Eminem brings the house down with surprise Oscars performance

The 92nd Academy Awards were full of noteworthy performances, one of which came as a complete shock. Eminem's presence was not announced ahead of time, so the crowd at the Dolby theater was stunned when the rapper burst through the floor to deliver a surprise performance of his 2002 hit "Lose Yourself" from the 8 Mile soundtrack.

The performance was part of a tribute to music's important role in Oscar history. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced a medley of songs that are synonymous with the movies in which they appear. Think: "Eye of the Tiger" and the Rocky franchise or "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp" and Hustle & Flow. There's no Breakfast Club without "Don't You" and there's no Almost Famous without "Tiny Dancer." You get the idea.

The same proved true for Eminem's "Lose Yourself," which won "best original song" at the 2003 Oscars. Eighteen years later, footage from 8 Mile played behind Eminem as he rapped lyrics that have become recognizable among the masses: "His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy / There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti." 

Eminem received a standing ovation after the performance, but some viewers — both at the ceremony and on social media — seemed baffled as to why he was there. Let's take a closer look at Eminem's history with the Oscars and why this performance was so meaningful.

Eminem's Oscars performance garnered mixed reactions

Eminem's nostalgic Oscars performance of "Lose Yourself" came just after he released his 11th studio album, Music to Be Murdered By, in January 2020, so Eminem taking the stage at the Oscars to perform an 18-year-old song definitely surprised viewers. 

The camera showed various celebrity reactions, which are now circulating all over the internet. Billie Eilish and Idina Menzel looked rather puzzled, while Martin Scorsese simply looked unimpressed. Other audience members were enthusiastic, and many rapped along, including Zazie Beetz and Kelly Marie Tran. Salma Hayek (pictured) shared a sweet moment with the rapper backstage.

Folks on social media chimed in with their own two cents, too. Many were impressed by the legendary rapper's show-out, though some mourned the lack of a clear explanation for the surprise: "Maybe if there was a host we'd know why Eminem did mom's spaghetti 2 decades late," tweeted columnist Charlie Warzel for The New York Times

Ultimately, it seems people really enjoyed the show, judging by the standing ovation at the end! But why did Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers) perform this throwback in the first place?

Eminem slept through the Oscars in 2003

Eminem's first brush with the Academy Awards occurred in 2003, when "Lose Yourself" won best original song in connection with 8 Mile, a semi-autobiographical movie in which Eminem also played the lead role. He made history as the first hip-hop artist to win an Oscar, but he didn't attend the award ceremony that year. Co-writer Luis Resto delivered an acceptance speech on Eminem's behalf. "It's a great thing working with Marshall, day in, day out. He's creative. He has symphonies in his head..." Resto said at the time. "He's a good man. Good heart."

Where was Eminem? A 2003 People article titled "Eminem Naps Through His Oscar Victory" reported that the rapper was at home sleeping during the ceremony while his daughter, Hailie, watched cartoons on TV. According to the Detroit Free Press (via People), the outlet said he decided to sit out the award show because it "wasn't his sort of gig." 

Eminem gave some more context to that choice in a later interview. "I just felt like I had a snowball's chance in hell" of winning, he said. 

Eminem finally found himself at the Academy Awards

It took nearly two decades, but Eminem finally got to lose himself in the glory of his Academy Award. Right after the performance, he tweeted a throwback video of his 2003 win for best original song. The rapper said: "Look, if you had another shot, another opportunity... Thanks for having me @TheAcademy. Sorry it took me 18 years to get here." 

In the years since "Lose Yourself" broke the radio, Eminem went on to become one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Though he's released a long list of award-winning tracks, his single off the 8 Mile soundtrack remains his most successful. At the time, it broke the record for the longest-running No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, but the rapper has since admitted that he didn't understand the significance of the Academy Awards back in 2003. 

Years later, the magnitude of this Oscar moment is no longer lost on Marshall Mathers. Academy Award show producer Howell Taylor talked to USA Today about planning for the rapper's surprise performance. "We made a show that was about impact and we wanted to do a segment on the impact of music," Taylor said. "And we reached out to see if that was something he wanted to be involved in and we were just really lucky he said yes."