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« Remember "Miss Pettigrew"? | Main | The Oscars were gay and Latino, just like I am »
Wednesday
Mar072018

Soundtracking: The Oscar Performances

by Chris Feil

Isn’t it lovely that full performances of the Original Song nominees are here to stay? Well, hopefully here to stay. We’re not far enough removed from the Oscar telecast cruelly jettisoning less known tracks from the evening’s performances to breathe easy when we get to delight in each of the nominees. Off years or no, past omissions have been a decidedly bad look.

And the performances largely kept their spectacle simple and straightforward, providing some nice grand emotion in an otherwise mostly even keel evening. In one of the few upset's of the night Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez got their second Oscar for Coco's "Remember Me" (my favorite of the nominees). Coco’s triumph was so richly deserved particularly for how inextricable it is from the film’s narrative, criteria that the songwriting branch has famously demanded of late. But the telecast allowed for some reassessment of the nominated lineup...

“Mighty River” from Mudbound
This performance did more to sell unaware audiences on Mudbound than any of Netflix’s typically mild efforts. I’d still argue the song’s simplistic messaging is at odds with the complexities and tougher answers to the film, but this does sell the vast emotional underpinnings at play. In a night of powerhouse vocals, it was still double-nominee Mary J. Blige who had a moment all to herself and it felt like a major welcoming of the legend into the Hollywood fold. Now will you please watch Mudbound already?!

“Remember Me” from Coco
Already beautifully discussed by Jorge, this was the performance of the night. True to the film’s morphing narrative impact, the number opened with Gael García Bernal’s fragile lullaby before luxuriating in Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade’s anthemic, bilingual glory. While the performance of other nominees put the focus purely on the song rather than their film, this gave us exactly what we yearned for: a large scale recreation of Coco’s world. And when this song eventually took the prize, the flowers in the aisles magically brought the performance full circle. 

“Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name
Okay, but why truncate this number like the Oscar song performances of past years? Granted we’re talking about a far more understated song compared to the rest of the evening, so you can understand the impulse to keep it snappy. But we just want more than the Oscar producers allow us: more of Sufjan’s ethereal voice, more of St. Vincent in general, more of that romantic Italian backdrop. It's like that whiff of a release plan bruising CMBYN fans all over again. And I say this as someone who has been down on this track! Couldn’t they have at least brought Daniela Vega back out to dance and sing along?

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
Diane Warren will eventually get her Oscar, but this year wasn’t meant to be hers alas. However this was one of the night’s most moving numbers, filling the stage with the notable activists such as Tarana Burke and Janet Mock. It was a beautiful moment that connected the night’s messaging to the real world outside Hollywood. But this performance was also the most removed from the film itself, perhaps an easy pitfall for closing credits tracks. All complaints are trivial when Andra Day graces us unworthy peasants with her earth-shattering vocals.

“This is Me” from The Greatest Showman
Personal issues aside, what was wonderful about this performance was how it removed away the tacky excess of the film and stripped it down to the raw emotionality of the song. Toss in the American Idol spin cam and this was the kind of unpretentious, uncynical cheese that The Greatest Showman wishes it was. Intuition would have told me a lack of flash would really reveal the song’s hackneyed elements, but in actuality it placed the song’s power in the forefront. For once, it actually felt like everyone’s song instead of vague enough to be no one’s. And guess what: if Viola likes it, that means we like it.

All Soundtracking installments can be found hereWhat did you think of the Oscar Original Song performances?

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Reader Comments (27)

"Mighty River": The song itself is rather moving, but as much as I love MJB, she looked and sounded pained throughout the entire performance.

"Remember Me": Gael Garcia Bernal's whispery, barely-in-tune vocals did not please my ears, but once the number picked up the pace it was great fun.

"Mystery of Love": See above critique of Bernal's vocals.

"Stand Up for Something": My favorite performance of the night. It gave me chills.

"This is Me": The shoutier Keala Settle's singing grew as the number progressed, the harder it became for me to enjoy it. I love a big, belty voice, but some of the musicality got lost.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

The songs were mediocre and the performances didn't improve them at all, quite the contrary.

As a person who can't sing, I will always be grateful to Gael García Bernal for representing me.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

For anyone unaware of the songs and the films that they came from, you had to sit and wonder: Wow these are the best 5 they could come up with?

That song from Coco was horrid on stage. I liked all of these quite fine in their respective films, but the first 4 performances were so lackluster. They actually made me like the songs LESS.

This is Me was the only song that actually had any signs of life

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterME

I thought the frenzy of the second half of Remember Me drowned out the singing -- it's not a belter of a song and could have benefited from less action on stage.

I thought Mystery of Love was just fine.

This is Me was a bit underwhelming. The lighting and costume design was just weird. Midnight blue does not say "This is Me" and neither does darkness alternating with audience blinding backlighting. I don't know what they were going for. I did like the dancing and the backup singers sure were gorgeous when you could see them.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermikey67

Coco the movie was fantastic, but I was rooting for This is Me. Call me an outlier, but I loved The Greatest Showman and the whole soundtrack. Often, the Best Song nominations come from songs that roll during the credits, but the This is Me scene in the film was great. I was a bit let down by the Oscar performance, but it was the best of the night IMO.

Pasek and Paul are on fire these days, so I'm sure we'll see more of them at future award ceremonies.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

This was a strong lineup and it's wonderful that they all got their chance to shine in their full versions. This category has been so used and abused--I'm hoping this is the new norm. Stand Up for Something was the best song and the best performance. Andra Day--she's a real star. But I liked them all, even Gael on Remember Me. Bless his heart, the boy tried. And loved the pagentry. Don't get me started on the hotness of Miguel because it will get embarrassing.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

If I had it my way, it would've been a 3-way tie with Remember Me, Mystery of Love, and This Is Me.

