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Forget The Grammys! Here Are The 27 Most Memorable Musical Moments From The Oscars

As Lady Gaga would say, "Haaaaaa—aaaaaah."

This year's Oscars are right around the corner.

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They air on ABC on April 25.

And yes, we love the movies, and the speeches, and the audience reactions.

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Remember when La La Land won Best Picture and then, halfway through the speeches, we were told Moonlight actually won?

But something must also be said for the music. Every year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invites the Best Song nominees to perform for Hollywood's biggest stars, and magical moments are created.

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Okay, so a lot of the time, the performances are actually mediocre, BUT on occasion we do get a magical moment, folks.

So without any further ado, here are 27 of the greatest Best Song performances in Oscars history.

ABC / Via

1. "Last Dance" (1979), Donna Summer

Donna Summer performing at the Oscars

Let’s start things right with the winner of the 1979 Oscar for Best Song (beating out “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease, among others). Performing her disco hit from Thank God It’s Friday, which she starred in alongside Jeff Goldblum, Donna Summer took over the Oscar telecast. In a category often packed with stuffy ballads, Summer, in a sparkly bright-red dress, brought an electric energy to the stage. Oh, and because it was the 1970s, there were just gigantic spinning mirrors hanging out in the background.

2. "9 to 5" (1981), Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton surrounded by dancers

Vaccine queen Dolly Parton never disappoints, so when you see she’s performing at the Oscars, you know it’s going to be good. Singing her titular hit from 9 to 5 (which is required viewing for the entire human race), Dolly flawlessly delivered the “I hate my job” anthem. And who doesn’t love a bunch of trained male dancers dressed as manual laborers, à la the Village People, prancing in circles around Dolly while she belts? We stan good choreo. The fact that this song lost to “Fame” is really the first thing I would go back and fix if given a time machine.

3. "Endless Love" (1982), Lionel Richie and Diana Ross

Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sing at the Oscars

This number started with living legends Diana Ross and Lionel Richie descending giant white staircases on opposite sides of the stage, and it just got better from there. The pair, who were performing their hit from the 1981 Brooke Shields romantic film of the same name, crooned away at each other while the academy watched. The song would go on to lose the Oscar to “Best That You Can Do” from Arthur, but it would be covered by Mariah Carey and Shania Twain, so who is the real loser?

4. "Eye of the Tiger" (1983), the Temptations

The Temptations perform at the Oscars

On a fairly regular basis, the producers of the Academy Awards telecast decide they need more star power for their show, and one way to boost the level of celebrity is to bring in the big guns for a musical performance. While this iconic high school basketball team warmup song was performed by the band Survivor in the Rocky film, the academy recruited the Temptations to sing it at the show. In matching outfits and with matching choreography, the Motown legends presented the razzle-dazzle before the song lost to “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman. Weird piece of trivia: “Eye of the Tiger,” despite being THE song of the Rocky franchise, first appears in Rocky III (aka the one with Mr. T).

5. "Let's Hear It for the Boy" (1985), Deniece Williams

Deniece Williams performs at the Oscars

In a stacked Best Song year when the competition included the theme songs from Footloose and Ghostbusters, as well as hits by Stevie Wonder and Phil Collins, this jaunty performance by Deniece Williams stood out. She whirled around the stage in a very sparkly, flowy gown (watch it twinkle in those '80s film lenses) while a full band performed behind her atop glowing pink blocks. Deniece, the song from Footloose, and the performance are just so joyful. I must also confess that this is my go-to jam for when I need a pump-up, and the boy I need to "hear it for" is myself.

6. "Sooner or Later" (1991), Madonna

Madonna dressed as Marilyn Monroe

Is that the ghost of Marilyn Monroe? Nah, it’s just Madonna. The chart-topping Queen of Pop graced the Oscar stage in a Marilyn-inspired performance of the song she also sang in Dick Tracy. Written by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, the lyrics zipped along as Madge flaunted for the camera. Her Oscar competition, a poor little children’s choir performing the Home Alone song, didn’t stand a chance.

7. "Beauty and the Beast" (1992), Peabo Bryson, Celine Dion, and Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury and two dancers at the Oscars

For every classic, timeless, breathtaking Oscar Best Song performance, we get at least one goofy clunker. Enter: this bonkers performance of the eventual Oscar winner from the Disney classic. We start with a ballerina flitting around another dancer (dressed as the Beast?) crouched on a pedestal (why?) in a cage (why?) while Mrs. Potts herself, Angela Lansbury, sings. And then, just to make it weirder, we trot out Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion while the creepy Beast ballerina dances around some more. AND THEN all five of them do a bow together like it’s the curtain call of your junior high musical. So strange, but so mesmerizing.

8. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (1995), Elton John

Elton John sitting at the piano

Disney really ran train in the Best Song category in the '90s, with wins for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Tarzan (and Hercules only lost because it ran against Titanic). This performance of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" by Elton John, who wrote the song and later took home the Oscar, is a master class in timelessness. Beautiful vocals and instrumentals with not a Timon or Pumbaa ballerina in sight.

