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Maggie Rogers and the mystique behind the SNL musical performance

| Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Ruby Le

This past Saturday night, electro-folk and on-the-rise artist Maggie Rogers performed on one of the biggest stages any artist could hope to play: 30 Rockefeller Plaza’s Studio 8H. Also known as “Saturday Night Live.”

I was not watching the show live, but as I was surfing Twitter late Saturday night, I noticed a series of tweets commenting on how poorly she had performed her first song of the night, “Light On.” There it was, another artist added to the long list of subpar SNL performances.

Rogers was performing as the first musical guest of the season whose star is on the rise (other acts this season: Kanye, Paul Simon and Travis Scott). This was her big shot and after reading these discouraging tweets, I thought she might had thrown it away. Rest in peace Maggie Rogers’ career. You had a good run Maggie, but it’s time to let go, thnks fr th mmrs.

Well it turned out, in one of the least surprising turn of events, that Twitter had overreacted a bit to the performance. Even I, a die-hard citizen of Maggiestani, could admit that Rogers was a bit flat when singing the first verse of “Light On,” but she quickly recovered, finished the song strongly and then had a solid second performance of “Fallingwater” later on in the show. After all, it was her first time on the show, and seemed like she was nervous and excited. Given how acrobatic her vocals are, it was understandable why she had a rocky start. So a bit of a hiccup, but nothing too crazy. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but the fact that I could even fall for the Twitter reaction to the performance speaks to the daunting task and tumultuous history of SNL musical performances.

The history of notorious SNL performances runs deep. In 1981, musical guest Miles Davis, while giving an OK musical performance, had zero stage presence. For a majority of the song he had his back to the camera and looked generally uncomfortable on stage. This wasn’t some dude from off the street. This was Miles frickin’ Davis, the greatest jazz musician ever, and he laid an egg. In 1992, Sinead O’Connor went off script and ripped up a photograph of then-pope St. John Paul II during her cover of Bob Marley’s “War.” Gulp. Perhaps the biggest faux pas and most awkward moment in SNL music history was the dreaded Ashlee Simpson lip-sync incident of 2004. Super yikes. But there’s no need to even look that far back to get a head-scratching performance. During this season’s premiere Kanye West performed dressed as a Perrier bottle in a lackluster segment that featured Lil’ Pump. What that even?

As fictional superstar Ally showed the world in “A Star is Born,” even a good SNL performance is just kinda … ehh. Even a slapping song like “Why Did You Do That?” can produce an iffy result. Sure, every now and then there is a great performance by the likes of Prince, D’Angelo, Pearl Jam and, yes, even Kanye. But mostly it’s a world of mediocrity. Dave Grohl, singer/guitarist of Foo Fighters/former drummer/lovely human being, has been a musical guest on SNL 13 times, and he says he stills get nervous performing on the show and gives a bit of insight as to why this is.  

“When you’re playing a show like a stadium or arena you run out on stage you’re adrenaline is pumping,” says Grohl, “and so the first couple songs you’re kinda shaking it off.  Here [on SNL] you have to run into a cold lake. Go everyone in the world is watching. Go!”

So this tiny stage in a small studio makes even the biggest stars nervous because they might go out there and lay an egg. Perhaps it’s even more nerve-wracking for a smaller act because it can help catapult them to stardom. Big stakes. A little stage. It’s eight minutes of artificial musicianship. More TV show than concert. It’s live and anything can happen. That’s what makes it great. That’s what makes it awful.

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About Carlos De Loera

Carlos is a senior majoring in History and pursuing a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy (JED). He is from the birthplace of In-N-Out Burger, Baldwin Park, California and is glad to be one of the over 18 million people from the Greater Los Angeles area.

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