Going into Oscars night, ABC made sure viewers knew that Lady Gaga would perform; missing from the promotional ads and press material, though, was any mention of what she’d be doing. In the moments before she took the stage, host Neil Patrick Harris promised that what was about to happen would be talked about plenty the next day. And with Gaga's history at awards shows—hatching out of an egg, dying bloodily, getting dirty with Elton John, playing drag king, The Meat Dress—who could doubt him?
Gaga’s stunt, it turned out, was to have no stunt at all. After a montage of Sound of Music film clips honoring the 50th anniversary of the movie musical, she appeared on stage in a wedding-appropriate gown and, with great control and stillness, sang "The Hills Are Alive," "My Favorite Things," "Edelweiss" and "Climb Every Mountain." The music was faithful; the décor was understated. Julie Andrews emerged afterwards with sincere-seeming congratulations—“it really warmed my heart, it really did”—and Internet commenters raved. Consequence of Sound called it Gaga’s best performance ever; Twitter was alive with the sound of people saying that they didn’t know she could sing like that.
Part of Gaga’s mystique has long been that underneath the Kermit frocks and EDM beats is Stefani Germanotta, a songwriter whose pre-Gaga performances earned her comparisons to Norah Jones. As she rose to fame, Gaga portrayed herself as something other than human—“Mother Monster”—by sporting facial prosthetics on stage, wearing outlandish looks even when running daily errands, and making a point of not mentioning her personal life. Websites would post footage of Germanotta's stripped-down NYU shows as if they were exposés, and at a certain point it became more lucrative to run slideshows of Gaga out of costume rather than in it.