It's funny to think about it. Back just a few months ago--November 2010, to be exact--Gwyneth Paltrow was prepping like mad and sweating bullets about stepping on a stage and performing in front of an audience.
That would be the 2010 Country Music Association Awards, at which Paltrow--fairly recently indoctrinated into the country world via a film role which required her to sing country music--was invited to perform. The Oscar-winning actress, no stranger to, well, anything having to do with performance at any level, admitted to countless outlets she was pretty much quaking in her boots when she finally (and successfully) hit the CMAs stage.
How things have changed. Let's flash forward to the present, namely, the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, in which she also stepped onto a stage and performed a country-music number. Let us count the ways that things have shifted.
Number One: Despite being at the Oscars as this year's representative of the country music world (Keith Urban as Nicole Kidman's escort notwithstanding)--the performer of Best Original Song nominee "Coming Home" from the film Country Strong--Paltrow kicked things off by giving props to...hip-hop.
When asked on the red carpet who would be her dream duet partner, the actress brightly answered, "Jay-Z." Aw, shucks, Gwyn. Last year, you were going on and on about your newfound adoration for country music, right? There goes your opening slot on the Tim McGraw tour!
Number two: As the performer with the most popular pop-culture wattage out of all the best-song nominees, Paltrow's number was saved for last--and if one could believe presenter Jennifer Hudson, she was the newest sensation to hit the Nashville scene since Carrie Underwood.
With this sort of buildup, one might forgive Paltrow for not living up to hype. But, she delivered.
At the CMA Awards last fall, Paltrow faced down her dragons in the form of a genuine country audience. She was landing on the country radio charts; she had the backing of costar McGraw; she even had Vince Gill up on stage with her (as good a helping hand in Nashville terms as any). Even then, she admitted fear. Still, she managed to prevail, producing a slightly stiff but technically solid performance.
Having conquered this hurdle (as well as movie critics who largely panned Country Strong overall but praised the film's musical element), it seems Paltrow had nothing much to fear from Hollywood; an audience of her peers. Whatever the reason--she delivered. Steady, heartfelt, and without a waver, she presented a flawless front.
Props to hip-hop notwithstanding, she's pretty much won this country-music blogger over. Yeah, sure, I laugh at some of the stuff she writes for Goop, I admit it. But hey. I give credit where credit is due. In about a year's time, she's figured out what's taken a lot of musicians eons longer to achieve.
Paltrow does her work, when it's really her work. We all know what her work is at this point. It's not lifestyle websites or magazine articles. It's performance. And she nails it when she makes up her mind to.
"Coming Home" actually lost out to Randy Newman's "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3. And the award would have gone to the songwriters, not Paltrow, anyway. But to use a silly cliche, she was a winner in my book this particular evening. Not because I think she's the next Underwood, or anything else of that nature.
Because say what you will about her, this woman does her work.
Did you enjoy Gwyneth's performance at the Oscars? Be sure to let me know what you think.
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