A lot of people are probably happy to hear that the powers that be behind the Oscars have decided to scrap the traditional performances of the Best Song nominees from this year's telecast. I can't say I'm that sorry to see them go, either. I've got nothing against the nominated ditties from The Princess and the Frog, but let's face it: the Academy's ear inability to look past the Disney songbook for nominees is one of the main reasons Oscar viewers have been using these performances as bathroom breaks for years. Yet even in this age of bloated, way-past-my-bedtime Oscar shows, I can't help but feel a little disappointed the Academy decided to give up rather than fix the problems with the Best Song category. In fact, I can't help but worry that scrapping the performances from the broadcast might only make things worse.
It's true that we've had to suffer through far too many Disney spectaculars at the Oscars the past few decades. Other memorable musical missteps have included that zombies-emerging-from-flaming-car-wreckage number from Crash (not nearly as cool as it sounds) and the year that Beyonce sang everything. But there have been performances that were unforgettable in a good way, too. For instance, can anyone remember anything from the 2008 Oscars besides Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's triumphant performance of "Falling Slowly"? And when acclaimed but little-known singer/songwriter Elliot Smith tragically passed away a few years back, the world had his performance of his nominated song "Miss Misery" from Good Will Hunting at the 1998 Oscars to remember him by. If the Academy had found a way to fit the musical performances into this year's ceremony, we could have seen such a moment for Jeff Bridges and emerging songwriter Ryan Bingham, whose excellent "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart is expected to take the prize this year. This is a case where a deserving artist (not to mention a most likely half-asleep audience) is being robbed of a potentially transcendent Oscar moment. And aren't those kinds of moments what we watch the Oscars for anyway?
Our favorite movie songs don't always win the Oscar for Best Song. In many painful cases (Bruce Springsteen's theme from The Wrestler, Karen O's tunes from Where the Wild Things Are), they aren't even nominated. But by not giving the nominated artists a chance to perform on Oscar night, the Academy is diminishing the accomplishment of the nominees, and marginalizing the award. And while it's true that real artists don't create their work just to win awards, why take away a dangling carrot that could help motivate them to do their best? When no one's trying to strive for excellence, even the winners end up looking like losers.