Alabama Shakes Bring New Tunes (and Rad Prince Earrings) to SNL

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Alabama Shakes
The last time Alabama Shakes — the Athens, Alabama, powerhouse that transforms the most basic chord progressions into soulful epiphanies better than any Southern outfit out there — hit Studio 8H, the world wouldn't stop talking about two things: Brittany Howard's voice, and Brittany Howard's mouth. With 2012's Boys and Girls came the warmly received debut of the Shakes and "Hold On," the breakout single that had Howard reining in a long note with the skill and might of a rock 'n' roll rodeo cowgirl. "Hold On," easy to sing along with and easier to love, was the tune folks remembered from their several festival appearances in the following year, and also what they started with the first time they played Saturday Night Live, in February 2013. Howard roared, the studio fell all over themselves applauding her vocal prowess, and assholes across the internet cracked jokes at her expense because, yeah, she opens wide when she's letting loose with some serious sound.

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Paul McCartney, Miley, Kanye & Paul Simon Soundtrack SNL 40 in Style

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Miley Cyrus performs Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" for Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary special.
A party four decades in the making, the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special embraced what the show's been about from the start: banking on old and new in equal measure for the sake of sparking laugh riots and iconic pop culture moments. The sketches, cameos, and monologues came from the crème de la crème of comedy, with a blitz of major marquee names — Steve Martin! Billy Crystal! Tom Hanks! Chris Rock! Melissa McCarthy! Tina! Amy! Maya! Chevy! — all making their appearances within the first hour of the 150-minute broadcast. Martin Short and Maya Rudolph (who nailed her Beyoncé impression) rolled through a handful of fantastic musical highlights that have soundtracked the show's history and made for some awesome characters (the Blues Brothers! the Butabi brothers! Marty and Bobbi!). While looking back on the musical clips of yesteryear made for an exquisitely curated nostalgic detour, SNL 40 offered four more to be considered for the list, but only two of them are worth joining the ranks of the 40 we've already gushed over — and both songs were written by the same artist.

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Saturday Night Live's Forty Essential Music Moments, Ranked

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In its four decades of endless laughs and infamous shenanigans, Saturday Night Live has produced some of the most beloved and iconic snapshots in the history of American comedy. Countless characters have leapt off the television screen and into the hearts of viewers for generations, from the stone-faced Blues Brothers to the spastic Spartan Cheerleaders to the glorious cultural exploits of Stefon. The writers, actors, and pop-culture heavyweights who've had the pleasure of hosting the show are a collection of greats who've gone on to net Oscars, stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and more — but SNL has never been a one-trick pony in the legacy creation department. Over 40 years, SNL has drawn stunning musical performances from artists of all walks of genre, documenting the rise of rock mavens, hip-hop kings, and pop players alike. To perform on SNL is to really, truly make it, proving that the late-night TV mainstay is about breaking artists who make you laugh and artists who make you sing (and/or scream out a chorus at the top of your lungs) in equal measure.

These 40 musical moments spanning the history of Saturday Night Live are not necessarily the most pristine, the most technically sound, or even the most enjoyable; they're not a collection of perfect presentations and radio-ready tracks. The chaos that ensues in Studio 8H makes legends out of men and shadows out of artists who aren't up to the challenge of performing on its stage, and the most memorable musical moments can be dubbed as good, bad, infamous, and everything in between. Read (and listen!) on to find out who made the cut, and let us know if we missed your favorite. (Just don't send the Land Shark after us if we did.)

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D'Angelo Stuns SNL With a Powerful 'Charade'

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Rarely does Saturday Night Live serve as an international platform for a musician to make a statement, but D'Angelo changed all of that the second he showed up.

Black Messiah, D'Angelo's first record since 2000's career-defining Voodoo, was rushed into a late-2014 release (after nearly a decade of delay) following the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The album was an immediate, incendiary hit with critics, many of whom had already published their Best of 2014 lists. (Black Messiah also topped the Voice's 2014 Pazz & Jop critics' poll, published in January.) D'Angelo was clearly missed, and while passionate displays of bass-led affection have defined the standard of his performances, his SNL set tapped into something direct, divine, and heartbreakingly poignant as the first hour of Black History Month came to a close. Most artists have an album to hype or a television program or movie to promote when they're booked on SNL, but D'Angelo appears less interested in capitalizing on his resurgent popularity than in getting out the message of Black Messiah.



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Blake Shelton Twangs Out of Tune on SNL

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Honestly, Blake? We're not mad. We're just disappointed.

Shelton's hosting/performing gig on Saturday Night Live this week is a lesson in coulda-woulda-shoulda: He could've brought a bit of country to the concrete jungle, and he could've downplayed the differences between the big city and the small-town sensibilities embraced by his music and persona. Despite some great comedic moments, an epic fake music video in "Wishin' Boot," and perfectly respectable renditions of "Boys 'Round Here" and "Neon Light," he stayed straight in the confines of assumption and delivered exactly the kind of episode we'd anticipate from someone who may as well be dubbed Music Row's Hollywood ambassador. He did what pop-country stars are expected to do by those who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the genre: He banked on the easy jokes and became a cartoon of himself that grew more ridiculous with every punchline, and he threw a pall over his performance (and country music on the whole) in the process.

He gave the haters what they wanted — and that's a problem, as Shelton's hokey routine set his songs up to fail.

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You Don't Have to 'Get' Sia to Love Her on 'SNL'

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No, America. Lady Gaga didn't get a haircut, Sia isn't copping Mother Monster's style, and the most exciting talent in pop music doesn't have to look at you in order to nail a stunning performance you can't look away from.

When it was announced that the notoriously stage-shy Sia would be heading to Saturday Night Live to begin the second half of the show's 40th season, question marks popped up all over the place: Was she going to perform with her back to the audience, as she's done in the past? Was she going to obscure her face, as she did in the promo videos for the episode that ran last week? Would there be dancing and a performance from Maddie Ziegler, the Dance Moms star featured in Sia's now iconic videos for "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart"? Was she going to perform onstage at all?

Thankfully, more yeses abounded than nos.

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One Direction Hit Seriously Strong Notes on SNL

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Let's get one thing clear, adults: Your newfound Directioner tendencies are TOTALLY OKAY. The One Direction guys can actually sing, and no, it doesn't make you a cheesy pop fan in dire need of public shaming to acknowledge it. They're not kids anymore, they're not going anywhere, and each record they release proves to be more likable than the last. They're doing the legwork to ensure that their voices will be heard long after they've aged out of the boyhood that keeps them employed. They're writing more, picking up an instrument from time to time (hi, Niall!) and grabbing at the reins as they continue to tour relentlessly and drop one hit after another.

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Charli XCX Plays It Too Safe With Her SNL Performance

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Despite the fact that she co-wrote and lent her voice to "Fancy," one of the most indisputable hits of 2014, the world is still arching eyebrows over Charli XCX and what exactly she's all about. Is she a pop tart banking on plaid miniskirts and '90s nostalgia in the hopes of finding her own voice in the wake of tired trends? Is she pop's next big thing, an artist who's more than capable of writing the catchiest of hooks and delivering them with an equally distinguishing voice, like Lady Gaga before her? Is she a flash in the pan or a strong talent who's earned her shiny new acclaim, this Saturday Night Live spotlight, and a shot at headlining her own agenda instead of that of her collaborators in 2015?

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Nicki Minaj Outshines James Franco With Pinkprint Cuts on SNL

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If there are two names that 2014 wore the hell out, it's Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian West, and yet Nicki Minaj was able to capitalize on both -- and deliver a stellar musical set -- on Saturday Night Live, without tapping the trend till it goes stale.

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Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson Have a Total Blast on SNL

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And just like that, the internet was a-floodin' with hearts, stars, enamored emojis, and compliments, and for one brief moment, we were all united in the warm embrace of Hooliganism after Bruno Mars took Saturday Night Live by storm (and in flamingo pink at that). We can bicker about pop stars. We can fight about Adam Levine's falsetto. We may fall down in fisticuffs over lip-syncing or awkward choreography, but we can also get giddy about a solid showing from a talent who's been staying out of the headlines lately, and we can get real, real excited for their return. That's exactly the kind of good cheer Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson brought to Saturday Night Live.

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