Frankly, I thought all the performances were great. My one complaint was similar to yours in that I disliked that they shortened MoL. The song, like the film, is something that one needs to marinate with. The staging of it was also way too removed from the movie itself. Even a few Roman statues would've set the mood slightly.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Agreeing with many above who thought Bernal’s vocals were a bad moment and did not serve the song well. The second half the performance was way better but it was a rough opening to overcome.

Mystery of love was a stunner—“wow he actually sounds like that live” was all I kept thinking.

Common has gravitas for days. It’s been fantastic to see him become an Oscar-stage mainstay—he always makes a huge impact.

I have watched This is Me get performed better on other broadcasts but the impact was still huge. Keala is a star.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I will never understand why some people think Diane Warren is overdue or even deserves an Oscar. It's inevitable, and there'll be a standing ovation, but she's totally generic.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

The staging of " This Is Me" was overdone and felt more like a "Springtime for Hitler".

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

This Is Me is the best performance.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

So glad Remember Me beat that earache This Is Me!

Does anyone think the fact that Gael García Bernal performed this year, yet, last year, the producer's didn't have Stone and Gosling perform, is a tacit admission that they know Stone and Gosling can't sing?

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

I found most of these performances to be underwhelming or disappointing on some level.

Like a River - to get all "American Idol" judgy, Blige was "pitchy." I know when she first started out she'd sing her heart out but was often flat or sharp. I thought she had improved but this performance made me think otherwise.

Remember Me - haven't seen Coco but I heard so many raves about the movie and this song in particular. Based on this performance I didn't get it. It was...fine.

Mystery of Love - appropriately staged (if maybe a bit half-assed) but yeah, why do a truncated version?

Stand Up for Something - probably the best all-around performance/presentation

This is Me - worked pretty well, I guess? But yeah, as already pointed out, the somber costumes and lighting didn't really fit the song.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

The producer's didn't have Stone and Gosling perform, is a tacit admission that they know Stone and Gosling can't sing?

Stone was in Cabaret on Broadway and nevermind that Gosling started out his career on the Mickey Mouse Club but "City of Stars" was calibrated for his range/type of voice. Pretty sure if THEY wanted to sing, the Oscar producers certainly would've loved to have them.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Keala Settle's voice was not in its best condition Sunday night. An article on Christian Siriano's Oscar dress production--19 dresses/suits on 17 women with 5 other women choosing another designer for the telecast--revealed that Settle was incredibly sick on Thursday. That she sounded as great as she did on an extremely taxing song on Sunday night is remarkable. She acted the crap out of it (even if it still doesn't have much dimension beyond gentle uplifting pleasantries).

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Was St Vincent supposed to look like an extra from the Addicted to Love video, or was that a happy accident?

Andra Day gave the best performance, but I was cringing at Common’s hammy opening.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

Wow the commenters on this thread all woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. I thought the musical numbers were the highlights of the night. Each in their own way brought something that energized the night.

I also loved the way the TV telecast let the numbers finish, during the applause, from a camera-view that looked back at the audience. It made the whole thing more festive.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHustler

What a waste of St. Vincent! >:/

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

For the most part, these were wonderful performances. The only two things I didn't like were Gael Garcia Bernal's singing (yikes, but he sure put his heart into it and it's still a great song) and Common's need to make everything into a current-events lecture (but wow, Andra Day).

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGuestguestguest

Queen Mary killed it. Gael was tone deaf until the song got improved by the other singers. I like Sulfjan and that song is awesome. Didn't care for the one from Marshall and giving Diane Warren an Oscar is like giving Kim Kartrashian Best Actress at the Porno awards. That song from The Greatest Showman and the performance FUCKING SUCKED!

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

There are better songs in "The Greatest Showman" like "Come Alive".

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I love Sufjan but that was not good. He has a small, thin voice as it is, but it sounded pretty weak on Oscars night. And it was also disappointing that St. Vincent and Moses Sumney were not better utilized, as they are both amazing! The highlight of the performance was St. Vincent's legs.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

All of these were terrible. Not a standout in the bunch.

Last year was infinitely better with John Legend, Justin Timberlake, and Auli'i Cravalho from Moana giving standout performances with much better songs.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Are shitting me! The Coco song is one of the worst thing I've seen at the Oscar (And I am old enough to have witness AS IT WAS HAPPENING Rob Lowe trying to sing with Snow White) no no no that was awful just awful... The Call me by your name song was classy well perform and should've won... PERIODE!

March 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

Don't care about the message of the song, but we're not going to sugarcoat Gael's (I love him) performance as a "fragile lullaby". He's voice was awful.

Oh well, he can't be perfect.

March 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBee

Stevens was the standout in a weak performance year and it was appropriately short. I'm always amused that the performances seem designed to garner votes right at the moment (i.e., flooding into the audience for some interaction or a big choir coming out to help with the sing-a-long), as if the envelope might be stuffed with a winner at the last minute.

"Remember Me" was a fine winner, given what what the award is actually for, but it played terribly on stage. If only Stevens had been nominated for the right song...

March 9, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterzig

I love the Line-up, but damn... the performances were bad!!! ;-(

As I love that Line-up I want to include "Visions of Gideon", but what Song can I replace? Very difficult for me!

Gael Garcia Bernal was awful, really awful! He is nice and tried hard but it was horrendous!

March 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

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