Why Did Eminem Perform at the 2020 Oscars? The Rapper Explains His Surprise Appearance

Prior to the 92nd Academy Awards, everyone was wondering which of the nine nominated Best Picture contenders would walk away victorious. Industry insiders and fans alike were so busy trying to figure out whether Parasite could pull off a historic win (spoilers: it did). The last thing anyone expected was a Grammy-level number of musical performances.

To be fair, the academy previously announced the Best Original Song nominees would take the stage. And then there were the “special performances” by Billie Eilish and Janelle Monáe. But no one expected to see none other than Eminem emerge for a shocking appearance on the Oscar stage.

Eminem performs live at the Oscars
Eminem performs live at the Oscars | CRAIG SJODIN via Getty Images

Eminem won an Academy Award back in 2003

For the most part, Eminem has stayed mostly on the music side of things. But at the height of his popularity, the Grammy-winning rapper made a brief detour into movies. Just six months after releasing The Eminem Show, he starred in the semi-autobiographical drama 8 Mile.

Inspired by Eminem’s own life growing up in Detroit, the movie sees him star as aspiring rapper Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith Jr. A regular competitor at local rap battles, B-Rabbit dreams of escaping the trailer park where he lives with his alcoholic mother (Kim Basinger) and young sister.

Directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and written by Joker scribe Scott Silver, the movie garnered critical acclaim and even some awards buzz. However, its only major Oscar play was for Best Original Song. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” became the first hip hop song to win the award.

But the rapper opted not to attend the ceremony at all. In a recent interview with Variety, Eminem revealed he didn’t even watch the show and was actually sleeping when he received the call that he had won. As it turned out, Eminem would make it to the Oscars. It would just take 17 years.

Why didn’t Eminem show up to accept his Oscar

At the 2003 Oscars, “Lose Yourself” was the only nominated song that no one performed during the show. According to Variety, Eminem did admit an offer was made. The academy even suggested another artist could step in to tackle the 8 Mile tune. But discussions didn’t get very far, Eminem said.

“I don’t even think I understood back then that you could get an Oscar for a song,” Eminem said. “And also, back at that time, the younger me didn’t really feel like a show like that would understand me.”

In the end, Eminem passed, and “Lose Yourself” co-producer Luis Resto accepted the Oscar on his behalf. More than feeling like he missed out on the chance to perform — and accept his award from Barbra Streisand — Eminem said he was in shock that he actually became an Oscar winner.

“I don’t know that I was disappointed. I was blown back by the fact that I won,” he said. “That to me shows how authentic and real that award is — when you don’t show up and you still win. That makes it very real to me.”

How he finally made his way to the Oscars stage

So when Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced a montage of songs tied to movies, “Lose Yourself” felt like a natural fit. The tune has remained one of the most beloved and iconic songs of Eminem’s career. And the rapper said the clip was already part of the footage before the performance came together. Since Eminem had just released a new album, the timing felt right.

I kinda figured maybe, since I didn’t get a chance to do it at the time, maybe it would be cool. Back then, I never even thought that I had a chance to win, and we had just performed “Lose Yourself” on the Grammys with The Roots a couple of weeks before the Oscars, so we didn’t think it was a good idea.

With 17 years of hindsight, Eminem was open to the idea of performing at the Oscars. So he and his team flew in a week before the show to rehearse. Most of the rehearsals took place offsite to maintain the secrecy surrounding his performance, an idea that intrigued Eminem.

I don’t know. I think it was either [the Oscars’] idea or Paul and [longtime publicist Dennis Dennehy’s] idea before they brought it to me. It was presented to me that way and I said, “Oh, that’s kind of dope, to not even announce it.”

As much as Eminem’s appearance took viewers and Oscar attendees by surprise, it certainly made for one of the night’s most-talked-about moments. At the very least, it finally gave longtime Oscar viewers a sense of closure. After nearly two decades, “Lose Yourself” finally made it to the Oscars.