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Bjork swan dress

The Oscars’ most surprising musical moments

Björk? Aaliyah? Elliott Smith? Ten times that the Academy recognised real


Remember that time Björk arrived at the 2001 Oscars dressed as a swan and then laid an egg on the red carpet? Of course you do. Despite the cameras doing their best to cover up the swan’s face wrapped around her neck during this lustrous, orchestra-backed performance of “I’ve Seen It All” (from Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark), it made for a hugely iconic moment. “I was very aware when I went to the Academy Awards that it would probably be my first and last time,” Björk told CDNow at the time. “So I thought my input should really be about fertility, and I thought I’d bring some eggs.”


It’s a quiet starry place, times were swallowed up in space,” sings Karen O in this dreamy, lo-fi lullaby from Her, Spike Jonze’s doomed sci-fi romance between a man (Joaquin Phoenix) and an intelligent computer operating system (Scarlett Johansson). While her bedroom ballad lost out on Best Original Song to Frozen’s “Let It Go” (shocker!), we’d prefer a lunar serenade from Karen O and Ezra Koenig (who duetted on the track for the ceremony), perched beneath the eerie blue glow of a gigantic moon.


Janet Jackson’s pop ballad was delivered the way they all should be: in a creamy white suit amongst a flickering circle of candlelight and violins. As sentimental as this performance may have been, the album it was taken from was anything but – janet. cemented her as the hypersexual, independent seductress of the 90s. The film it appeared inPoetic Justice, was a little flat, but it was saved by some Maya Angelou poetry and a killer R&B soundtrack.


Despite being shrouded in dry ice left over from Celine Dion’s performance, it was Elliott Smith’s quietly captivating performance – not the Titanic power ballad – that really stung hearts in 1998. Smith’s sweetly melancholic “Miss Misery” appears in the closing credits of Gus Van Sant’s 1997 drama Good Will Hunting, as a car drives between lush, silhouetted trees toward a matte, pastel-pink sunset.


City of brotherly love, place I call home, don’t turn your back on me, I don’t want to be alone,” Neil Young’s fragile falsetto floats over a rich, trickling grand piano melody in “Philadelphia”, taken from the Tom Hanks movie of the same name. The award for Best Original Song ended up going to Bruce Springsteen for “Streets of Philadelphia” from the same drama, but we think Neil Young’s tragic ode to the city is the real winner.

DOLLY PARTON – “9 TO 5” (1981)

There’s nothing like a buxom country star with unmoving platinum hair to make you think more optimistically about the daily grind of work. Dolly Parton’s spirited rendition of “9 to 5”, from the film of the same name, reaped the country icon a whole new legion of fans as well as elevating the notoriously rigid Oscars to camp, sequinned heights.


Aaliyah’s caramel-smooth vocals gave this ultra-sugary ballad (from animated film Anastacia) a gleaming R&B edge. While the theatrical track didn’t win the award for Best Original Song, (like Smith’s “Miss Misery”, it was up next to Titanic) she became one of the youngest singers to ever perform at the Oscars.


Original disco queen Donna Summer shifted between theatrical, down-tempo melodies and sparkling, dancefloor-ready disco beats in this legendary performance. The track appeared in cult disco movie Thank God It’s Friday (1978), where a glitzy Summer minces on the stage in a twinkling red sequinned dress to a raucous club crowd. It promptly earned an Oscar for Best Original Song (as well as a Golden Globe and Grammy).


I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road, if the Bible is right, the world will explode,” sang Bob Dylan in his characteristically throaty tones over a slow-stomping, bluesy melody in the first performance to ever be delivered by satellite. When he won the award for Best Original Song (it was taken from the Curtis Hanson comedy Wonder Boys), Bob Dylan thanked those “bold enough to give me this award, for this song which obviously doesn’t pussyfoot around or turn a blind eye to human nature.”


Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs was joined on stage by the huge and raunchy, alien blood-sucking plant ‘Audrey II’ that he played in cult musical Little Shop of Horrors. It was a particularly theatrical ego battle of performances that year, as producers tried to cram all nominated songs into one, brilliantly manic Vegas-style medley. “Mean Green Mother” was by far the biggest glitterball of them all.