Music takes center stage at Oscars gala
Producers of the Oscars, arguably the most prestigious prizes of the entertainment awards circuit, on Sunday turned to music's top names including Beyonce, Billie Eilish and Megan Thee Stallion to drum up ailing ratings.
The 94th annual gala honoring the best in films opened from the tennis courts of Compton, where Beyonce delivered a rousing rendition of her nominated power ballad "Be Alive," from the film "King Richard," a sports drama about how the father of legends Venus and Serena Williams coached them to greatness.
And Megan Thee Stallion dialed up the heat in Hollywood's Dolby Theatre, spitting fire with a guest rap as part of a colorful performance of "We Don't Talk About Bruno," the viral hit from Disney's "Encanto."
It was an interesting choice considering the Academy snubbed that song, the film's most popular, from the nomination pool.
But it was part of the organization's master plan to resuscitate the once highly rated show to its numbers of yesteryear.
The show's producers controversially pre-taped the presentation of awards including best score and best sound, editing in the winners' acceptance speeches in a perceived snub that drew ire in the weeks before A-listers walked the carpet.
The move didn't shorten the notoriously long broadcast, instead granting the extra space to the musical performances and comedy sketches from hosts Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall.
- Eilish takes home Oscar -
The extra focus on pop's juggernauts at times gave the show a feeling of Grammys Lite, one week before the party celebrating the music industry's best is due to take over Las Vegas.
Top Grammy nominee Billie Eilish belted out a stirring rendition of "No Time to Die," her theme written for the James Bond film of the same name, which ultimately took home the Oscar for best original song.
"Oh my gosh, this is so unbelievable, I could scream," said Eilish, accepting her trophy alongside her brother and collaborator, Finneas O'Connell, who provided haunting piano chords as Eilish sang.
It was a clean sweep for the sibling duo, who also won a Grammy and Golden Globe for the moody ballad.
The Colombian crooner Sebastian Yatra performed the heartfelt, dreamy track "Dos Oruguitas" -- "Two Caterpillars" in Spanish -- from "Encanto," which was also Oscar-nominated.
Producers crafted an elaborate set, with Yatra delivering a breathy version of the song in a lush forested scene accompanied by acoustic guitars.
Country music queen Reba McEntire later sang "Somehow You Do," as performers including Travis Barker and Sheila E formed an all-star band behind her.
Questlove scored the best documentary prize for "Summer of Soul," which recounted the 1969 music festival in Harlem that saw thousands celebrate Black culture and music.
But while producers scripted Beyonce and Megan Thee Stallion -- the latter performing in an incredible canary yellow ruffled dress with an eye-popping thigh-high slit and cut-out corset-style bodice -- to provide the show's punctuation, it was rapper-actor Will Smith who dropped the night's biggest exclamation point.
Smith -- who took best actor honors for playing Venus and Serena's father Richard Williams in the tennis biopic "King Richard" -- was the night's chaos agent, storming the stage and slapping comedian Chris Rock after the presenter cracked a joke at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith, the actor's wife.
The twist set social media alight but the show went on, with music and stage icon Liza Minnelli appearing with pop powerhouse Lady Gaga to present the final award for best picture.
"I'm so happy to be here, and especially with you -- I'm your biggest fan," Minnelli lovingly told Gaga.