The Music of SNL 40

by Lydia Felty ’17

SNL 40 — a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live — opened with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake rapping their way through a tribute to past musical performances, from the Blues Brothers to the Lonely Island, and giving a quick overview of guests to come. As soon as it started, I knew we were in for a good show, and they did not disappoint.


Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon

After Fallon and Timberlake finished, Steve Martin led the classic host monologue, wondering aloud how everyone who had taken the SNL stage could be honored during the 3.5-hour show. He then answered his own question: “We leave them out.” Although they certainly had to be selective in choosing the night’s acts, they did an excellent job of incorporating a variety of great musicians, young and old. Within the monologue alone, some of the night’s performers — Miley Cyrus, Paul McCartney, and Paul Simon — were introduced, and the two Pauls sang a quick duet of “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” giving the audience a taste of the excellent music to follow.

Some artists had smaller performances — take Alicia Keys’s incredible solo of “Empire State of Mind” and a series of clips celebrating the city, for example — while other artists were featured in sketches. Justin Bieber and Tony Bennett were impersonated during a hilarious new installment of “Celebrity Jeopardy!” and Taylor Swift starred in a celebrity-filled sketch called “The Californians.”


Martin Short and Maya Rudolph (as Beyoncé)

Martin Short and Maya Rudolph (as Beyoncé) sang an entertaining tribute to past SNL musical performances, interspersed with appearances by various musical guests. Garth and Kat (Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig, respectively) even showed up in their iconic vests for a quick performance of a song they claimed to have written just for the event, and Marty Culp and Bobbi Mohan-Culp (Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer, respectively) covered “Uptown Funk,” “All About That Bass,” and “Turn Down for What” in their typical conservative, operatic style. The section culminated dynamically as the Blues Brothers sang “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and the rest of the musical performers gathered on stage to dance.

Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler performing "That's When You Break."

Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler performing “That’s When You Break.”

Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg (joined later by Bill Hader) later performed their new musical digital short “That’s When You Break,” a catchy ode to all the times cast members and guests have broken character by smiling or laughing. The song had an odd switch of musical tone and lyrical focus when they sang about Lorne Michaels, but Sandler and Samberg made it work.

The main musical performances were equally incredible. The first was cleverly introduced by Keith Richards, who gave his own band a shout-out instead of praising the actual performer: “In the early Sixties a band came out of England and it changed the world. But enough about the Rolling Stones. Ladies and gentlemen, Paul McCartney.” Unsurprisingly, McCartney killed it with his performance of “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Miley Cyrus heralded back to her country roots by singing a delightful version of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” that featured Fred Armisen on auxiliary percussion. Cyrus sang softly during verses but boomed loudly during the chorus. The song choice was interesting, especially considering Cyrus’s usual repertoire, but the song was well done and fit well with the tone of the show.

Miley Cyrus performing "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and Kayne West performing "Jesus Walks"

Miley Cyrus performing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and Kayne West performing “Jesus Walks.”

Kanye West came next with an interesting visual performance. He laid on the ground for the entirety of his first song “Jesus Walks” by giving the cameramen interesting angles to work with and setting a strange tone for the remainder of his act. After West sang “Only One,” Sia and Vic Mensa jumped onstage, and the three of them sang “Wolves” on their knees. Although the visual was odd, it was certainly captivating.

Paul McCartney and Paul Simon performing a duet of “I’ve Just Seen a Face"

Paul McCartney and Paul Simon performing a duet of “I’ve Just Seen a Face”

Paul Simon ended the show fittingly with “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Just before he sang, he asked the SNL band to stand and bow, a much deserved tribute to their many years of incredible musicianship. “Still Crazy” featured heavy saxophone from the band, including an incredible solo. The performance was excellent, but I was honestly a bit disappointed by the slow ending to the night. It felt like the end to an era, rather than a celebration of the past.

Toward the end of the show, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reunited as Wayne’s World to read off SNL’s Top Ten list, which featured musical guests as item number six, noting that the show has had three Beatles, Nirvana, U2, Beyoncé, and Beck. Certainly musical guests have played an important role in Saturday Night Live’s past 40 years, and they were especially prominent at SNL 40. Yes, I do wish Taylor Swift had performed; no, I don’t think there was enough Alicia Keys; and yes, I was incredibly disappointed that the foreshadowed N*SYNC reunion performance was a mere rumor. But overall, it was an excellent show well worth the 3.5 hours.