9. "Journey to the Past" (1998), Aaliyah

Aaliyah performing at the Oscars

Attempting to replicate the Disney model for animated musical success, Fox produced Anastasia and, like Disney, promoted their lead song for the Oscars with a flashy celebrity-sung cover. The 19-year-old Aaliyah sang her version at the Academy Awards, becoming the youngest woman ever to perform at the ceremony. Anastasia (like Hercules) would fall victim to Celine Dion, but the moment stands as a reminder of just how talented Aaliyah was.

10. "My Heart Will Go On (1998), Celine Dion

Celine Dion with an orchestra

And speaking of Celine…with the exception of “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, I would argue this is the most iconic Best Song winner ever. Titanic was unstoppable that year. No one else was getting within an ocean liner’s reach of that Oscar. In the goosebump-raising performance, Celine belts out the unforgettable ballad with the Heart of the Ocean around her neck, the fog machine on full blast, and the orchestra dressed up like the Titanic's ill-fated band in the background. From the first notes of that little flute, I was entranced.

11. "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (1999), Aerosmith

Steven Tyler performing at the Oscars with Aerosmith

No, this isn’t your 10th-grade school dance. This is the 1999 Oscars (although both events featured sweaty, nervous people in formalwear and this Aerosmith song)! The power ballad and bona fide radio hit from Armageddon (which starred Steven Tyler’s daughter Liv) was written by perennial Oscar loser Diane Warren, which meant it was cursed from the start, but the rock 'n' roll performance certainly spiced up the at-times stuffy ceremony.

12. "When You Believe" (1999), Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston

Mariah and Carey and Whitney Houston holding hands

And taking home the 1999 statue that Diane Warren lost is this song from the animated film The Prince of Egypt. Performing together (i.e., duel to the vocal death) were Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Yes, they were holding hands. Yes, they were smiling. Yes, they were wearing matching white dresses and singing about the Bible. But the competition was alive and well. Watch this performance and tell me you’re not getting big “I’m getting the solo in our next show-choir concert” energy. The riffs. The runs. The range. This was a rivalry, and we were just lucky to watch.

13. "Blame Canada" (2000), Robin Williams

Robin Williams leading a string of dancers

Most Oscar-nominated songs are powerful anthems or pop hits, but every now and again, a comedy song sneaks in, such as this little ditty from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. (Don’t you love that someone had to read that at the ceremony?) In the film, it's sung by a chorus of South Park parents, but at the Oscars, comedy legend Robin Williams was recruited to perform the piece. Who could resist Mrs. Doubtfire high-kicking with a bunch of Canadian mounties? Not I.

14. "Music of My Heart" (2000), Gloria Estefan and NSYNC

Gloria Estefan singing between Justin and JC Chasez

Look, I fully acknowledge that this performance might be run-of-the-mill to you, reader, sitting here in 2021. BUT I am writing this list, and I was OBSESSED with NSYNC as a preteen (because my older cousins told me to be), so NSYNC is making the cut. I have never heard of the Meryl Streep film Music of the Heart. I don’t know what it’s about. I have no desire to find out. BUT I’d recognize my favorite boy band harmonizing while wearing baggy pastel suits anywhere. So I’m putting these legends on the list.

15. "I've Seen It All" (2001), Björk

Bjork in the swan dress

This is not about the performance. This is about the dress. When Björk was asked to sing her song from the Danish film Dancer in the Dark, in which she stars, at the Oscars, she decided to show up in a dress that looked like a swan. She then performed her very dour song looking as if a giant bird had died on top of her. It is the most memorable piece of Oscar fashion this millennium. Honestly, the academy should have called an audible and given her the Best Costume Oscar on the spot.

16. "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" (2004), Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara sing at the Oscars

Long before Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara graced our screens as Johnny and Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek, they played the folk duo Mitch & Mickey in Christopher Guest’s mockumentary A Mighty Wind. The pair of Canadian funny people reunited in character at the Oscars to perform their zither-infused folk tune (and kissed in the middle of it). Don’t let their loss to a Lord of the Rings song or Moira’s warbly performances with the Jazzagals hide the fact that these two can certainly carry a tune.

17. "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (2006), Three 6 Mafia and Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson and Three 6 Mafia perform at the Oscars

The (mostly older, mostly white) academy seems at home with the genres of pop, rock, soul, and country, but its members rarely acknowledge the rap songs that shine on the big screen. This made the win for the Hustle & Flow song all the more astonishing. At the ceremony, the song’s writers, Three 6 Mafia, rapped along with Taraji P. Henson, who sang it in the film, while an ensemble of what I assume were actors dressed as pimps and sex workers strutted across the stage. The fact that this performance directly followed Meryl Streep giving out a Lifetime Achievement Award and preceded Jennifer Garner giving out the Best Sound Editing Oscar really set the mood even more.

