The Oscars are a fascinating curiosity. For a shindig meant to honour the film world’s best* in artistic achievement and enchanting storytelling, the Academy Awards can be a total shitshow to watch. That’s a big part of its illustrious appeal, but you’d think such a swanky affair would put an active interest in not being terrible.
(*Some restrictions may apply. See how white this year’s nominee slate is for details.)
We have high hopes for Chris Rock’s second go-around as host, but even if he crushes (which he probably will until someone gets mad he dares mention Meryl Streep) there’s still the guarantee that large chunks of the broadcast are gonna suck. It’s just how it is and we all get to have a nice moan about it during a slightly fancier Diet Coke ad at the break.
As you might suspect, the musical side of the Oscars aren’t exactly a reprieve from crap either. Sometimes we’re spoiled and get Björk performing “I’ve Seen It All” from Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (complete with swan dress) and other times we get… well, probably Meghan Trainor bopping around with her song from the Peanuts movie. It’s a cruel way of doing business, but the Academy Awards aren’t exactly known for being in-touch and of-the-moment.
The 88th Academy Awards are set to take place on Sunday, February 28th and we’re in the mood to backstroke through the forgotten waters of Oscars past. Here’s a look at nine peculiar musical moments.
Whole New Lowe
Some Oscar ceremonies are good(ish), some are bad, but only one was the batshit-caked whirling dervish of madness that was the show they put on in 1989. Here’s how it opened: A nice lady playing Snow White (Eileen Bowman: a woman who has our permanent sympathy) stars in a surreal musical number hellscape that also features Rob Lowe not far removed from his big sex scandal.
Going on for a soul-shredding 11 minutes, you can see how members of the crowd want to whisk Snow away somewhere safe as this number is goes from “beginning” to “dead” to “decomposing” in about 90 seconds time. Stick around for Snow and Lowe tackling “Proud Mary” and presenting the world with the living embodiment of anti-sex.
Pimp and Circumstance
There’s always a fuss made about Three Six Mafia winning Best Original Song at the Oscars in 2006, but it’s not really all that nutty. Disagree? Have a think about how many times you’ve listened to Bird York’s “In the Deep” from Crash in the your day-to-day since then.
“It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” snagging the prize doesn’t tick the “strange” box, although it is a little wild seeing Best Little Whorehouse in Texas star Dolly Parton enthusiastically applauding Queen Latifah’s joyous reference to pimping. (Good egg, that fellow nominee Dolly.)
One thing that is a little peculiar is how Terrence Howard could have performed the track at the ceremony if he chose to. He didn’t, so Three Six Mafia and Taraji P. Henson (you forgot?) did the cut in front of Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and the rest of the collection of Academy Awards regulars equipped with a very Oscars-y presentation.
It’s not unreasonable to have sour feelings towards Phil Collins, but even musical masochists would be cringing forever at the sight of the Genesis vet sitting through Ann Reinking’s rendition of his song “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” at the 1985 Oscars.
The song, which would lose to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You” at that night’s ceremony, was given a bedazzled Broadway treatment that felt more like a shared hallucination of wine moms that have been swapping pills. #OscarsAlwaysSoWhite
Fugue For Fuck It Whatever Dude
You always know you’re in for a treat when you see dancers working their magic on top of a Poltergeist II marquee. 1987’s ceremony featured an opening number that answered the globe’s prayers and finally aligned the forces of Telly Savalas, Dom DeLuise, and Pat Morita to sing “Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls.
Mix in a goofy dance sequence featuring the titles of recent hits proudly adorned in the background and you’ve got some compellingly ridiculous TV. It’s the sort of opening number that’d be suggested by a studio executive slipping comfortably into senility with the occasional shout of “WHO LOVES YA, BABY!”
All Gold Everything
The 1988 Oscars (reminder: late ’80s Oscars shows were weird) featured Chevy Chase getting panned as host, but that’s not exactly all that surprising, isn’t it? The ceremony also boasted an opening number showcasing motherfuckers acting as hard as they can.
