The best and worst musical performances at the 2023 Oscars


What do two major pop stars have in common with a raccoon with lasers for eyes and a man with hotdog fingers? … They each had their moment in the spotlight at the 95th Academy Awards!

The 2023 Oscars featured live performances of all five nominees for best original song — from Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” and Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” to a Diane Warren-penned tribute to women, an earworm from an Indian action flick and an experiment pock-rock ditty from an absurdist sci-fi dramedy. But not every musical number brought the house down…

Keep reading to see which artists hit a high note and who left us wanting more…

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Performers: Sofia Carson and Diane Warren

Song: “Applause”

Film: “Tell It Like a Woman”

An ethereal-looking Sofia Carson sang “Applause” while backed by a string orchestra, an all-female choir and 14-time Academy Award nominee Diane Warren — who wrote the music and lyrics — on piano. If only the “Descendants” actress, who was a bit pitchy, sounded as good as she looked! In the cringiest moment, a breathy Sofia monologued, “To each and every single woman in this room and to all the women of the world, give yourself some applause.” It was especially painful considering Oscar voters failed to nominate any of the year’s lauded female filmmakers in the best director category this year.

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Performers: Stephanie Hsu, David Byrne and Son Lux

Song: “This Is a Life”

Film: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Stephanie Hsu donned a ruffled white gown to duet with Oscar winner David Byrne – who sported hotdog fingers, naturally! – while backed by the experimental post-rock band Son Lux, who composed the film’s score, in the appropriately weird performance of “This Is a Life,” which also featured a troupe of dancers busting kung fu-style moves in front of a video screen showing a wide array of footage including an enraged raccoon with lasers for eyes, in a fun and freaky nod to the film. We wouldn’t expect anything less! Sadly, while we loved the overall vibe, the vocals didn’t quite cut it. (The Talking Heads frontman wrote “This Is a Life” with Ryan Lott and Mitski, who performed the original version of the song featured in the film’s end credits.)

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Performers: Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava

Song: “Naatu Naatu”

Film: “RRR”

Flawless! Everything about the live performance of the earworm “Naatu Naatu” — the first song from an Indian film to score an Oscar nomination for best original song — was perfection. Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava sang as a Los Angeles-based troupe of dancers tackled the now-iconic choreography from the epic action film. The performance had the A-list audience beaming and on their feet. (M. M. Keeravani and Chandrabose wrote the banger.)


Performer: Lady Gaga

Song: “Hold My Hand”

Film: “Top Gun: Maverick”

Lady Gaga absolutely destroyed a stripped-down version of “Hold My Hand,” which she co-wrote with BloodPop for “Top Gun: Maverick.” The fresh-faced pop star shed the layers of makeup she’d donned on the red carpet earlier that day to belt the anthem in a plain black T-shirt, ripped skinny jeans and sneakers. She started the performance while seated on a simple bench and eventually got to her feet as the emotion built “[The song is] deeply personal for me. I think that we all need each other — we need a lot of love to walk through this life. We all need a hero sometimes. There are heroes all around us in unassuming places. But you might find that you can be your own hero — even if you feel broken inside,” she said before launching into the performance, which earned a standing ovation from the A-list audience. She dedicated the performance — which also featured piano, drums and two guitars — to late “Top Gun” director Tony Scott, who died in 2012.


Performer: Rihanna

Song: “Lift Me Up”

Film: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Rihanna dazzled while belting out “Lift Me Up” — a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman — from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as she performed the anthem while backed by a small orchestra and choir. We especially appreciated how the set design channeled Wakanda. (Rihanna wrote “Lift Me Up” with Tems, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Göransson.)


Lenny Kravitz performed his 2004 single “Calling All Angels” during the Oscars’ in memoriam segment. The four-time Grammy winner, who donned an all-black ensemble, sang and played piano while backed by a bass player who joined him on stage.

And the winner is…

Ultimately, M. M. Keeravani and Chandrabose won the Oscar for best original song for “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR” — the evening’s obvious fan-favorite!

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