Anything that combines Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Taylor Swift and more music stars is bound to be pretty special. And so it was on Saturday Night Live‘s 40th anniversary special Sunday night (Feb. 15), where — in between tributes to all of the SNL greats (like Jane Curtin, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey all sharing the “Weekend Update” stage) — the show also managed to sneak in plenty of music stars for performances and special cameos.
Below, 10 of our favorite music moments from the three-and-a-half-hour festivities, which, yes, include expected highlights like a Justin Timberlake appearance, but also features never-could-have-predicted-this gems such as Miley Cyrus covering Paul Simon (!?).
1. The episode started strong: Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake kicked things off with original song/rap “The Chronicles of SNL” that basically was just a “History of Rap”-esque call-out to every SNL catchphrase over 40 years, from Church Lady’s “Isn’t that special” to “Jane you ignorant slut.” And yes, Timberlake did perform a little of his own biggest SNL catchphrase: a glorious shoutout to one “d–k in a box.”
2. Steve Martin delighted the crowd when he showed up to run down what kind of person makes the best host — which was really just an excellent excuse to bring out a bunch of the all-time faves, including Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin. Miley Cyrus stopped by for a brief second, but music fans likely really lost their minds when Paul McCartney and Paul Simon (a.k.a the small subgroup “singers named Paul”) appeared to perform a bit of “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” The audience naturally loved it — but Martin still dismissed the two, leading Simon to announce, “I told you we should have done ‘Sound of Silence.'”
3. “In the early ’60s a band came out of England and it changed the world…but enough about the Rolling Stones. Ladies and gentleman, Paul McCartney.” Keith Richards wins the intro game, yes? Cut to McCartney singing “Maybe I’m Amazed” on piano and everyone else just watching in God-this-is-the-absolute-coolest awe. The talent level throughout the entire show really was something to behold.
4. Speaking of talent, Betty White! The show updated several all-time classic sketches for the broadcast, including, somewhat surprisingly, the love-it-or-hate-it “The Californians.” This time around, both White and Cousin Allison (Taylor Swift) made an appearance. Swift was committed (something anyone who saw her host back in 2009 shouldn’t be surprised by), but the best part may have been Great Aunt Lana (White) making out with Bradley Cooper. There are, of course, no winners in a celebratory show like this, but, I mean, White totally won.
5.First things first: Maya Rudolph owns the game when it comes to Beyonce impressions, so it was a treat to see her return as Queen Bey (personal wind machine and all!) alongside Martin Short for a segment that highlighted various music-themed skits from seasons past. It started with “Bey” singing the phrase “40 Years of SNL” to the tune of “Drunk in Love,” then had Marty and Bobbi Mohan-Culp (Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer) put their own unique spin on “Uptown Funk,” “Turn Down for What,” and “All About That Bass.” The whole thing culminated in delightful reappearances of Adam Sandler‘s Opera Man, The Blues Brothers, and one Mr. Bill Murray.
6. Introduced by Candice Bergen and Winn Butler, Cyrus performed a country-fied version of Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” with Fred Armisen on tamborine. Sadly, Simon didn’t come out to complete the switch by singing “Wrecking Ball.”
7. Kanye West performed “Jesus Walks” lying down on the floor in a crucifiction pose, then segued into “Only One,” then was joined by Sia and Vic Mensa to perform his new track “Wolves.” The fact that he was introduced by Mr. Cowbell himself, Christopher Walken, was just the icing on the cake.
8. Andy Samberg and Sandler sang a very special new digital short song, “That’s When You Break,” which was intercut with footage from 40 years of stars — mostly one infamous-for-it Fallon — cracking up midway through sketches. Who knew Horatio Sanz was the real reason Fallon could never keep it together?
9. A “Wayne’s World” update allowed Dana Carvey and Mike Myers to make fun of West (particularly apropos because, of course, Myers knows all too well the uncomfortableness of Kanye going off script). Overall, a giant missed opportunity for an already-in-the-building Swift to storm the stage, although West cracking a smile as he was restrained by “security guards” was super charming.
10. “I feel so privileged tonight to be here playing with the Saturday Night Live band,” Paul Simon said after being introduced by Jack White in the closing moments of the show. Simon then sang “Still Crazy After All These Years” backed by the SNL house band.
Bonus! Saturday Night Live: 40th Anniversary Special: The only place this photo could possibly have happened.
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