece orchestra. Truly, she did an incredible job, and the performance itself, a short medley of the five nominated film scores, was wonderful. Her performance was diminished, however, by an infantilizing and overly simplistic “all women are superheroes” introduction from Sigourney Weaver, Brie Larson, and Gal Gadot, as well as the fact that it took so long for a woman to be allowed to conduct the Oscars’ orchestra, which left a bad taste in the mouth. The rest of the night was conducted by the Oscars’ musical arranger, Rickey Minor, and this moment felt like the Academy was pandering, trying to shroud itself under the guise of feminism to hide the fact that, each year, the Oscars celebrates itself as becoming more progressive when its progress is—at best—debatable.
6. Chrissy Metz, “I’m Standing With You”
This performance of “I’m Standing With You,” from the film Breakthrough, may not have had a big–name performer or feature a song from a hit movie, but Chrissy Metz still held her own. However, the lack of buzz, combined with the fact that Metz only stood and swayed with a choir in the back, made the performance one of the night’s less interesting moments. Perhaps it would have stood out more on a different night— one that didn't feature Cynthia Erivo’s similar yet arguably more powerful performance. Nonetheless, it still was a lovely moment.
5. Elton John, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”
Overall, Elton John’s performance of the song he wrote for the semi–biographical Rocketman was great. The main issue with this performance was John's ubiquity. It would be hard to find a viewer who has not seen, at the very least, a video of one of John’s performances and witnessed just how much of an incredible live artist he is—at least, when he has full creative control. Consequently, this made–for–an–awards–show performance, though wonderful and exciting in and of itself, felt like a bit of a letdown. Nevertheless, John brought his sense of classic rock ‘n' roll spectacle to what could otherwise be an overly subdued lineup.
4. Randy Newman, “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away”
The song itself, from Toy Story 4, may not be the most exciting or unique, but Randy Newman, an Oscar veteran with 22 nominations and counting, is a gem who gave it the stage presence it needed to tug on the heartstrings of the audience. The Pixar clouds dotting the stage gave the number a sense of theatricality missing from some of the other performances. Moreover, Newman took on the whole “man–at–the–piano” role and managed to hold his own against Elton John, which is an accomplishment in its own right.
3. Idina Menzel, “Into the Unknown”
By this point, everyone probably knows that Elsa of the uber–popular Frozen series is voiced by the Broadway stalwart Idina Menzel. After performing “Let it Go” at the 2014 Oscars, Menzel returned, unsurprisingly, to fill the stage with her typical presence and hit every high note without issue. The choice to include the actresses who voice Elsa in the foreign–language versions of the film was actually brilliant, as it not only highlighted the fact that the world does not revolve around the English language (which was emphasized by Parasite’s magnificent sweep), but also brought a sense of movement to what would otherwise be another performance with one singer standing and swaying behind a microphone.
2. Billie Eilish, “Yesterday”
Before addressing the quality of this performance, one must acknowledge the inherent weirdness of the decision. Having Billie Eilish, who has no connection to any of the movies nominated this year, perform “Yesterday” for the In Memoriam segment was definitely an odd choice. Perhaps the producers of the Oscars were trying to combat the trend of young people forgoing watching the broadcast in favor of following the results via social media. Or perhaps they just wanted to create buzz with her recent Grammys sweep. Regardless, Eilish’s performance was one of the more unorthodox of the night, but that did not stop her from making the moment both touching and her own. One could argue that the performance’s apparent oddity was a distraction from the memorial aspect of the number, and there may be grounds for that, but overall, it was a lovely and fitting tribute from a young icon to those who came before her.
1. Cynthia Erivo, “Stand Up”
It's difficult to describe Erivo’s performance without overtly gushing. In her delivery of “Stand Up,” the song she co–wrote and performed for Harriet, the film that also scored her a Best Actress nomination, Erivo demonstrated just how much she deserves to EGOT. Though she may still be missing the Oscar, this performance solidified her as a future contender. While the performance wasn't filled with dynamic aesthetics that peppered the ceremony, the song itself, coupled with Erivo’s powerful vocals, provided enough spectacle to raise the audience to its feet in the night’s only standing ovation of a musical performance. With the song’s call for action and its feature of a portrait of Harriet Tubman at the end, this performance successfully managed to be politically significant without exploitation and was undoubtedly the most powerful of the night.
If there is anything these performances show, it's that balance is key. Erivo simply stood and sang behind a microphone where Metz couldn’t. Eilish thrived in spite of the strange concept of her performance, yet Eminem stumbled. Awards shows are tricky venues for success, and any artist who manages to do so walks the fine line between their own style and the one demanded by the ceremony.