Although the focus of the Oscars is typically on the winners and losers (and, just as important, what the winners and losers wore), the 87th Academy Awards boasted an abundance of music both classic and popular, with some of the genre’s biggest stars gracing the stage reserved for Hollywood’s brightest talent. So which performances were the most memorable? From Rita Ora to Tim McGraw to Lady Gaga, here are all of this year’s Oscar performances, ranked from worst to best.
8. Adam Levine, “Lost Stars”
Belting the Begin Again nominee with the rest of Maroon 5 lurking in the shadows behind him, Levine delivered a truncated version of “Lost Stars” that was admirable if not overwhelming, and felt awkwardly rushed into the block of action before the show’s first commercial break.
7. Rita Ora, “Grateful”
With laser lights and wisps of smoke washing over her leather gloves (perhaps a Fifty Shades of Grey call-back?), Rita Ora was given a few seconds to display her vocal control, and thoroughly impressed the star-studded audience. Diane Warren’s Beyond the Lights anthem “Grateful” only received what seemed like a few seconds to shine, but Ora haters be damned: the U.K. singer more than held her own in her Oscars debut.
6. Jennifer Hudson, “I Can’t Let Go” (In Memoriam)
Need a tender tribute from a powerhouse vocalist for your awards ceremony? Jennifer Hudson‘s name should be on your shortlist. Three years after honoring Whitney Houston at the Grammy Awards, the Dreamgirls Oscar winner graced the Academy Awards stage to perform “I Can’t Let Go” (which she performed on Smash!) following the In Memoriam montage. Granted, the performance might have been more effective had it actually played out over the montage, but Hudson’s pipes predictably dazzled nonetheless.
5. Tim McGraw, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”
Stepping in for Glen Campbell to perform the legend’s heartbreaking ode to his personal battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Tim McGraw did not try to duplicate Campbell’s own irreplaceable power, but simply attempted to do justice to the man’s towering legacy. Backed by a flurry of hanging lightbulbs, McGraw shone bright, and received a much-deserved round of passionate applause from the audience.
4. Neil Patrick Harris’ Opening Number
NPH’s elaborate opening, an ode to “moving pictures,” had a little bit of everything: dancing stormtroopers, Anna Kendrick spoiling Gone Girl, Jack Black playing a villain, a shout-out to “magic Meryl Effin’ Streep,” and best of all, a non-ironic celebration of the transformative magic of the silver screen. Oh, can’t forget the killer last line: “That whole thing? Completely improvised.”
3. Tegan and Sara & The Lonely Island, “Everything Is Awesome!!!”
When the first hour of the Oscars was dragging a bit, Tegan and Sara, the Lonely Island and a bunch of their famous friends invaded the Academy Awards to perform “Everything Is Awesome!!!” from The Lego Movie, and added some much-needed neon to the black-tie ceremony. The breakdancing construction workers, Andy Samberg as rapping hype man, appearances by Devo‘s Mark Mothersbaugh and Questlove and the mere sight of indie stars Tegan and Sara taking over the Oscar stage were cool enough. The real coup de grace though? Giving out a bunch of Lego statuettes to Hollywood’s biggest stars (Neil Patrick Harris was even toting one after the commercial break). For a few minutes, everything was, indeed, awesome.
2. Lady Gaga, The Sound of Music Medley
We all knew that Lady Gaga has a great voice — but for those who haven’t immersed themselves in the operatic jazz standards of Cheek To Cheek yet, when is the last time you really heard Gaga sing her lungs out? Tapped to perform a medley of Sound of Music classics for the film’s 50th birthday, the pop superstar took a moment in the show expected to be humdrum (or, even worse, unnecessary) and blew the roof off, earning a standing ovation and getting a loving onstage hug from Julie Andrews after her last high note. Can an Oscar medley be a career highlight for such a decorated performer? One this good can be.
1. John Legend & Common, “Glory”
“Chill-inducing” was the proper way to describe John Legend and Common‘s “Glory” performance until the end of the song, when “tear-inducing” was the only way to describe what these two veteran artists conjured onstage. Selma star David Oyelowo, Chris Pine and others had more than enough reason to well up: as Common led a chorus over a re-creation of Selma, Alabama’s famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, Legend stood up from his grand piano and joined the rapper, minutes before they both won Oscars and stood up for international civil rights in their acceptance speech. “Glory” presents a message from another generation that very clearly resonates today, and Common and Legend could not have done a better job at bringing that message to the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony. Selma may be forever viewed as deserving of more nominations, but for those few minutes, “Glory” secured its place in Oscar history.