The 93rd Academy Awards took place on Sunday in the now-familiar pandemic-conscious, hybrid live-virtual fashion with the customary musical element taking a notable back seat, from the customary live performances being relegated to the pre-show to the overall lack of “play-off” music that allowed for acceptance speeches to run long. Despite the lack of music during the 2021 Oscars broadcast, some notable musicians took home awards for their work.
Twenty-three-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist H.E.R., fresh off her “Song of the Year” Grammy for “I Can’t Breathe”, won “Best Original Song” for “Fight For You”, the track she wrote alongside Tiara Thomas and D’Mile for “Best Picture” nominee Judas and the Black Messiah. Among others, she beat out fellow EGOT hopeful Leslie Odom Jr. in the category. Odom co-wrote the original song “Speak Now” for One Night In Miami and delivered a “Best Supporting Actor”-nominated performance in the film for his portrayal of late singer and civil rights activist Sam Cooke.
H.E.R. Accepts “Best Original Song” 2021 Oscar For “Fight For You” (Judas and the Black Messiah)
In the “Best Original Score” category, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste took home an Oscar for their work on Soul, following up on their recent Golden Globe win for the animated Disney/Pixar feature about a high school music teacher whose soul gets split from his body just before he gets his big break as a jazz musician. Soul also took home a trophy for “Best Animated Feature”.
Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross Accept “Best Original Score” 2021 Oscar For Soul
In a moment of levity that seemed to embody the award show’s often tense, awkward tone, Oscars DJ Questlove and comedian Lil Rel Howery did some crowd work with the assembled nominees for some “Oscar Music Trivia”. Singer/actress Andra Day (nominated for “Best Actress” for portraying singer Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday) got censored for some stark social commentary about Prince‘s “Purple Rain”, while Daniel Kaluuya, who won “Best Supporting Actor” honors for portraying Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, seemed to assume Donna Summer disco classic “Last Dance” had gotten snubbed by the Oscars because, well, #OscarsSoWhite. The segment was saved somewhat by Glenn Close, who busted out “Da Butt”, the hit go-go song and dance craze made famous by Spike Lee’s School Daze.
Questlove Oscar Trivia w/ Lil Rel Howard, Andra Day, More
Other music-adjacent honorees at the 2021 Oscars included Sound of Metal (“Best Film Editing”/”Best Sound”), about a metal drummer and recovering addict who goes deaf; Two Distant Strangers (“Best Live Action Short Film”), the Groundhog Day-meets-police brutality short film executive produced by Diddy and starring rapper/actor Joey Bada$$; and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (“Best Makeup and Hairstyling”/”Best Costume Design”), the fictionalized tragedy about real-life blues pioneer Ma Rainey and a 1927 recording session gone terribly wrong. Anthony Hopkins‘ “Best Actor” (The Father) win shocked just about everyone, as the pins seemed to be set up for a win by the late Chadwick Boseman, who played a misguided young musician in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, his final performance before his death at last summer following a secret battle with colon cancer.
From Hopkins himself (who was not in attendance in person nor virtually and directly paid homage to Boseman in an acceptance video posted to his social media on Monday) to the show’s producers (who shuffled the order of the awards to put “Best Actor” last in an apparent attempt to end the show with a heartfelt sendoff to Boseman), the win didn’t seem to satisfy anyone. It wasn’t quite 2017-level disastrous (at least they read what was on the card), but it was a bizarre ending fit for an unfamiliar year’s unusual event, succinctly summed up by The New York Times as “surreal … a stage show broadcast on television about films mostly distributed on the internet.”
While the 2021 Academy Awards may have been less than ideal, the show did have some notable upsides, as a record number of women and people of color took home major awards and a more diverse group of stories was highlighted than in previous years. So that’s something.
Here’s to a 2021 with far more trips to the movie theater and a 2022 awards season with far fewer Zoom calls.
For a full list of 2021 Academy Award winners and nominees, head here. See below for the live music performances by the “Best Original Song” nominees from the 2021 Oscars pre-show.
H.E.R. – “Fight For You” (Judas and the Black Messiah) – 2021 Oscars Pre-Show
Celeste – “Hear My Voice” (The Trial of the Chicago 7) – 2021 Oscars Pre-Show
Leslie Odom Jr. – “Speak Now” (One Night In Miami) – 2021 Oscars Pre-Show
Molly Sanden – “Husavik” (Eurovision Song Contest) – 2021 Oscars Pre-Show
Diane Warren and Laura Pausini – “Io Sì (Seen)” (The Life Ahead) – 2021 Oscars Pre-Show