It’s no secret that when you combine nerves, excitement, and the unshakeable high a person gets from winning and holding a shiny trophy, someone is bound to be held captive for the kind of thank-you speech that feels just a few seconds shorter than an average episode of Law & Order. The Academy Awards set a 45-second acceptance speech limit a long time ago, and generally, they stick to that time frame by having the orchestra make a respectful amount of noise, to remind winners that it’s time to wrap things up. That didn’t happen last night, which meant that winners could decide for themselves whether they wanted to give an acceptance speech or a mini TED Talk. Last night, some winners took their time and I’m sure many at home were wondering when the music was going to kick in, but it never did (and by “many” I mean “not that many” since this year’s Oscars were a ratings flop). And according to the 2021 Oscars’ musical director, Questlove, that’s because he was told there would be no wrap-it-up music this year.
Questlove spoke to Billboard about his Oscars experience, saying that he really wanted to be a part of it ever since watching the 2012 Oscars, in which musical directors Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer put together an all-star band that featuring Sheila E and Esperanza Spalding. He got to perform at last year’s ceremony, but this year he was named musical director of the whole show. That means he was in charge of musical bumpers between awards, the intro and outro music around commercial breaks, and usually, the music that starts playing when someone’s speech hits the 46-second mark. Questlove says that’s the part he was most excited about:
He adds that the first thing he thought about after confirming the role was the “wrap it up, B” music, or the play-off music for much-too-long acceptance speeches. “I didn’t work on anything. I immediately just had dreams of, ‘Man, what creative way can I disrupt someone’s overindulgent acceptance speech?’ That’s how excited I was,” he laughs.
Questlove, along with The Roots, has been the in-house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon for more than seven years. So yeah, I get it – he’s obviously been dying for the chance to be the person to move things along when a TV moment officially crosses the line from This Is Fine to No One Is Enjoying This. But he never even got the chance to DJ mix JoJo’s “Leave (Get Out)” with a sample of the iconic words of Guillermo Díaz from Chappelle’s Show. No one got to wrap it up, b.
— B.R.O.theR. ?uestion (@questlove) April 26, 2021
He explained to Variety that playing winners off was a big no-no this year:
“The one thing I’m a little disappointed that I won’t be able to do is my favorite all-time thing, which is the play-off music when the speeches get too long. (Laughter) I’m not allowed to do that. They were like, ‘No, you can’t interrupt speeches,’ so if [8-year-old Alan Kim from Minari] won Best Supporting Actor, I would just interrupt his speech. (Laughter) Not really. But one day I’ll cross that off the bucket list.”
Not having warning music both worked and didn’t. On the one hand, allowing Daniel Kaluuya to go over the 45-second limit meant we got to hear him make a joke about his parents doing it (and subsequently, confusing the hell out of his mother). On the other hand, well – we got some really long ones. I know he wasn’t allowed to play people off, but I think Questlove still could have helped people wrap it up. He just had to flash the winner on stage a glimpse of his chosen footwear for the evening:
— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) April 25, 2021
Questlove could have probably shaved at least 20 minutes off the ceremony if he had waved one of those Crocs at the winner on stage. The winner would have gotten distracted, saying, “Hold on…is that a gold Croc? Do they make them in gold, or…are those spray-painted? You know what, I’ve lost my train of thought. Speech is over, thank you and goodnight.”