What to Make Of Eminem at the 2020 Oscars?

The triumphant return of mom’s spaghetti, and a lullaby for Martin Scorsese.

Most of us did not expect to see Eminem onstage last night at the 2020 Oscars. He doesn’t even look like the Eminem we used to know: in place of bleached blond hair are dark roots and a scruffy beard, and in place of an insolent expression he wore a cap pulled down low over his face. Marshall Mathers rose to acclaim in the late ’90s with Slim Shady, when he was in his early twenties. He’s forty-seven now, and I feel old. Man, time is a son of a bitch.

Eminem performed “Lose Yourself,” from 8 Mile, and received a standing ovation from the Academy crowd, no doubt nostalgic for simpler times (2002) when Trump was but a silly real estate mogul and 8 Mile co-star Brittany Murphy—whom you would do well to remember—was still among us. The rap song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2003, the first hip-hop track to hold the honor. Em skipped the ceremony that year, so perhaps he was settling up old debts last night.  

Eminem took the stage following a montage of movie music moments introduced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I doubt anyone was sorry to hear “Lose Yourself,” a rap track that defined a generation. The song’s opening lyrics (“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy / There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti”) remain among the most iconic of that era: You imagine a tough-as-nails kid like Marshall being so nervous he pukes his mother’s spaghetti back onto his sweater, then just keeps on going while still wearing that sweater, an admittance of both vulnerability and manic resilience in two brief lines. 

Overall, Em seemed to enjoy his time at the Oscars. He hung out with his buddy Elton John (who has publicly stated that Eminem is not homophobic, despite previous song lyrics to the contrary). Audience reactions to Em’s set were largely positive too, with people like Kelly Marie Tran and Gal Gadot singing along enthusiastically. 

Martin Scorsese, though, looked sleepy, allowing his eyes to droop as the camera inconveniently found him. His daughter, seated to his left, looked similarly unimpressed. But the man is seventy-seven, for god’s sake. He is probably thinking, “these young whippersnappers. What on earth will they try to convince me to enjoy next?”

Em’s performance was presumably even rougher for Billie Eilish, who notably fears the rapper. “I was scared of Eminem my whole life,” she has explained. “Terrified. That dude freaked the fuck out of me.” It seems almost as if the Academy was trolling Billie, bringing him randomly back on the exact same night as her first Oscars appearance.

But none of that matters. All we’ll remember of last night ten years from now is that Parasite won, as we always knew it should.

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