Everyone expects Gaga to be outrageous, and the idea of her singing the 50th anniversary “Sound of Music” tribute probably seemed to someone like a way of injecting some vaguely controversial but living, breathing humanity into a show in which the writing was from hunger, the host thought a lame-ass Edward Snowden joke was appropriate when “Citizenfour” winner Laura Poitras had barely gotten back to her seat (“He couldn’t be here for some treason,” quipped the disastrous Neil Patrick Harris) and where the best moment to that point had been Pawel Pawlikowski blowing through the “get off the stage” music. Harris set up Gaga by setting up Scarlett Johansson – who would, he said, introduce what would be one of the most talked about moments of the Oscar evening.
It was. But with her ‘40s hair and dress and a Julie Andrews-accented delivery, Gaga basically played it straight – she just sang those songs, giving all that Oscar schmaltz (Hammerstein, in this case) the delivery they deserved. She also bestowed on the Academy Awards something that, on Sunday night at least, seemed positively alien: Genuine emotion and honesty. Irony free. She made her audience confront the doubts about the performance that were probably kicking around in their heads (“where’s the meat dress?”) and simply sang, beautifully and, although it’s sacrilegious to say, better than Miss Andrews ever did.
You can’t get more subversive than that. What the hell – sincerity at the Oscars? Sincerity is what the evening is designed to thwart. Even the most heartfelt acceptance speech – screenwriter Graham Moore’s, for “The Imitation Game,” for instance, or Common and John Legend after the “Selma” win – force the people who are ostensibly being honored into the humiliating position of racing the clock and the orchestra to get whatever message out they need to impart, or to recite insipid dialogue, or make jokes they don’t seem to get (and neither did we). Gaga, on the other hand, had about five uninterrupted minutes to make a case for art – something sadly lacking from the whole night — and stole the show. She’ll never be invited back.