3 Shocking Musical Performances on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live recently wrapped its 49th season with host Jake Gyllenhaal and “Espresso” singer Sabrina Carpenter.

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The show’s musical guests have ranged from icons to legends in the making to artists with disappearing careers. As another season ends, here’s a look at three shocking performances from nearly a half-century of Saturday Night Live.  

The Replacements, “Bast–ds of Young” (1986)

When Paul Westerberg cued guitarist Bob Stinson during The Replacements’ SNL rendition of “Bast–ds of Young,” he shouted, “Come on, f—-r,” which the vocal mic picked up and broadcast past the censors to live television. The Minneapolis band rambled drunkenly through their underground anthem as Westerberg sang intermittently over cranked amps the studio’s engineers frantically tried to subdue.

SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels was furious, and the band having rearranged the dressing room didn’t help matters. Their manager tried apologizing, but Michaels berated him, saying, “How dare you do this? Do you know what you just did to this show? Your band will never perform on television again!”

Stinson assessed the experience this way: “They put their noses up at us, and we spit up their nose hole.” The TV show booked a punk band, and they shouldn’t have been surprised when the punks showed up. The Replacements’ performance was so beautifully unprofessional, alive, and free. In a song about fitting in, Westerberg organized his frustration in one line: The ones who love us least / Are the ones we’ll die to please.

Ashlee Simpson, “Autobiography” (2004)

Many pop artists lip-sync during “live” performances. There are various reasons for this phenomenon. Some artists want to focus more on a dance routine and cannot catch the required breaths to hit their notes. Meanwhile, others, let’s say, don’t sound like their recordings without the benefit of studio wizardry. For now, leave aside the debate over whether a TV show with “live” in its title should allow such a practice.

The perils of performing against a backing track became clear during Ashlee Simpson’s 2004 SNL appearance. During the Broad Ideas with Rachel Bilson & Olivia Allen podcast, Simpson recently shared she had woken up the day of her performance and couldn’t speak. Geffen Records persuaded her to perform with prerecorded vocals instead. (It’s fair to question why prerecorded vocals were readily available on short notice.) The first song, “Pieces of Me,” went as planned. However, when “Autobiography” was cued, the singer was stunned when prerecorded vocals from “Pieces of Me” began playing. She smiled nervously, jigged, shrugged, and walked off the stage. The show quickly cut to a commercial.

Critics were brutal toward Simpson, and regardless of attitudes toward miming singers, she was only 19 or 20 years old at the time.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge” (1992)

Following the release of their groundbreaking album Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991, the Red Chili Peppers were riding an alt-rock wave to global stardom. However, their 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live exposed a band member spiraling. They opened their two-song set with “Stone Cold Bush” from Mother’s Milk. The Los Angeles band ripped through the song, but the tension was visible from guitarist John Frusciante’s side of the stage.

When the Chili Peppers returned for their soon-to-be ubiquitous hit “Under the Bridge,” Frusciante began the song with a bewildering interpretation. Singer Anthony Kiedis recalled in his memoir Scar Tissue, “I’ve since heard that John was on heroin during this show,” he said, “but he may as well have been on another planet because he started playing some s–t I’d never heard before. I had no idea what song he was playing or what key he was in. He looked like he was in a different world.” 

By the time the song’s refrain came around, the guitarist yelled wordlessly into the microphone. Frusciante eventually left the group in May 1992 and descended into a well-publicized heroin addiction. Seemingly from the dead, Frusciante returned to the band, and they, too, returned to SNL in 2006 for a blistering performance.

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Photo by Katie Stratton/Getty Images for Coachella

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