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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Ryan Gosling, a drum circle and the rest of the Oscars original song performances, ranked

    LOS ANGELES — Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas O'Connell, won the prize for original song at Sunday night's 96th Academy Awards with "What Was I Made For?," their existential sigh of a piano ballad from Greta Gerwig's blockbuster "Barbie."

    The siblings' victory, which followed a win in the same category in 2022 for their Bond theme from "No Time to Die," made Eilish, 22, and O'Connell, 26, the youngest people ever to win a second Oscar — and the first songwriters since James Horner and Will Jennings to take the song Oscar with a tune that also won song of the year at the Grammys. (Horner and Jennings did it with "My Heart Will Go On," which Celine Dion sang in 1997's "Titanic.")

    But if "What Was I Made For?" had seemed for weeks like a lock at the Oscars, the siblings' performance of the song on Sunday's telecast faced some stiff competition from renditions of the other nominated tunes — particularly the other one from "Barbie." Here are the night's five original song performances, ranked from worst to best:

    5. Jon Batiste, "It Never Went Away"

    Known to television viewers as the former bandleader on Stephen Colbert's late-night show, New Orleans-born Batiste is an awards-season regular whose 2021 album "We Are" upset much higher-profile LPs by the likes of Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo to take album of the year at the Grammys in 2022.

    Yet the composer and multi-instrumentalist was seriously outclassed here in a wobbly version of "It Never Went Away," a maudlin love song he penned with the experienced songwriter Dan Wilson for the documentary "American Symphony," which follows Batiste as he balances the demands of his musical career against his wife's struggle with cancer. And whose idea was it to project images of random movie couples — including Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes in "Shakespeare in Love" and Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain" — on a screen behind Batiste as he sang?

    4. Becky G, "The Fire Inside"

    Flanked by a choir of cute kids in matching red-and-white outfits, the 27-year-old Inglewood native seemed on much firmer ground than Batiste did as she performed this feel-good Latin pop number — or at least a minute and a half of it — from Eva Longoria's film about the creation of Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

    Still, "The Fire Inside" has to rank among the least inspired of the 15 (!) songs for which veteran tunesmith Diane Warren has been nominated without a single win. This woman wrote "How Do I Live" and "Because You Loved Me" and the immortal "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"! Becky G needed something to work with.

    3. Scott George and the Osage Singers, "Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)"

    Given Hollywood's recent predilection for mentioning that awards shows take place on the ancestral lands of the Tongva people, it was gratifying to see Native Americans get more than a self-congratulating shout-out during Sunday's ceremony with this vivid performance of George's song from "Killers of the Flower Moon."

    As George and a crew of men kept time on a large circular drum — artfully shot from above by Oscar cameras — dancers and singers in traditional dress moved around them with a striking blend of purpose and grace. Great reaction shot too from "Killers" star Lily Gladstone, whom many expected to win the lead actress prize before she lost to Emma Stone in "Poor Things."

    2. Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell, "What Was I Made For?"

    Eilish and her brother worked "What Was I Made For?" so hard over this awards cycle that the song's tolling chords almost felt like an anticlimax as O'Connell started into them once again Sunday. But the finish line turned out to be a beautiful opportunity for Eilish to experiment with the song's melody, which she twisted into subtle new shapes in a series of nimble vocal runs as O'Connell accompanied her on piano, the two of them standing on a small revolving stage draped in an overwhelming abundance of pink.

    Tender, knowing, attuned to youthful melodrama yet wise beyond her years: Every generation should be as lucky as Gen Z to get a torch singer like Eilish.

    1. Ryan Gosling, "I'm Just Ken"

    Will singers be interpreting Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt's "Barbie" power ballad decades hence as they do "The Way We Were" or "A Whole New World" (or indeed as they likely will "What Was I Made For?")? Maybe, maybe not.

    Whatever "I'm Just Ken" lacks in terms of movie-music gravitas, though, Gosling more than made up for with rock-star exuberance in a lavish production number that found him starting the song from his seat in the audience — pink suit, pink gloves, black shades to match his black cowboy hat — before joining an army of several dozen Kens preening and twirling on the Oscars stage. Eventually, Slash of Guns N' Roses even turned up to rip an extended guitar solo as the crowd inside the Dolby Theatre rose from their seats.

    Vocally, Gosling was robust enough to make you remember his upbringing alongside Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake as a "Mickey Mouse Club" cast member (and his secret history as a Silver Lake indie rocker with his band Dead Man's Bones). But what elevated "I'm Just Ken" was how game he was to embody his character's spirit all these months after he presumably left Ken behind.

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    ©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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