In the wake of the 91st annual Academy Awards, there’s a lot now to look back on and unpack. We’ll keep our rundown restricted to the musical performances of the night. If you’re looking for a full list of nominations and awards, I believe this site may be of some assistance.
Before we break down our favorite performances, it’s worth mentioning one that we all missed out on. Due to the absence of Kendrick Lamar and SZA, we unfortunately did not get a chance to see the Academy Award-nominated song, “All the Stars” from Black Panther. I have no doubt that it would have stolen the top spot of this list.
Still, the show had to go on, even with the absence of Lamar and SZA. During the Oscars broadcast, four other Academy Award-nominated songs were performed, as well as one Bohemian Rhapsody-inspired opening tune. All of the performances were great, but there are few things more satisfying than ranking a collection of near-perfect songs.
So without further ado, here’s a list of those five performances, ranked from worst to first.
5. “I’ll Fight” – Jennifer Hudson
While I hesitated before placing Jennifer Hudson’s performance as the worst of the 2019 Oscars, I feel like there’s no other place to put it. Emilia Clarke’s introduction might have been better than the underwhelming song. In it, she joked that her Game of Thrones’ character Khaleesi has nothing on RBG, and that she could borrow the dragons anytime.
That being said, Jennifer Hudson can still turn a largely forgettable song into a stellar performance. Even standing by herself in that giant dress, she commanded the stage with the air of a seasoned professional.
4. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Bette Midler
Honestly, the fourth and fifth spots on this list are pretty interchangeable. They both featured amazing artists singing pretty weak songs that felt out of place among the other nominees. As opposed to Hudson’s passionate belting, Bette Midler commanded the stage with a measured restraint and sensitivity.
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” oozed with the magic and nostalgia of Disney. It’s too bad that that easy listening fluff now feels both out of place and outdated. Still, Midler finds the beauty in its simplicity.
3. “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” – Gillian Welch, David Rawlings
I would have liked to see Tim Blake Nelson singing his little ditty from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs on live TV, but Gillian Welch and David Rawlings did a fine job. Their soulful crooning lent some added warmth to this charming song.
Even though The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was maybe my least favorite Coen Brothers’ film, you can’t deny the magic of its music. It’s plucky, wistful, and just sad enough to lift the spirits of even the most downtrodden cowpoke.
2. “Shallow” – Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper
Listen, I know it won the Oscar for Best Song, but that doesn’t mean that Bradley Cooper is a good singer. Lady Gaga pulled the majority of the weight in this song, and is largely responsible for its success. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but cringe during Cooper’s guttural crooning. I actually laughed out loud when he was trying to harmonize during their duet.
Gaga’s voice is powerful, commanding, and displays incredible range and control. So it may just be that no one would sound as good in comparison. It’s admirable that Bradley Cooper was brave enough to sing along with her, but to suggest that he even carries a fraction of the same talent and skill is laughable. He is the only reason I don’t consider this the best performance of the night.
1. “We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions” – Adam Lambert, Queen
The best performance of the night was the one that kicked off the 91st Academy Awards. Despite how anyone may feel about the accuracy of the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, there’s no doubt that the music is not to blame. In a way, it seems strange to pit such legendary songs up against those that were up for nomination. In a list like this, it’s almost unfair.
While Adam Lambert can’t match the intensity of Freddie Mercury, he did a fine job in doing justice to the late singer. It was the only song that played throughout the awards ceremony that got everyone up on their feet, stomping and clapping along. For that alone, it deserves the first place ranking on this list. If you don’t believe me, go and watch it for yourself.
The 91st Academy Awards musical performances were lively and varied. If “All the Stars” had played, I imagine it would slide right into the number two spot behind Queen and Lambert. But hey, who am I to argue with the Academy?