Janelle Monáe opened the Oscars on Sunday night with an epic fake-out.
The adventurous R&B singer began her number with a quiet rendition of the twinkly theme from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which she sang while wearing Fred Rogers’ trademark red sweater — and while palling around in the front row with Tom Hanks, who played the legendary kids-TV host in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
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Then, Monáe, also an actor known for her roles in “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures,” tore off the sweater and climbed onstage at the Dolby Theatre for a characteristically wild-eyed performance of her rumbling funk-punk tune “Come Alive (The War of the Roses).”
Backed by dancers dressed to resemble characters from a host of Oscar-nominated (and notably Oscar-snubbed) movies including “1917,” “Midsommar,” “Joker” and “Dolemite Is My Name,” the singer leaped to and fro while delivering modified lyrics about how it’s time for Hollywood to shine.
She passed the mike briefly to Billy Porter, who did a bit of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” while Monáe accompanied him on a sparkly piano festooned with flowers. She led folks in the audience — Leonardo DiCaprio and a very game Brie Larson among them — in a finger-snapping call-and-response sequence.
And after telling viewers that “tonight we celebrate all the amazing talent in this room,” she pointedly elaborated by mentioning the “women who directed phenomenal films” — none of whom were nominated for the Academy Awards’ directing prize.
“I’m proud to be standing here as a black queer artist,” Monáe proclaimed to finish her address (which went over great inside the Dolby, according to those who were there). Then, she stuck the landing with a lung-busting vocal flourish.