Film and TV

Are SNL's Divisive Musical Guests Making It Relevant Again??

Even as sketch comedy tastes have changed, and a segment of the population has sadly written it off as an unfunny relic, NBC's Saturday Night Live is still pulling in cutting-edge, marquee musical guests each week, in the process creating national stars or pariahs. Or sometimes both.

Case in point: Recent performances by Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver, Karmin, the Black Keys, and Coldplay, which all became social-media fodder for days until everyone was pooped from caring.

This past weekend's Sleigh Bells set was equally panned and applauded by viewers, who either didn't "get" the duo's noise-pop, or were already fans and loved every second of the group's two songs. Some people went so far as to point to the Bells' appearance and sound as the end of modern music and the death of quality entertainment. Guest host and former SNL cast member Maya Rudolph was given high marks, though.

But nothing beats the ire that Lana Del Rey's set arose in some viewers, when her robotic, almost Fembot-like appearance was widely panned and led to her rethinking and scrapping an already planned tour, at least until she has a stage presence.

Some were even asking if Del Rey's two songs on January 14 were supposed to be comedy sketches. Then they were, in the next episode, when Kristin Wiig as Del Rey called out the show for booking musical guests like Baha Men and Bubba Sparxxx in the past.

Quite honestly, I saw nothing wrong with Del Rey's performance, and I have seen worse at any given local show here.

People seem to be watching SNL again, either live, online or DVRs, and voicing their frustrations through social media. In 2012, it's much easier to watch something like SNL without wasting your Saturday evening, and even easier to express your displeasure. Kelly Clarkson's January 7 slot seemed to be well-received, aside from people making sport of her weight.

No doubt if social media existed when punk band Fear created a riot live on TV, or Sinead O'Connor ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II, the public roar would have been deafening. We can all agree that Ashlee Simpson's 2004 lip-sync fiasco on the show put a damper on what would have been a longish career.

It doesn't seem as if the crop of musical guests are getting worse, as much as their drawl and popularity is ever drifting farther from the interests of the show's base audience. The show has had it's share of time-stopping guests who captivated for their three allotted minutes too.

The people who are home on a Saturday night watching probably don't want to see something like Lady Gaga or Del Rey's Mannequin-reboot audition tape. That older set grew up watching musical guests like Leon Redbone, Paul Simon, Patti Smith, James Taylor, and Billy Joel during those first four landmark seasons with the classic cast. I can even remember being bowled over by guests like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Morrissey as a kid.

That's not to say that the show doesn't hit home runs with its musical guests. Michael Bublé's December appearance probably helped him sell more than a few thousand units of his Christmas disc.

It's hard to tell if SNL's viewers now are hopelessly out of touch or just immune to media hype, but one thing is for sure, more people are talking about SNL Monday mornings than they were a decade ago, and that's all that really matters.

The show has Jack White lined up as a musical guest on March 3, with guest host Lindsay Lohan. Between White's boutique appeal and Lohan's drugging and partying past (and possibly present) should make it a must-see.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty