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.
Paul McCartney made his entrance in the monologue of SNL 40, coming out with Paul Simon for a quick, endearing run at “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” and shortly followed it up with a performance of “Maybe I’m Amazed” that felt comfortable, obligatory, and satisfying. McCartney is one of the most likable rockers to ever grace the airwaves; to speak ill of McCartney is to invite a pox on your house, one of broken earbuds and a relentless blast of “All About That Bass” whenever you walk into a Duane Reade from now until the end of time as punishment. But to say that “Maybe I’m Amazed” on SNL was stellar would be a huge stretch, as it was just, well, fine: Macca showed up, sang one of the more beloved ballads plucked from his discography, and made most of his high notes. Honestly? The Simon duet had a brighter shine to it. Brief as it was, that kind of pairing spoke to the collaborative and unpredictable quality of SNL. (And, y’know, involved two of the best songwriters to grace popular music, let alone the Studio 8H stage.)
McCartney’s most recent collaborator, Kanye, did exactly what he did the last time he was at SNL: He used his performance as an opportunity to break the mold on multiple levels and debuted new material. Kanye started from the floor, laying out in the shape of a cross for a few lines of “Jesus Walks” before stepping up and into the smoother sounds of “Only One.” He previewed “Wolves” during the Fashion Week presentation for his Yeezy collaboration with Adidas, but SNL would mark the first live performance where Vic Mensa and Sia would join him for the haunting rendition of the single, the three performers crawling on all fours beneath a block of neon light. Perfectly ‘Ye in its weirdness and unpredictability, “Wolves” was, again, fine: For a man whose live game can’t be beat, “Wolves” felt more like a spotlight on Mensa’s and Sia’s abilities than his own. His influence was clearly felt — three jokes were made at Kanye and Sia’s expense over the course of the evening, and with his blessing at that — so Kanye proved to be unpredictable once again in that his time at the mic in Studio 8H was relatively underwhelming.
As for Miley Cyrus? Let us repeat the plethora of raised eyebrows and gasps of surprise that rang out across the internet last night when we say DAMN. Cyrus was exceptional when she rolled through SNL while promoting Bangerz in a post-VMAs world, and her vocal chops haven’t waned since. She made short work of a cover of Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” though Simon wasn’t present for her soulful take on the track. (Fred Armisen was, though, as you can see him off to the side with a tambourine.) An unexpected pick for the typically garish and gutsy singer, and one that served as a fitting, updated tribute to one of SNL‘s favorite (and most frequent) guests.
And now for the grand finale, Simon with the most apt song selection ever, “Still Crazy After All These Years.” He’s now appeared on the show a grand total of fifteen times between his stints as host, musical guest, and featured player. The song is slightly wrapped up in Simon’s own history with SNL: He released Still Crazy After All These Years in 1975 just a few days before he performed on the second episode of the show alongside Art Garfunkel, a reunion that topped our list of the 40 best SNL musical performances. To bring the title track of the record that led him there back to Studio 8H made for a warm homecoming and a poignant moment, with Simon soaring over those notes just as easily as he did 40 years ago.
On the next page: what Twitter had to say about SNL 40.
As for the peanut gallery: The internet had plenty to say about Kanye’s art direction of the SNL stage and the fact that Miley could perform without sticking her tongue out, so it was business as usual following SNL 40, pretty much. Still, glad to see that the majority of folks who tuned in were wowed by “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and the overall positive vibes of the evening.
Party time excellent!!!!! pic.twitter.com/HiXin9RTGR
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) February 16, 2015
First things first: ZANG.
SNL 40 is the place to be and I’m in bed sick and it’s only a few blocks away. Oh well. No lack of irony in my life.
— Nile Rodgers (@nilerodgers) February 16, 2015
Genuinely bummed for Nile Rodgers, who probably had to bail on the epic afterparty (THAT PRINCE PLAYED) too.
somebody tivo the SNL anniversary for a young player
— Mac (@MacMiller) February 16, 2015
Also crossing our fingers that Mac did, in fact, find a friend with TiVo.
Miley Cyrus, sans tongue, rocked with her smooth performance of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” on SNL 40th Special. pic.twitter.com/xn5fYiU53d
— Liz Somerville (@esomervillecom) February 16, 2015
LET HER HAVE HER MOMENT, Y’ALL.
It feels like I’m betraying my friends and everything I stand for, but … I LIKED Miley Cyrus last night on “SNL.” http://t.co/xwUHRhhPwp
— Neal Rubin (@nealrubin_dn) February 16, 2015
Welcome to the Dark Side. It’s nice here.
Two of the coolest peeps evva and they is togetha!! @mileycyrus and sordociego on SNL 40 years thang… http://t.co/w0aCSlNEc2
— Wayne Coyne (@waynecoyne) February 16, 2015
Wayne Coyne was supportive even though she wasn’t wearing a suit made entirely out of pot leaves.
Pretty bold of SNL to let this McCartney guy perform without Kanye.
— The D.E.F.I. (@CS_Defi) February 16, 2015
Yesterday my dad said something bad about kanye during snl and we haven’t spoken since.
— Katie (@laurapalmersmom) February 16, 2015
gonna be weird to watch elderly kanye perform like this at SNL 80
— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) February 16, 2015
If by weird you mean “radical” then yes.
And then everyone freaked out about Kanye’s “tanning bed” setup:
I’m still trying to figure out why Kanye decided to perform on SNL from inside of a sun tanning bed.
— Paul Ryckert (@PaulRyckert) February 16, 2015
— Josh Denny (@JoshDenny) February 16, 2015
Kanye to Lorne: “Yeah, I’ll do it. But I’m gonna be lying in a tanning bed tho.” #SNL40
— Justin George (@justingeorge) February 16, 2015
I liked seeing Kanye & Sia perform in that massive tanning bed thingie. #SNL40
— Darcie (@darciedoodle) February 16, 2015