A Star Is Born sensations Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are all but assured to perform the film’s hit song “Shallow” at the Academy Awards next month, but it’ll be one of only two songs that will be performed during the telecast. The only other song will be Kendrick Lamar and SZA‘s “All the Stars” from Black Panther, according to a new report from Variety.
What this means is that “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, “I’ll Fight” from the hit documentary RBG and “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Coen brothers’ anthology film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will not receive the same global showcase as their competitors. While some will suggest this gives Black Panther and A Star Is Born a competitive advantage, as it signals that the Academy seemingly prefers those two chart toppers to the other nominees, I think it’s merely a ratings play for the Academy. Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar are popular artists who could bring in a new audience that hasn’t tuned in to past Oscar ceremonies. As much as I enjoyed Tim Blake Nelson‘s ballad from Buster Scruggs, I can imagine a lot of young people tuning out during that old-fashioned tune.
According to Variety, the Academy is saying that no final decisions have been made regarding song performances, though the trade’s sources suggest that the other nominees have been made aware of the plan and are, understandably, frustrated. However, the ballots will have already been turned in, so it’s not like a dynamite performance at the Oscars would sway the voting results in any way. And meanwhile, let’s be honest here… there’s is no way that Lady Gaga loses this Oscar. “All the Stars” is a banger of a song, but it’s not timeless like “Shallow,” which will be performed in karaoke bars for the next 20 years or whenever we get a new take on A Star Is Born — whichever comes first.
Limiting the number of song performances is a tough but smart move on the Academy’s part, as past years have recalled the Tony Awards in the opinion of this loyal viewer. The Oscars aren’t about fairness, they’re a business, and Hollywood can’t afford for the show’s ratings to continue their decline. Audiences have shorter attention spans than ever before, which is why the show’s producers are trying to limit the broadcast to three hours. Perhaps that’s why the Academy is cutting three songs from the show along with an unspecified number of below-the-line categories that will be awarded during commercial breaks.
Of course, by snubbing songs from Mary Poppins Returns and RBG, the Academy is denying themselves the possible ratings boon that Emily Blunt or Jennifer Hudson could bring. Meanwhile, the country song from Buster Scruggs might appeal to viewers in middle America who may perceive the Oscars as a show designed for the coastal elite. I’d argue that one encouraging sign within this news is that Disney, which owns Oscars network ABC and Black Panther producer Marvel, didn’t try to muscle the song from Mary Poppins Returns onto the telecast, thereby having two songs to the one from Warner Bros. This news could’ve just as easily been about three songs getting the greenlight from Oscars producers, seeing as Mary Poppins Returns was a strong box office performer just like Black Panther and A Star Is Born, while RBG and Buster Scruggs reached a fraction as many people.
But I totally understand why this would be considered a controversial move right now, seeing as all of the nominated songs have been performed during the last three Oscar telecasts. To be fair, per Variety, none of the nominated songs were performed during the 2010 or 2012 ceremonies.
I think the Academy is doing the right thing here, even if it’s not totally fair to some of the nominees. You can’t make everyone happy, and the question remains as to whether the Academy should be trying to please its constituents or its global audience first. This situation feels fluid to me, so stay tuned. Mary Poppins may very well return, you never know…