Skip to main content

Try out Artist Pages for FREE now! 💅

Get it here
iMusician logo
All blog posts

Music at the Oscars Throughout the Years

Share this article on
Music At The Oscars - iMusician

Every year, the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, champion the best in the film industry — from the best director to the best original screenplay, most outstanding performances in leading and supporting roles, best costumes, and, finally, picture of the year.

A great movie, however, would only be complete and fulfill its potential with the music accompanying its characters through individual scenes. Like spices, music gives movies the final taste, contributing to their overall performance and impact.

In honor of the 96th Academy Awards, which took place in Los Angeles on March 3rd, we’ll shine a spotlight on some of the most memorable music moments at the Oscars — including both remarkable wins and awards performances — throughout the years.

1. Rachel Portman’s win for Best Original Score (1997)

In 1997, the British composer Rachel Portman made history when she became the first female composer to win an Academy Award for the Best Original Score for the film Emma. Portman has received three Oscar nominations throughout her career and has been a highly influential soundtrack composer.

Overall, she has composed over a hundred scores for film, television, and theater, most importantly for the movies The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000).

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

2. Bjork’s performance of ‘I’ve Seen It All’ (2001)

The Icelandic singer Björk has made her legacy as a musician of an incredibly unique style who remained faithful to herself and her values despite her rise in fame. Her performance of the Oscar-nominated song ‘I’ve Seen It All’ at the 2001 Awards was iconic and perfectly mirrored the power and magnificence of her artistry, musicality, and talent to convey and evoke emotions through her music impeccably.

Lyrically, the song is about a person who goes blind and slowly comes to terms with it — a character portrayed by the singer in the musical melodrama Dancer in The Dark.

At the award show, Björk performed accompanied by strings and without Radiohead’s frontman Thom Yorke, whose vocals were featured in the song’s original version. While the song did not score a win that year, the performance made up for it entirely (at least for us, the fans) and remains one of the most remarkable performances at the Oscars to this day.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

3. The success of A. R. Rahman and Slumdog Millionaire (2009)

The reception of the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire was mixed. While some acknowledged its craftsmanship and the ‘heartbreaking and exhilarating’ story, others criticized the movie for its ignorant depiction of India and its poverty.

With that in mind, however, it’s difficult to neglect the greatness of the movie’s soundtrack, written and composed by A. R. Rahman and celebrated for its upfront and edgy yet poignant character. Rahman reportedly planned the score in two months and finalized it in an unbelievable 20 days. As a result, he won two Oscars at the 2009 ceremony — one for Best Original Score and the other for Best Original Song for ‘Jai Ho.’

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

4. La La Land’s Justin Hurwitz double win (2017)

We’ve loved Justin Hurwitz’s work since Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench in 2009. His and Tom Simonec's 2014 production of and contribution to the Whiplash soundtrack were impeccable, and his craftsmanship was further perfected on La La Land in 2016 (in our opinion).

His work on the universally acclaimed film resulted in a beautiful soundtrack filled with dreamy yet vivid melodies, mesmerizing transitions within and between individual compositions, and some great vocals delivered primarily by Gosling, Stone, and Legend. In 2017, his score for La La Land earned Hurwitz two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for ‘City of Stars.’

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

5. Eminem’s performance of ‘Lose Yourself’ (2020)

In 2003, Eminem received his first Oscar Award for Best Original Song, ‘Lose Yourself,’ from the film 8 Mile (and boy, was the competition intense that year). Back then, many believed Eminem would perform the song at the Oscars, yet he decided not to attend the ceremony in the first place.

Some 17 years later, however, Eminem decided to take his shiny moment back and celebrated the song's success in a top-secret performance at the 2020 ceremony. Reportedly, the Dolby Theater was put on lockdown during his rehearsals, and he had the option to cancel should the news get out into the press. Fortunately, no news was leaked, allowing viewers at the ceremony and home to enjoy an unforgettable performance.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

6. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s win of Best Original Score (2020)

The year 2020 was responsible for not one but two iconic moments at the Oscars ceremony. Previously, we mentioned Rachel Portman as the first female composer ever to win an Oscar. Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir was the first female composer to win the award for a film score since 1998. That makes it 22 years without a win by a female composer.

Her score, written and composed for Joker, received immediate critical acclaim from the film industry. The critics highlighted its soulful character, simplistic texture, and the gradually evolving intensity of individual pieces, all resonating with the melancholia of the main character, the Joker.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

7. Disney-Pixar’s win for the Best Original Score (2021)

An unexpected music collaboration arose for the Disney-Pixar movie Soul, bringing together Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and the multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste. While Reznor and Ross composed the score for the movie, Batiste was responsible for jazz compositions and arrangements.

And what came out of it? Pure magic, further underlining the craftsmanship behind the film and the emotional intensity of what it’s like to be human, as portrayed in the story. The movie and the soundtrack received universal acclaim from music and film critics alike. Additionally, this was the second win for Treznor and Ross, who previously won the Best Original Score for The Social Network.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

8. Billie Eilish’s win and Ryan Gosling’s performance (2024)

We cannot conclude the list without mentioning this year’s ceremony. The 2024 Oscars were relevant (at least) for two music-related reasons. First, Billie Eilish and her brother FINNEAS took home the Best Original Song award for Barbie’s ‘What Was I Made For’ and thus became Oscars’ youngest two-time winners ever (they previously won for ‘No Time To Die’). Their performance of the songs later that night was a beautiful homage to their thriving talent and the remarkable movie.

Ryan Gosling’s performance of ‘I’m Just Ken’ from the same film was highly anticipated, and we must say he completely stole the show. His act with Mark Ronson and Slash was refreshing, uplifting, and truly fun, and his vocals were terrific. It will list the best performances at the Oscars over the years.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.


Highlighting some of the Oscars' most memorable moments was difficult, and we know that many more deserve a spot on the list. For now, however, we chose these eight occasions that we believe were impactful, touching, or highly entertaining (or all three of them simultaneously).

While these moments might have been unforgettable in a good way, we are also aware we don’t want to seem ignorant of all the controversies and issues associated with the Oscars, particularly in relation to diversity and inclusivity, race, and gender-based underrecognition. And that would surely be a topic for another article.

If you’re interested in learning more about contemporary music awards and related issues, our article on the latest Grammys may be exactly what you’re looking for!

Ready to get your music out there?

Distribute your music to the widest range of streaming platforms and shops worldwide. 

Get Started
Share Post:
Share this article on
Always stay up-to-date

All You Need.
All in One Place.

Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.