The Academy Awards are about the glitz, the glamour, the gowns, and everything in between. Actors, actresses, directors, producers, and Hollywood’s biggest names come together one night every year to celebrate the best achievements in 24 different categories. The Oscars are about the movies, yes, but one of those categories honors the best song written and performed for the movies being honored on Oscar night. And it’s a long tradition for those songs to be performed during the Academy Awards.
While not every song that has been nominated for an Academy Award gets the distinction of being performed during the telecast, there have been a number of very memorable performances. From Elton John singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to Adele’s breathtaking performance of “Skyfall,” some of the best Oscar music performances often upstage the divas walking the red carpet. Here is a look back at some of the greatest Best Song performances at the Oscars over the years.
History of the Best Song CategoryRead More »
What makes this category especially unique is that it can be recognized during the annual television broadcast. While the Academy Awards provides quick clips or montages of the other categories nominated, when done well, the producers of the Oscars can highlight each of the nominated songs with live performances from the song’s performer, providing exceptionally high entertainment value for a generally long night of speeches and presentations.
Michael Jackson – “Ben” (1973)
The King of Pop delivered an unforgettable performance at the 1973 Academy Awards when he sang “Ben,” a song written for the movie of the same name. Michael Jackson’s impassioned delivery and powerful stage presence turned what could have been a forgettable moment in Oscar history into one of the most memorable musical performances ever seen at the Academy Awards. The ovation he received at the end of his performance is still considered one of the greatest chills-inducing moments in Oscar history.
Watch Michael Jackson perform “Ben” at the Oscars.
Diana Ross & Lionel Richie – “Endless Love” (1982)
Standing intimately close together on stage during the 1982 Academy Awards ceremony, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sang a duet of their hit single “Endless Love,” the song they had written for the movie of the same name. The performance was one of great romance and joy, as the two singers were in sync with each other’s every move. At one point during their performance, Diana even winked at Lionel, making it one of the most romantic moments ever seen at the Oscars.
Watch Diana Ross and Lionel Richie perform “Endless Love” at the Oscars.
The Temptations – “Eye of the Tiger” (1983)
This iconic Rocky anthem was originally recorded by the band Survivor, but for some reason, the Oscars invited The Temptations to do their unique version of the song. The result was an incredible, electrifying performance that left the audience on their feet. The Temptations’ version of “Eye of the Tiger” is easily one of the best musical performances in Oscar history and a great example of how good live music can really bring movie magic to life.
Watch The Temptations perform “Eye of the Tiger” at the Oscars.
Madonna – “Sooner or Later” (1991)
Having also starred in the 1990 film Dick Tracy, Madonna graces the Oscar stage in classic Hollywood fashion to perform her song “Sooner or Later,” which was nominated for Best Song that year. Madonna is a master of showmanship, and her performance takes the breath away with its elegance and glamour. She puts on a show that is both delightful to watch and undeniably romantic, making it one of the most remarkable Oscar performances ever seen.
Watch Madonna perform “Sooner or Later” at the Oscars.
Bruce Springsteen – “Streets of Philadelphia” (1994)
Bruce Springsteen wrote the haunting yet gripping “Streets of Philadelphia” for the movie Philadelphia, which starred Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. It was a song that captured the depths of despair while also delivering a powerful message of hope and resilience. When Springsteen performed the song at the 1994 Academy Awards, it brought an entire auditorium of celebrities to their feet in admiration. His performance is still regarded as one of the greatest musical moments in Oscar history, and certainly one of the best Best Song performances ever.
Watch Bruce Springsteen perform “Streets of Philadelphia” at the Oscars.
Elton John – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (1994)
The 1994 Oscars were truly a memorable night for music, as Elton John also graced the stage to perform “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Disney movie The Lion King. It was a beautiful and uplifting song, and Elton John’s performance only added to its beauty and power. His performance resonated with audiences around the world, and it was an especially fitting choice for the Best Song category given that it had already won numerous awards prior to being up for an Academy Award. Elton John’s performance is still remembered as one of the best Best Song performances ever, and a reminder of the power of music to bring people together.
Watch Elton John perform “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” at the Oscars.
Elliot Smith – “Miss Misery” (1998)
The late, great singer-songwriter Elliot Smith wrote the song “Miss Misery” for the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. It was a somber and bittersweet number that perfectly captured the moment in which it appeared onscreen. Smith’s performance at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony was one of the best performances ever seen at the Oscars — simple yet elevated — as he managed to capture all of the emotion and nuance of the song in his performance. It’s a moment that won’t soon be forgotten and is a reminder of how powerful music can be.
Watch Elliot Smith perform “Miss Misery” at the Oscars.
Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On” (1998)
The 1998 Oscars may go down in history as being the greatest lineup of Best Song Oscar performances of all time, and Celine Dion is one of the reasons why. Her iconic performance of “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic was incredibly poignant and emotive, and Celine Dion sang it with such passion that it likely brought audiences around the world to tears. Even today, her performance is still talked about as one of the best musical performances in Oscar history.
Watch Celine Dion perform “My Heart Will Go On” at the Oscars.
Aerosmith – “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (1999)
Written for the big-budget disaster movie Armageddon, Aerosmith’s power ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was a song that resonated with audiences everywhere. The band had already been experiencing a resurgence in popularity at the time, so when they took the stage to perform this heartfelt number at the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony, it sent an entire auditorium of stars and celebrities into a state of rapture. Aerosmith’s passionate and electrifying performance is still remembered as one of the best Best Song performances ever and serves as a reminder that love can conquer all.
Watch Aerosmith perform “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” at the Oscars.
Adele – “Skyfall” (2013)
Adele had already proven herself to be one of the most powerful vocalists in pop music when she was asked to perform her Oscar-winning song “Skyfall” from the James Bond movie at the 2013 Academy Awards. Her performance was a near-flawless rendition that stunned audiences and critics alike. Adele’s voice was simply mesmerizing, and her performance of “Skyfall” will undoubtedly go down as one of the best Best Song performances ever.
Watch Adele perform “Skyfall” at the Oscars.
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – “Shallow” (2019)
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” from the movie A Star Is Born at the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony is another Best Song performance at the Oscars that will likely go down in history as one of the most memorable musical performances in Oscar history. It was a powerful duet that showcased both Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s vocal talents, as well as their amazing on-screen chemistry. It was an electrifying performance that brought the audience to its feet.
Watch Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper perform “Shallow” at the Oscars.
Eminem – “Lose Yourself” (2020)
While this performance came about 20 years after the song was originally nominated for Best Song for the film 8 Mile, Eminem’s iconic performance of “Lose Yourself” at the 2020 Academy Awards was a moment that won’t soon be forgotten. It was an emotional and powerful performance, with Eminem delivering an emphatic rendition of the hit song in front of a star-studded audience. The moment will live on for years to come as one of the most memorable musical performances at the Oscars.
Watch Eminem perform “Lose Yourself” at the Oscars.
Billie Eilish & Finneas – “No Time To Die” (2022)
Yet another Best Song nomination for a James Bond film — and well deserved — Billie Eilish dazzled a worldwide audience with her performance of the title song from the film “No Time To Die.” The song was as haunting as it was evocative, and another unforgettable Best Song performance at the Oscars.
Watch Billie Eilish and Finneas perform “No Time To Die” at the Oscars.
Catch the Best Song Performances at the Oscars
The Best Song Oscar performances over the years have been some of the most memorable musical moments in history, and there is no denying that these performances by artists like Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, and Eminem will be remembered for years to come. So make sure to watch the Academy Awards each year to catch some of the best musical performances in Oscar history.
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