Looking back: Elliott Smith and Three 6 Mafia were too good for the Oscars

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith performs "Miss Misery" from the film "Good Will Hunting" at the 70th Academy Awards on March 23, 1998.

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith performs “Miss Misery” from the film “Good Will Hunting” at the 70th Academy Awards on March 23, 1998.

(Susan Sterner / Associated Press)

The Oscars found a wholly different minority to exclude when they declined to ask the transgender experimental musician Anohni to perform her Best Original Song-nominated “Manta Ray” during the Academy Awards on Sunday.

It’s perhaps not entirely surprising, given time constraints and the pop-star wattage of Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and the Weeknd. But adding a context-free performance by the not-nominated-in-category Dave Grohl makes Anohni’s absence that much stranger, if not cruel. Anyone who has seen Anohni perform live knows this was a missed opportunity for a stunning performance by a singer who has won the Mercury Prize and performed at the world’s best venues. She’ll tell you herself: Go read about it.


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This year’s Oscars telecast promises to be so drab it would only be enlivened by Leo DiCaprio being eaten by a bear live onstage. But it’s still an occasion to remember two relatively recent and worthwhile Oscar performances drawn from modern pop music.

Elliott Smith, 1998. With Smith framed by a too-big white suit, a single mic and acoustic guitar, the Academy Awards’ stage seemed wholly out of scale for the singer-songwriter best known for recording little suites about drinking yourself to death.

Smith, who died in 2003, had reservations about being there at all, but in between the vocal pyrotechnics of Trisha Yearwood and Celine Dion’s unstoppable “Titantic” wave, Smith’s modest performance of “Miss Misery” from the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack didn’t just hold its own. It proved that something quiet, sweet and real could survive in that mausoleum of middlebrow bombast.

And then there was Three 6 Mafia in 2006, whose members showed up to the Oscars stage downing shots, macking on Salma Hayek and showing more unalloyed enthusiasm for being there than anyone before or since. Nominated for its appearance in “Hustle & Flow,” “Hard Out Here For A Pimp” splashed trippy Memphis rap onto Hollywood’s most gilded arena, and we should all be so lucky to be alive so that we can credibly refer to the “Oscar Winning rapper Juicy J.”


An Anohni win on Sunday would be beyond ironic, and so utterly timely and necessary. But given those long odds, let’s take six minutes to remember the few times Oscar ever did anything right by music.

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