The intro spot includes a collection of performances where actors theatre shit up in the way they portray different facets of the film industry. It’s all campy fun until the singing and dancing Oscars come to life and the audience is waterboarded with nightmare fuel. Or maybe you’ll be aroused by them. You do you.
Deaf Oscar Sham
Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” managed to be inescapable in the late ’70s despite the Lite FM tune having all the charm of eating a bowl of discount toothpaste. The adult contemporary staple even made an appearance on the 1977 broadcast of the Academy Awards, although the performance wasn’t exactly glowing with honesty.
Boone’s performance was a ritzy affair featuring girls brought in from the John Tracy Clinic for the Deaf to sign for the audience. There was just one hiccup: None of the girls were actually deaf (or even from the mentioned clinic) and people clued in to the con when the signing provided was random gibberish performed differently by each girl. The Oscars tried to defend the gaffe by saying they didn’t specifically claim the children from the deaf school had hearing problems, so we’re really the monsters for assuming such a thing. SO BRAVE, HOLLYWOOD! WE HOPE TO LEARN FROM YOU SOMEDAY!
What’s Up With The Youth
You can always count on the Academy Awards to keep you in the know regarding what’s young, hip, and current. Namely, if it’s on their broadcast, it’s probably not one of those things. (These generalizations do not apply to costuming or sound design which is likely where it needs to be.) Continuing 1989’s exciting vision of “entertainment” for the Oscar crowd was a musical number titled “I Wanna Be An Oscar Winner” featuring such rising stars as Chad Lowe, Page Hannah, and Tyrone Power Jr. OH THE COUNTLESS OSCARS THAT CAME THEIR WAY!
We’re being a bit harsh. Patrick Dempsey, Blair Underwood, Christian Slater, and future talk show gladiator Ricki Lake all pop up in the production which feels like something a frat would design to humiliate its pledges. You have to at least award points to the producers for being transparent about it. You’ve got these poor kids wanting to get work as future titans of film and they’ve been asked to roll around in turds for like five minutes. A real win-win deal!
A few of the sequences get so Oscar worshippy that it nearly devolves into a Clips4Sale video where everybody jizzes on the golden idol. There’s a good reason why “I Wanna Be An Oscar Winner” hasn’t become an annual staple.
Outstanding Achievement In The Field Of Making The Audience Uncomfortable
Let this be a reminder to either settle your beefs BEFORE the Oscars or have an agreement in place to hold a duel when you pick up your award. In 2010, viewers were left trying to sort out what the hell was going on when the award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) led to some mic crashing.
Director Roger Ross Williams went to collect the award for his statuette snaring film Music by Prudence, but found his speech cut off by a lady that sprung up from the gaggle, swooped in on the mic and cut off Williams’ speech with a “The man never lets the woman talk. Isn’t that just the classic thing?” before leaning into her own speech.
Was this a bit? Was this lady a pal? Was this lady a drunk pal? A crazy person? Someone under the sway of a What Would ODB Do bracelet? Turns out, the speech-crasher was Elinor Burkett. Burkett, a journalist originally named as a producer on the film, was embroiled in a nasty battle with Williams over Music by Prudence. Free Pitch: There’s probably an alright documentary (short subject or otherwise) that could be knocked out about the event.
Please, Mr. Skin Was My Father’s Name
Seth MacFarlane’s 2013 tour of duty of hosting the Oscars was pretty much doomed well before the ceremony even started. The Griffin spawner wasn’t exactly a critical darling going in and his “ain’t I a stinker!” style of winking naughty MC presentation could only wring so much goodwill out of the crowd.
A monologue gag featuring MacFarlane singing the jaunty “We Saw Your Boobs” in an alternate timeline where he’s already blown the Oscars comes to mind as one of the forgettable moments. It’s the sort of thing that could actually hit the marks of cute and self-effacing if the song weren’t so dreadful.
It doesn’t help that MacFarlane comes across more like Ricky Gervais than Steve Martin, which means this one-note joke isn’t even propped up on charm. It’s “get it, men love tits!” unfurled for like 30-45 seconds like the giant comedy turd it is. The safety net of saying it’s bad ahead of time doesn’t cancel out the fact it’s such an irritating watch.