Oscars 2019: Brutally honest rankings of every musical performance

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From first-time wins to steamy live performances, the 2019 Oscars had plenty of must-see moments. Courtesy A.M.P.A.S.© 2019

On an Oscar night that was low on exhilarating moments, we could have used the star power of Kendrick Lamar and SZA, who skipped out on performing their nominated hit song “All the Stars” from superhero movie “Black Panther.”

But even without rap and R&B royalty within our midst, there were still a few things to admire from the performances during Sunday night’s telecast (most of which were nearly axed, as part of the academy’s divisive efforts to cut time). From “Bohemian Rhapsody” subjects Queen to “A Star Is Born” lovebirds Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, we’ve ranked those who took the stage from best to worst. 

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

Grade: A

If Jackson and Ally Maine had a happier fate in “A Star Is Born,” this is probably what “Shallow” would’ve sounded like had they performed it years later in a jazz bar: both dressed to the nines, locking eyes from across a grand piano, still very much in love as they dueted on the already-iconic power ballad.  

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Of the three times we’ve seen Gaga and Cooper sing the song together – first in the film and last month during Gaga’s Vegas show, during which she literally fawned at his feet – this was certainly the tamest, most straightforward “Shallow” that we’ve seen. Cooper, dropping Jackson’s gravelly voice, was mostly in tune, while Gaga performed her usual vocal gymnastics. But their swoon-worthy chemistry made this the telecast’s easy highlight, as the former co-stars sparked romance rumors on social media with their unusually close and googly-eyed performance. 

Oscars: Fans go wild over Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper’s ‘intimate’ performance

‘A Star Is Born’: Good luck getting Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper’s ‘Shallow’ out of your head

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

Grade: A- 

Joel and Ethan Coens’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was one of the most unconventional and underlooked nominees of this year’s bunch, scoring one of its well-deserved three nominations for best original song (“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings”). But while the song is used solely for comedic effect in the film – as Tim Blake Nelson’s gun-slinging character ascends to heaven – Welch and Rawlings did a refreshing bluegrass spin on the tune: reinventing the song into a wistful dirge, complete with gorgeous harmonies and acoustic guitar. 

More: Oscars 2019: The winners list

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Bette Midler

Grade: B+

Look, we still don’t totally understand how one of the blandest tunes from “Mary Poppins Returns” got nominated here. (Seriously, have you heard “A Cover is Not the Book?”) But points to Midler for delivering a sweet, loungey rendition of mournful lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” grinning and emoting throughout the piano-backed performance. It wasn’t quite as moving as Emily Blunt’s gentler interpretation in the film but still satisfying and lovely to look at, with floating red umbrellas and projections of the London skyline glimmering in the background.

Jennifer Hudson

Grade: B- 

Every singer has an off night. There’s no denying Hudson’s powerhouse vocal prowess, which catapulted her to a supporting actress Oscar for 2006 movie musical “Dreamgirls.” But her passionate performance of Oscar-nominated song “I’ll Fight” (from documentary “RBG”) got off to a shaky start and never quite recovered, feeling rushed and sounding flat for much of its condensed minute-and-a-half run time.

Queen and Adam Lambert

Grade: C+

Well, at least they tried. Queen was joined by its longtime tourmate, “American Idol” alum Adam Lambert, for fog-filled, vibrato-heavy takes on the band’s iconic hits “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” at the top of the show. But not even Lambert’s powerful voice or Brian May’s rollicking guitar solo could liven up the ho-hum performance, which felt wildly out of place opening Hollywood’s biggest night, despite its “Bohemian Rhapsody” connection. The audience’s reaction was equally awkward, split between dutiful head-bobbing and stone-faced silence. (Although, points for giving us GIFs of Amy Adams and Allison Janney earnestly dancing along.)

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