Save Kendrick Lamar: Imagine Dragons on SNL


By all accounts, Imagine Dragons are having a very, very good week. They began it with their performance with Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys last Sunday, which was one of the most lauded of the evening. They took home the statuette–or the Blue Ivy Sippy Cup, as it’s now known–for Best Rock Performance of 2014 after their bombastic rendition of the hit that got them there, “Radioactive.” They were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live Saturday night, a particularly special, poignant episode as it was Seth Meyers’ last before Jimmy Fallon passes him the Late Night torch later this month. They were in all the right places at all the right times.

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… And yet there’s something about Imagine Dragons that’s slightly off, just a hair out of tune, just a distracting millisecond of a delay on a cymbal crash that keeps them from being a universally adored rock band, and that probably has to do with the fact that it’s really hard not to Imagine Linkin Park during an Imagine Dragons set. That said, Imagine Dragons have a bit more finesse in the scream-singing department, and there’s not a lot of fault to be found for their spot on SNL despite this weird head-scratchy reaction that’s an unshakeable one after they play.

Kendrick and the strings joined them for a Grammys encore of “Radioactive,” and the colossal single was brilliantly outfitted with the same orchestral flair and exceptionally explosive percussion courtesy of the fact that every member of the band got down on their knees and beat the life out of whatever skin was in front of them–until they sort of dropped the ball. The set-up was perfect: His calculated intensity turned Dan Reynolds’ vocals into a live wire about to be tripped, the band was totally in sync and equally fixated on the dizzying din of the crescendo they were all cornering. Kendrick was plowing through his verse at the climax of the song as though his first has always been there, he finished, he screamed, and then there was a whole two seconds of silence between his triumph and the return of Reynolds’ octave-leaping roar.

It’s weird, it sounds like a mistake, one that would’ve been easily trumped with a simple decision to use Kendrick’s verse to launch immediately into the chorus for the its ultimate summit. It’s exactly what they did at the Grammys, though there was no smoke or dancing Taylor Swift to distract everyone from the dead air. It needed the fanfare, and without it, that delay became more than a delay–it became a distraction.

Again, with “Demons,” all is well until that one glaringly out-of-place detail, and for whatever reason the sluggish cymbal here takes away from a relatively approachable melody and the previously gung-ho rhythm section that multiplied so enthusiastically the song before. Reynolds? Fine. Strings? Lovely. Guitar? Sure, sounds … fine. Drums? Something isn’t synching up. Maybe it’s the sound guys on set at SNL or maybe the delay is weird, and there’s a very good chance that this went over gangbusters in studio, but “Demons” was just shy of lovely and anthemic, and it’s hard to put a precise finger on the “Why?!” of it all.

Elsewhere, on the internet, Imagine Dragons became a bit of a punch line, and we can kind of see why …