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« Why Green Book's win made me cringe. (It's not what you think.) | Main | In praise of Melissa McCarthy, puppet master »
Wednesday
Feb272019

Soundtracking: The 2018 Oscar Performances

by Chris Feil

Thank you Lady Gaga, all of the nominated Original Song performances were given a shot to perform on the Oscars! That "Shallow" leverage reportedly kept the ceremony as much of a musical night as possible. Sadly logistics kept us from getting a Kendrick Lamar and SZA performance of Black Panther's "All the Stars", but I found it frustrating that the producers didn't find some way to work the song into the telecast somehow. A montage needle drop, underscoring for the pre-commercial announcements, something?!

Even without Lamar (who also missed the Grammys), the night was a mostly solid salvage of Oscar musical tradition. It certainly fared better than some recent years, and also helped set variety and a pace for the night that otherwise felt a tad too amorphously rushed. A Star is Born's "Shallow" triumphed for the win as expected all season long, but what of the performances themselves? Time for a ranking!...

5. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings - "When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
You can't necessarily fault the performance itself - every telecast needs a lovely downshift to balance out the night. But one all of the night's performances, it is the most far off from what made the song special in the film. Instead of ironic whimsy with a hint of melancholy, the songwriters delivered something straight forward. Didn't help that they were enshrined in a neon sunset that was nothing like the Coens' parched palette from Scruggs. Where was the winged Tim Blake Nelson we all craved?!

4. Jennifer Hudson - "I'll Fight" from RBG
The collapse of that big note aside (one wonders if sound issues were involved considering every number had some pitch issues, mhmm even Adam Lambert), Oscar winner Hudson gave an efficient performance here. Most documentary Original Song performances appear at a disadvantage in recreating a film's narrative, but this should have been smoother sailing. Sadly, this uplifting ballad was given an almost funereal, dour presentation. Better luck next year should Hudson perform "Memory" from Cats!

3. Adam Lambert and Queen - "We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions"
As someone who only wants more and more musical numbers (and interpretive dance numbers, etc.) on the telecast, I can't rightly complain about the inclusion of Queen on the telecast despite my distaste for Bohemian Rhapsody. A Ray Charles or Johnny Cash number would have made equal sense in their respective biopic years. Starting the show with a big musical number was the right call without a host, even if we wish Kendrick Lamar had been their to give us a Wakanda extravaganza instead. Hope y'all sell those tour tickets, Queenbert!

2. Better Midler - "The Place Where Lost Things Go" from Mary Poppins Returns
A performance to sway those who disliked the song in the first place. Not to discredit Emily Blunt's one-take vocally stoic performance of the song in the film, but this was enough to deceive us at home to think it was written with the Divine Miss M in mind. Finding the layers of longing and sadness in the song's melody, Midler gave an emotionally subtle moment that both recalled the sweet film and stood on its own. I still argue she could have made this the In Memoriam song, particularly since that task was left to the orchestra.

1. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper - "Shallow" from A Star is Born
Honestly, what would have had to have gone wrong for this to not be the top musical moment of the night? Regardless, the duo wisely kept this very simple and emotional, reminding us of the romance that ignited pop culture for a few wild months. If anything, it was such a perfect moment that you can imagine some voters watching and thinking they should have taken some of the film's gravitas more seriously. Oscar history right here. [Olivia Colman voice] Lady Gaga!!

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (14)

Hard to find much fault with any of these performances but I did think Bette was best. :)

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Why All the stars wasn't performed?

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrown Cow Stunning

Bette Midler is a national treasure. She can breathe life into a piece of cement.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I thought the country act was more enjoyable (charming in every way, if not exciting) than Lambert and Hudson.

In Lambert's case it felt like a vulgar, jarring way to open the show. A tribute to the year's worst nominated movie. One final laundering of the Bohemian Rhapsody image before it won some big awards.

In Hudson's case it was the performance issues you flagged, in addition to being a pretty lame song. Also, that giant SCOTUS backdrop was a little...on the nose.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

All the Stars wasn't performed because Kendrick was on tour, and they decided not to let anyone else perform it, probably as a time-saver. Which is a shame.

I am so glad the songs are back on the Oscars. It makes it feel like a real ceremony. That Shallow performance is now in the Oscar pantheon.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

And what about the In Memoriam? A great performance of the LA Phil under the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, I loved that they played "Leaving Home", a beautiful track from the John Williams score for the first "Superman".

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoel (from Chile)

I find 2 secs of a performers face for a 40 plus year career insulting for the In Memoriam section,i've always found this troubling,like they don't care about great people leaving us,let's just praise whats current,this is a portion i'd like to see change,more tributes to people we lose in that year,i'd rather have had tributes to Icons like Donen or Finney rather than too many musical numbers,it's not the Tony's,although this years crop was strong.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I would have ranked the Buster Scruggs #2. I found it charming in a retro way, and it was vey nicely performed. As it came from a Coen Brothers movie, I feared it would seem condescending. Happily, it was not.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPete

I love JHud so much.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

If I were JHud, I'd be sure that video was unavailable too. That was straight-up bad.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterzig

I'm sorry, but I've listened to Bette Midler's performance a few times since the ceremony and..... I don't like it. The timbre of her voice has never sounded warmer, but there are multiple places where she is JUST flat and it just doesn't sound good. It almost bothered me more than JHud's bum big note.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Cooper/Gaga BROUGHT IT! It was so good that my mom cried as she is a MASSIVE fan of Lady Gaga.

Please, get rid of Adam Lamebert. He doesn't sing. He wails like a banshee and just doesn't have what it takes to sing those songs. Ruth @ Flixchatter showed me a video of a guy that sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" and I was like "why didn't they get this guy to sing?" He almost has Freddie's voice to a tee and actually doesn't try to overdo it or be impressive.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Adam Lambert is not Freddie Mercury. Gaga and Cooper brought movie star magic to the Oscars

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

All Bette Midler fans would agree with Peggy Sue, she really can breathe life into anything.
But the night did belong to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.
I thought the Buster Scruggs song was generic country - I wasn't impressed.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

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