For all the strange and surreal things at this year’s Oscars—a Korean social-commentary horror film winning everything, Billie Eilish’s terrifying black talons, and Joaquin Phoenix—one moment stood out as more inexplicable than the rest.
Take a moment to ask yourself not only what Eminem was doing there, but to consider what exactly he’s become.
First, a quick history refresher. For years the major knock on the Oscars is that it’s become a stubbornly resistant-to-change holdover from a long-gone time. An era when Hollywood was whiter than the world in Snowpiercer, casting couches weren’t the sole purview of Harvey “Where’s My Walker” Weinstein, and no one used acceptance speeches to muse on the ethics of inseminating unconsenting cows.
This year, the Oscars decided to reverse that perception by setting aside three minutes and 44 seconds for a 47-year-old rapper to perform a hit from 2002. Evidently Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, and Tekashi 6ix9ine weren’t available to help freshen things up.
For the first 30 seconds after Eminem launched into “Lose Yourself”, the reaction inside the Dolby Theatre seemed to be a befuddled "Why now?" And then we got to see an endless sea of rich, famous, and beautiful kabillionaires proceed to sing, dance, and shout along to every word. (The lone holdout seemed to be Martin Scorsese, who looked like he’d rather be at the proctologist on lube-free Friday).
Inspirationally, we watched everyone from Brad Pitt to Charlize Theron pause to think about how great life might possibly be when Marshall Mathers started with “If you had one opportunity/To seize everything you ever wanted/In one moment/Would you capture it?”
And then when it was all over, the gloriously spent and beaming audience again sat there wondering “Why now?”. In the days that have followed, Mathers has explained exactly why he ended up on the Oscars in 2020.
Where cynics might suggest that he has a new album to promote (January’s dropped-from-the-sky Music to Be Murdered By), the unofficial reason is the show needed something to wake folks up after a montage that celebrated the sound editing and mixing award. And the 132nd Oscars live performance by Randy Newman wasn’t the answer.
If the past couple of days that have followed, Eminem has revealed that his surprise performance represented the chance for a do-ever. Back in 2003 “Lose Yourself” took home the best song award for its inclusion in the pretty great 8 Mile (starring, of course, Eminem as a guy from the wrong side of a Detroit trailer park).
Because he was convinced that poor white trash from the Motor City had zero chance of being accepted in Hollywood, Mathers didn’t even bother attending the ceremony. When “Lose Yourself” won, Barbara Streisand handed the award to his collaborator on the song, Luis Resto. (In a Variety interview on Monday, Eminem revealed that he actually slept through the ceremony—his young daughter's school schedule making staying awake past 9 p.m. mission impossible).
Anyhow, thanks to Sunday, he’s now made up for his 2003 snub. And, more importantly, the man who once proudly suggested the world could suck his dick, balls, and skinny white ass in “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” served notice that he’s ready to be officially accepted and embraced by a rich and beautiful crowd that he’s now, like it or not, completely a part of.
Talk about an about face for a man who once rapped “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records (Nope)/Well, I do, so fuck him and fuck you too!” And then went on to proudly announce “And there’s a million of us just like me/Who cuss like me, who just don’t give a fuck like me/Who dress like me; walk, talk and act like me.”
Eminem’s Oscars reward—besides, that is, getting to say he’s now hugged Salma Hayek, and made Martin Scorsese wish he’d been born deaf?
Following “Lose Yourself”’s 17-years-after-the-fact bow at Hollywood’s biggest night, the song wracked up 10,000 digital downloads in the 24 hours after Eminem’s performance.
It was almost as if no one had ever heard the song before—strange and surreal as that might be.