The musical guests of Saturday Night Live don’t just use their mics to perform, but also to speak on important cultural issues. Artists from Nirvana to Megan Thee Stallion have voiced what matters most to them on one of the most notable platforms on television over the past few decades.
Below, find the various times musicians have made political statements while taking over Studio 8H for the sketch comedy series.
Jan. 11, 1992: Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic kisses his bandmates to “piss off the rednecks and homophobes”
After ripping through “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Territorial Pissings,” Novoselic intended to “piss off the rednecks and homophobes” with his PDA with Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl for one of the band’s greatest TV and film moments.
The Pearl Jam frontman exercised his free speech by rocking a “No Bush ’92” tee onstage ahead of the presidential election that year. Former President Bill Clinton eventually defeated the incumbent.
Oct. 3, 1992: Sinead O’Connor rips up a picture of the Pope
O’Connor revised her a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “War” to discuss child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. And as a form of protest, she wrapped her performance by ripping a picture of Pope John Paul II. “Fight the real enemy!” she demanded.
April 13, 1996: Rage Against the Machine hangs upside-down American flag on the mic
RATM charged through “Bulls on Parade,” but the parade got cut short when the SNL stagehands took issue with their unpatriotic prop. “As soon as we’re offstage, the show’s producer, Marci Klein… informs our tour manager that there will be no second song,” guitarist Tom Morello recalled in a 1996 interview with RIP Magazine. “No cozy wave goodnight at the end, no hugging [host] Steve Forbes. It’s just, ‘Get out of the building right now.'”
Jan. 31, 2015: D’Angelo‘s backup singers don “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” shirts
Five years before George Floyd and less than a year after Eric Garner, another Black man who screamed “I can’t breathe” several times as police officers compressed his neck and ultimately died, D’Angelo’s SNL performance remains evergreen. His singers highlighted their last words as well as “Black Lives Matter” on their tees, while D’Angelo wore a hoodie as a nod to Trayvon Martin and performed his Black Messiah tracks next to a chalk outline of a human body in reference to Michael Brown. He and his band The Vanguard ended their show with their fists raised in the air as a form of solidarity with the BLM movement.
Oct. 8, 2016: Lin-Manuel Miranda disses Donald Trump while performing “My Shot” during his opening monologue
From one president to another, Miranda, who portrayed President Alexander Hamilton in his award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton, connected his work to the 2016 presidential election. “It’s about two famous New York politicians locked in a dirty, ugly, mud-slinging political campaign,” he teased before going straight into one of the musical’s songs “My Shot.” And he took a shot at Trump when he started naming the show’s previous guests, whose pictures were hanging up on the wall backstage of Studio 8H. “On this wall, in this hall, I’m getting a piece of it. Miley, Schumer, Tracy Morgan, and this piece —” he paused while pausing by Trump’s autographed poster.
Sept. 30, 2017: Jay-Z wears Colin Kaepernick jersey
Hov opened the 43rd season of the series by delivering a couple of 4:44 tracks while donning a custom No. 7 Nike jersey with “Colin K” written on the back. He honored the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who was blackballed from the league after kneeling during the national anthem in protest against police brutality toward Black Americans. Kap went on to become a free agent on March 2, 2017, after opting out of the final season of his contract.
Oct. 3, 2020: Megan Thee Stallion calls out Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron
In a similar fashion to Jay-Z, Megan opened the 46th season of SNL with a poignant performance by sending a targeted message to the Kentucky AG, after no police officers were indicted in direct connection to the killing of Louisville EMT Breonna Taylor. Meg’s “Savage” performance, which also highlighted the words “Protect Black Women” on the screen, was interrupted by audio of gunshots and a snippet of Malcolm X’s 1962 speech “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?”: “The most disrespected, unprotected, neglected person in America is the Black woman. Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? The color of your skin? The shape of your nose? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?” Then activist Tamika Mallory’s criticism of Cameron rang through the speakers: “Daniel Cameron is no different than the sellout negroes that sold our people into slavery.”
Oct. 24, 2020: H.E.R.’s quiet plea to #EndSARS
H.E.R. took a page from D’Angelo’s book when she appeared on SNL for her performance. During the debut of her song “Hold On,” her backing vocalists and musicians could be seen wearing black T-shirts bearing the hashtag “#EndSARS.” The campaign calls for the breakup of Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad and an end to police brutality.