Andra Day, a best-actress nominee for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” was first up. As “Purple Rain” filled the room, she correctly guessed that the “brilliant” Prince song was snubbed in the best song category. “The score won the award but none of the songs from the score got nominated,” Howery said. “Ain’t that crazy?”
“It sounds about right,” Day said.
Next up was Howery’s “Judas and the Black Messiah” co-star Daniel Kaluuya, who won best supporting actor earlier in the night. He guessed that Donna Summer’s 1978 disco smash “Last Dance,” from “Thank God It’s Friday,” was only an Oscar nominee. Kaluuya was wrong: The track won best original song.
Then Howery made his way over to best supporting actress nominee Glenn Close, seated at the same table. Close danced in her seat as Questlove cued up the next track, which Howery said would be “a challenge” for the “Hillbilly Elegy” star to guess.
“I said come here big girl / won’t you rock my world / show that dance to me”
Howery waved his hand, asserting that Close, a 74-year-old native of Greenwich, Conn., would “know nothing” about the song, which was instantly familiar to many Washington-area natives.
“Wait a second,” Close said. “That’s ‘Da Butt.’ ”
“It was a classic song by the great Washington, D.C., go-go band EU,” she explained. “Shout-outs to Sugar Bear and the Backyard Band and the whole DMV.”
With that, the Oscars ceremony briefly went from unusual and a bit boring to positively lit. (A certain reporter who grew up in the D.C. area screamed as the eight-time Oscar nominee name-checked two of the region’s most legendary go-go bands.) Close went on to detail the 1988 song’s ill-fated history with the academy.
“Spike Lee had it written for his brilliant movie, ‘School Daze,’ and my friends at the Oscars missed it,” Close said. “It wasn’t nominated, so it couldn’t have won.”
Close had some choice thoughts about the omission — one slight in a long line of academy snubs that veteran director Lee has endured — but ABC bleeped them out. “I wasn’t expecting that at all, that you knew ‘Da Butt,’” Howery said. “It’s dope and uncomfortable at the same time.”
Howery wondered if Close knew how to actually do “Da Butt,” as in the dance for the song. She did — and demonstrated it as her colleagues applauded and laughed.
“Da Butt” was featured in a classic “School Daze” scene and in a music video directed by Lee, which launched a dance craze and became the rare go-go hit to break onto mainstream Billboard charts. A 2001 Washington Post article recalled that the director recruited EU (which stands for Experience Unlimited) to record a song for the film’s soundtrack after seeing the group perform at a party in D.C.
“In the near quarter-century since the voice of EU vocalist Sugar Bear blasted out of speakers in Cleveland and Los Angeles and D.C. itself, no other go-go track has even come close to the late Reagan-era ubiquity of ‘Da Butt,’ ” Sarah Godfrey wrote in a 2012 oral history for Washington City Paper.
As the final Oscar categories left some viewers angry about snubs, it was fun to imagine that Close is a secret go-go fan. But alas, the Los Angeles Times reported that the moment, like most lighthearted Oscar bits, was scripted.
Speaking to actor Andrew Rannells at the Oscars after-show, Howery joked that he had turned the award season’s marquee ceremony “into the BET Awards in less than five minutes.” But the comedian played coy on whether the entire bit was planned.
“I didn’t know she would do all of that,” Howery said. “I was like, ‘Well, Rel, if you can convince her to do it, see if she’ll do it.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to ask her to do Da Butt.’ And she got up and did ‘Da Butt’!”
Lee thanked Close in an Instagram video Monday for giving props to “School Daze” and one of the musical’s most memorable songs. “Glenn Close was doing ‘Da Butt.’ I saw it on video,” the director said, including a clip for reference. "You were getting down.”
Earlier this year, Collins told local station WUSA9 that he tries “to put go-go into anything I can.” It was thanks to Collins that the D.C.-bred genre got a national spotlight at the 2019 BET Awards, too, where host Regina Hall said she wanted to give viewers “a piece of the Washington, D.C., that I grew up in.”
Sugar Bear was on hand at BET’s annual awards show that year, performing a go-go tribute that included EU’s iconic hit.