18. "In the Deep" (2006), Bird York

Bird York in front of a burning car

Up against "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" was this drowsy ballad from Crash, the problematic 2006 Best Picture Winner. The ensemble film focuses on the various people involved in a car crash in LA while sloppily discussing race. At the Oscars, they then decided to have Bird York purr the melody while a CAR WAS ON FIRE behind her. Actors stumbled around in dry ice pretending to be victims of a horrific pileup. Perhaps a cool visual, but a wee bit triggering, I’d say.

19. "Dreamgirls Medley" (2007), Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, and Beyoncé

The Dreamgirls performing

RED ALERT! Beyoncé is on the Oscar stage. This is the high point of the list. It’s all downhill after Queen B. To celebrate the three (yes, three!) nominated songs from Dreamgirls, Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose performed the medley. The academy gave an Oscar to J. Hud that night, but where is Beyoncé’s? HUH? HUH? You couldn’t give her an Oscar for "Spirit"? WHY NOT? WHAT GIVES?

Okay. I’m getting worked up. Calm down, Matthew. Calm down.

Anyways, the most-Grammy-winning woman ever serves you V.O.C.A.L.S. in all three of these numbers. She stuns in her red dress. She vibes with the choir. This is the perfect Oscar performance. Everyone else, take note.

20. "That's How You Know" (2008), Kristin Chenoweth

Amy Adams and Kristin Chenoweth performing at the oscars

When Disney’s Enchanted earned the triple nomination the following year, they opted out of a medley, staging three separate performances instead. With the film’s star Amy Adams taking “Happy Working Song,” Broadway belter Kristin Chenoweth (whose Wicked co-lead actually appeared in Enchanted) was brought in to sing the peppy Central Park–set number. Mimicking the film, a whole troupe of dancers joined in the fun as your typical parkgoers.

21. "Skyfall" (2013), Adele

Adele performing at the Oscars

Some Oscar performances lean on burning cars or elaborate choreography. Adele did not need help. In her performance of the theme from the James Bond film Skyfall, she commanded the room with just her voice. It was just her and the orchestra. She barely took a step, and yet we were captivated.

22. "Glory" (2015), John Legend and Common

John Legend and Common performing at the Oscars

The 2015 Best Song winner from Ava DuVernay’s Selma moved beyond its role as a piece of music written for film and became a cultural rallying cry for racial justice. In year when all 20 acting nominees were white and #OscarsSoWhite became an indictment of the academy, the performance served as much as a protest of the racism deeply rooted within the film industry as it did a celebration of the song. Staged with a replica of the Edmund Pettus Bridge that Martin Luther King Jr. marched across, and ending with a choir of Black voices singing “Glory,” the performance left the audience with chills and the academy with the message to do better.

23. "Everything Is Awesome" (2015), Tegan and Sara and the Lonely Island

The grand finale of Everything Is Awesome with confetti

Losing to “Glory” in 2015 was this delightful romp from The Lego Movie about how wonderful life and miniature plastic building blocks can be. At the Oscars, the musical Canadian twins were joined onstage by the comedy songsters made famous by Saturday Night Live. The quintet bounced along to the music with dozens of Lego humans. Also, Lego Oscars were given to members of the audience. For many, it was the only Oscar they went home with that night.

24. "Til It Happens to You" (2016), Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga with other sexual assault survivors

The following year, Lady Gaga and Oscar-curse bearer Diane Warren were nominated together for a song from The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. During the ceremony, Lady Gaga belted out the moving ballad alone at a white grand piano, until the stage opened and she was joined by dozens of other sexual assault survivors. After the music stopped, those onstage joined hands in a powerful display of unity and strength.

25. "Can't Stop the Feeling" (2017), Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake performing in the aisles at the Oscars

While the Oscars often go for a big opening number, they usually lean toward original emcee-led songs about the ceremony itself rather than a performance by one of the Best Song nominees. In 2016, they started the night with the former NSYNC member’s jazzy chart-topper from Trolls. J.T. began the song out in the lobby of the Dolby Theatre and then danced his way down the aisles to the stage, dancers in tow. The celebs seemed into it, if their bebopping is any indication.

26. "Mystery of Love" (2018), Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens performing at The Oscars

Is the Call Me by Your Name soundtrack what you listen to when you are walking somewhere in the rain and want to feel like the melancholy main character of a movie? Or is that just me? The soothing melody from the LGBTQ romance was performed at the Oscars by the composer-singer Sufjan Stevens with St. Vincent accompanying. It was a quieter performance, but with the Renaissance art background and spare staging, the whole number worked in a dreamy, hypnotic kind of way.

27. "Shallow" (2019), Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper singing

Lady Gaga knows how to put on a show. Everything about the Oscar performance of her Grammy-winning showstopper from A Star Is Born was captivating. The way the camera panned forward from the back of the stage and we saw Bradley and Gaga climb up from their seats. The way Gaga stood looking at Bradley before she moved to the piano. The way she banged on the keys while singing/screaming. The way Bradley sat beside her. The way they stared into each other's eyes after they sang the final lines. THIS is how you make a spectacle. We need more Gaga. Who do I have to call to get a Chromatica performance at this year’s Oscars?

What's your favorite Oscars musical moment? Share it in the comments.