Only two of this year’s five Oscar-nominated songs may be performed live on the Academy Awards show Feb. 24, Variety has learned.
Multiple sources tell Variety that the two biggest chart hits — Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” and Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” — are the two chosen by Academy execs and show producers for performance on the telecast.
The other three — “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns,” “I’ll Fight” from “RBG” and “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” — would likely be acknowledged only during the announcement of the song nominees. Rumors of their exclusion is already causing consternation among members of the music branch as well as among those nominees’ respective camps.
The Academy declined specific comment except to say that no decision on song performances has been made yet.
A source with knowledge of the Academy’s thinking says cutting songs is less a knock on the nominees than something long discussed as part of this year’s mandate to limit the show to three hours. The Academy has hinted that several Oscars (for so-called “craft” categories such as sound editing and sound mixing) will be presented during commercials, an already controversial move.
Both the “Black Panther” and “Star Is Born” soundtrack albums are on the Interscope label and, should this plan become reality, it could be perceived as favoritism toward one record company, although the two films are from different studios and the decision likely comes down to the songs’ massive popularity dwarfing the rest of the field.
The three numbers that look to be left in the lurch all bring name recognition that makes the move to exclude even a medley of performances somewhat surprising — most obviously in the case of Emily Blunt, who sang her “Poppins” song on-screen in a key moment, and Jennifer Hudson, a previous Oscar winner, who sang the theme for “RBG.” With the “Buster Scruggs” song, producers might have had the choice of going with the actors who sang it on screen, Tim Blake Nelson and Willie Watson, or its writers, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who are amphitheater headliners in their own right who have performed the tune in their concerts.
As rumors about the move have spread, music-business observers, for the most part, have quietly condemned the move as unfair and misleading. Oscars for Best Song are awarded not on the basis of commercial success but rather based on their dramatic use within a cinematic context.
Performing all of the nominated songs is an Academy tradition and, when producers break from that practice, criticism is inevitable. All of the nominated songs have been performed in six of the past 10 Oscarcasts, including all of the last three.
But there is precedent for producers making a judgment call about how many to include. None of the nominated songs were performed in the 2010 and 2012 broadcasts, and just three of the five nominees were performed in 2013 and 2016. Last year, word circulated early on that Sufjan Stevens’ nominated song was slated to be cut from the telecast, although after considerable feedback, it was ultimately included as part of a medley.