This season of Saturday Night Live marks the legendary sketch comedy show’s 40th anniversary and Sunday was finally the date to celebrate. In addition to hosting all sorts of comedic greats that have figured into it’s history over the years, the show also paid tribute to its status as one of the most important stages in music television. Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Miley Cyrus all had traditional musical performances over the course of the show, but the show also featured more oblique allusions to its history of making fun of music.
The show opened with former SNL castmember Jimmy Fallon and recurring host Justin Timberlake rapping through the show’s history with references to a number of iconic sketches, after which McCartney and Simon offered up a brief acoustic performance of the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” (though Simon joked that they should’ve done “The Sound of Silence.” Both McCartney and Simon would return for performances of their own throughout the show, with McCartney offering up a raspy version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and Simon offering an emotional show-closing “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
Kanye’s show-stopping performance proved to be one of the three-and-a-half-hour special’s big standouts. After delivering a performance of “Jesus Walks” while splayed out on the ground in a cruciform pose, he offered a version of “Only One” before bringing out Sia and Vic Mensa for murky new single called “Wolves.” On the whole, it was a more intense stage show than you usually see at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, so you might imagine that DONDA had a hand in the set design.
Miley Cyrus also made an appearance to cover Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” cementing her recent impulse to take on famous rock hits. Fred Armisen, who also turned up in a couple of skits throughout the show, backed her on tambourine.
Speaking of Armisen, his recurring skit “The Californians” had a famous musical guest of its own in the form of one Taylor Swift, who adopted an appropriately awful accent and a Joni Mitchell-indebted outfit in a charming little cameo. Other assorted musical highlights included the return of Maya Rudolph’s Beyoncé impression, which was used as an introduction to some of SNL‘s most famous musical characters including Steve Martin’s King Tut, the Blues Brothers, and Adam Sandler’s Opera Man. Jack White and Win Butler also showed up to introduce Simon and Miley’s performances respectively. And our favorite Canadian metalheads Wayne and Garth also showed up to offer their top ten favorite things about Saturday Night Live, which included a few jokes about Kanye’s unpredictability and his recent Grammys drama.
All those moments in mind, the event turned out to be a pretty heartwarming meta-reflection on all of the things the show has done well over the past 40 years. But Lorne Michaels and co. didn’t leave themselves a lot of time to reminisce. After a week off, SNL will return on February 28 with 50 Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson hosting. Kanye’s performance is up above and you can catch some of the night’s other highlights below thanks to Vulture. More will show up as the rest of the show makes its way online.
Miley Cyrus performance:
Paul McCartney performance:
Paul Simon performance:
Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake opening rap:
Paul Simon and Paul McCartney:
“The Californians” with Taylor Swift:
Musical Tribute with “Beyoncé”:
Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg digital short: