Most Jaw-Dropping 'SNL' Performances

By Rose Wythe

April 12, 2018

Because “Saturday Night Live” is, well, live every week, the show really lends itself to having some shocking, unscripted moments on-air (Sorry, Lorne!). While those moments occasionally take place during the show’s comedy sketches, they more often than not happen during live performances, where artists have complete command of the audience for the (admittedly short) length of their set. In honor of Cardi B’s recent “SNL” performance – where she finally confirmed those long-standing rumors of her pregnancy without saying a word – we took a look back at some of the most jaw-dropping “SNL” performances of all time. Read on!

1. Cardi B

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Cardi B’s April 7 “SNL” performance was successful in two ways: It not only solidified Cardi’s status as a growing icon within the industry, but it finally confirmed music’s worst kept secret - that Cardi is, indeed, pregnant with Offset’s baby. During her performance of “Be Careful,” the camera slow panned out from a tight shot to reveal a baby bump, once and for all.

2. Ashlee Simpson

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Ashlee Simpson’s fate was sealed when the wrong backing track revealed the singer had been lip syncing her entire set. While the set could have potentially been saved, Ashlee’s next moves – doing a jig, running offstage, and then blaming her band for the mixup – solidified hers as one of the worst performances in “SNL” history.

3. Nirvana

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Nirvana appeared on “SNL” the same week their sophomore album Nevermind did the unthinkable and knocked Michael Jackson off the top spot. While the group ended their performance of “Territorial Pissings” by destroying their instruments onstage, it wasn’t until the very end of the show – when the cast says its goodbyes – that leader Kurt Cobain kissed his bandmates on the mouth “to piss off the rednecks and homophobes,” according to Rolling Stone.

4. Justin Timberlake and JAY-Z

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Justin Timberlake introduced himself as the evening’s musical guest — a fitting move, considering he also played “SNL” host that night. His performance of “Suit & Tie” went off without a hitch, and was elevated when JAY-Z appeared onstage alongside JT.

5. Kanye

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Kanye’s “Black Skinhead” performance was unsurprisingly heavy-hitting, strong in its arresting visuals, leaving just a sole spotlight on Kanye as he performed the track. 

6. Elvis Costello

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Elvis Costello’s label reportedly demanded he perform his single “Less Than Zero” on the “SNL” stage. He played a few seconds of the track before launching into “Radio Radio,” a song that had yet to see a commercial release, instead. 

7. Sinead O’ Connor

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Sinead O’Connor made headlines when she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II during her performance — an a cappella version of the Bob Marley track “War,” where she rewrote the line “fight racial injustice” to “fight sexual abuse.” 

8. Lana Del Rey

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Lana Del Rey’s “SNL” performance lacked any true scandal, but it was noteworthy in its strangeness. Her nerves very clearly showing, Lana simply stood in place, awkward and stiff – save for a twirl that immediately became a meme. Lana, however, was undeterred by public opinion, telling Rolling Stone: "I actually felt good about it. I thought I looked beautiful and sang fine." 

9.  Kesha

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Kesha took the 2010 “SNL” stage covered in bodypaint, an unsurprising move for the type of performer she was at the time. But then the lights dimmed, and the bodypaint was revealed to be glow-in-the-dark, making for a memorable performance of “Your Love Is My Drug.”

10. Rage Against The Machine

Photo: YouTube

Rage Against the Machine were banned from ever taking the “SNL” stage again after they performed their hit “Bulls On Parade” in front of an upside-down American flag — a gesture meant to protest the night’s show, former Republican nominee, Steve Forbes. Lorne Michaels forced the band to leave the set right after the performance, prohibiting them from playing a second song that night.

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