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When “Barbie,” a neon-pink pop culture phenomenon like no other, was nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture, the team organizing this year’s Oscars gala knew exactly who they needed to approach. “The fact that Ryan Gosling will be performing ‘I’m Just Ken’ for the very first time, I think, will be a moment that everybody will want to watch,” Oscars showrunner Raj Kapoor told AFP.

Gosling “was rightfully a little hesitant at the beginning,” but quickly agreed because “he is a total professional,” explained executive producer Molly McNearney. It is traditional for each of the year’s five best song nominees to be performed live on the Oscars telecast. But it is rare that two of those tunes both come from the year’s top-grossing film. “What Was I Made For?” will be performed at Sunday’s ceremony by Billie Eilish, one of the world’s biggest music stars who has already won two Grammys for the tune.

And the other, a six-minute power ballad to the fragile male ego, will be sung by the Oscar-nominated Gosling, who plays Barbie’s boyfriend-turned-foe Ken in the surreal feminist comedy.

The former Disney child star turned A-lister, who performed at weddings and fronted an indie rock band in his teens, has been deep in rehearsals since agreeing to perform, meeting producers multiple times at the venue. “He’s going to leave no one disappointed with that performance,” said McNearney.

The emphasis on “Barbie” is unsurprising. It grossed $1.4 billion, and movies that do well at the box office tend to attract more viewers to the Oscars when nominated. Last year, producers heavily emphasized “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Members of the media document the aftermath of the red carpet rollout.
Members of the media document the aftermath of the red carpet rollout.

A promotional skit for Sunday’s Oscars saw returning host Jimmy Kimmel visit the film’s pink “Barbieland,” alongside its stars including Gosling and America Ferrera, also a nominee. The producers also can showcase “Oppenheimer,” which is the favorite for best picture, itself earned nearly $1 billion, and was the other half of last summer’s “Barbenheimer” viral phenomenon.

“It just feels like that energy has carried on through the year,” said executive producer Katy Mullan. “We’re giving ‘Barbie’ plenty of love in the show. But we’re giving every movie that’s been nominated lots of love,” added McNearney.

Another highlight will be Osage musicians performing a song from Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” on a night that could see its star Lily Gladstone become the first Native American actor to win an Oscar. “For everybody in that room and everybody at home, to have a little insight into the musical nuances of a historical tradition within that tribe, and it to be celebrated on our show? There’s been a lot of time and thought into how we honor that correctly,” said Kapoor.

Celebrate

After a pandemic low of barely 10 million viewers led some to question the Oscars telecast’s relevance in the era of TikTok, audiences bounced back strongly last year, to 18.7 million. Part of that was attributed to the successful return of late-night funnyman Kimmel as host, and he is back again Sunday for a fourth stint.

Could he be planning to go for Bob Hope’s remarkable record of hosting 19 times? “I hope not—I don’t think he could survive that!” joked McNearney, who is married to Kimmel. “I think it’s really important to remind someone of all the obstacles before taking on such a big and truthfully thankless job. So I always try to talk him out of it! “If he still wants to do it, then I know he’s truly committed,” she said.

Kimmel was partly inspired to return by a desire to celebrate the end of last year’s massive Hollywood strikes, which he plans to mention in his opening monologue, said McNearney. The host’s first Oscars ended with the infamous envelope mix-up in which “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as best picture winner, before the prize was awarded to “Moonlight.” Kimmel recently said he hopes Sunday night will again take some unexpected, spontaneous twists.

“That is where Jimmy completely shines. He is the most comfortable in discomfort,” agreed McNearney. Mullan—who oversaw the London Olympics opening ceremony—has a more cautious approach. “I love that Jimmy says he hopes that something goes wrong,” she said. “I really hope that nothing goes wrong.”—AFP

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