Ronda Rousey was awkward and stiff on Saturday Night Live, and Selena Gomez was even more awkward, but you know what? They had to work on a Saturday night in the middle of a blizzard and they couldn’t take a cab home, you guys! Ronda and Selena aren’t quite the poor delivery folks who had to go out and bring sushi to Satan via Seamless, but feel for them anyway, as they likely did not show up to 30 Rockefeller Plaza with duck boots and other appropriate snow-combatting ensembles perfect for trekking home through a travel ban. (Or feel for them until we find out that Lorne arranged for some of those turtleneck-sporting snap gang dudes to give them piggy-back rides to the Parker Meridien or wherever they wound up staying after last night’s show or something.)
The best analogy I can think of for Gomez’s ill-fated SNL debut comes from my buddy, Nate. Remember when Lays decided it was going to throw the snack aisle into a tailspin, and the company held that Create The Weirdest, Most Unnecessary Flavor Ever contest for its potato chips? Nate posted a photo of Mango Salsa Wave Lays along with the caption “THESE TASTE LIKE CONFUSION,” and that is more or less the feeling one gets after watching what Gomez brought to SNL. She has stage presence for days, she’s charming, she’s relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera, and that makes her endearing, sure. Critics by the score loved her most recent album, Revival, fine. She found a small army of snapping dudes to accessorize her first song of the evening, okay. She could not find the key she needed for her latest hit, “Same Old Love,” to save her life, and what was presented at Studio 8H indicates that she clearly spent more time thinking about and honing her choreography and staging for “Good For You/Same Old Love” and “Hands to Myself” than she did singing through her singles. She at once was likeable and utterly boring, someone who walks the line between talented and not in the matter of a measure. Selena Gomez took a page from Lana Del Rey’s handbook for Benedryl-fueled performances. Selena Gomez is Mango Salsa Wave Lays potato chips. What Selena Gomez is serving up in a live capacity tastes like confusion.
Gomez, commendably, tried to cast aside aspersions that she is not a pop talent to be taken seriously — but she failed. The “Good for You” intro is sleepy and straightforward here, and gal could barely get a hold on that rhythm, let alone the sped-up snaps that came in for the “Same Old Love” transition. Couple that with the completely hopeless — though valiant! — effort to find the transition to “Same Old Love” a cappella and you’ve got a situation where fans at home are wincing and members of the in-studio audience are uncomfortably shifting in their seats while trying to gauge the reactions of the people around them as covertly as possible. Had she nailed that move from “Good for You” to “Same Old Love,” the breathless delivery and lukewarm notes would’ve been overlooked or forgotten, even. Her belt has its moments and the track is hooky as hell, but the bones of a song written by Charli XCX couldn’t save Gomez and her lesser talent. Charli probably would’ve nailed that segue, or she would’ve had the foresight to back away from it. Gomez didn’t, and the risk didn’t pay off.
And where oh wheeeeere do we start with “Hands to Myself”? Do we fixate on the sheer discomfort of Gomez’s vocal somersaults that don’t stick their landing? Do we mull over the over-compensating staging of this threesome dance party? Do we acknowledge the fact that this was basically a live performance of a music video, and that it lacked the polish and appeal of a music video entirely? Or do we point out that Gomez relied solely on the lowest common denominator — read: sex appeal — to overshadow her sub-par singing? This is a trainwreck through and through, but hey, at least Gomez seems to have a sense of humor about it by the time she flopped back down onto the black satin bed that totally looks like it got stolen from Cove Haven. She laughed it off, which is what we kind of had to do, too.
So, yes: Considering how positive the reviews were for Revival back when her album dropped in October, Gomez’s SNL showing tastes like confusion in a big, artificial way. It’s disappointing to see her fall short onstage when she thrived in the studio, as it calls into question how much of Revival‘s strength lies in the singer or the team behind it. Gomez gets an A for effort, but SNL isn’t an “Every kid gets a trophy!” kind of operation. On a late night stage that’s proven to be historically ambivalent towards pop stars, Gomez was walking into a tricky situation. It just would’ve been rad to see her triumph instead of falter, and it would’ve been radder still for her to prove what all the fuss has been about instead of further confusing the critics and validating the skeptics. In short, Lorne probably would’ve saved a ton of viewers from a disappointing showing had he listened to de Blasio and sent everyone home from work early in the face of Jonas.
With the exception of Gomez’s vocal fans, the Selenators, Twitter was awash with creepy dudes fixating on Gomez’s little black dress and people throwing their funny bones out of their sockets with Steve Jobs jokes aplenty. The real winners of Gomez’s SNL performance were the snap-happy dudes, apparently.
Wait, so maybe she WASN’T belting — maybe she was just yawning super hard into the microphone.
I love Selena Gomez and maybe even because every single thing she does seems to bore the hell out of her. #SNL
— Kevin Fallon (@kpfallon) January 24, 2016
At the top of the show, Ronda handed her mic to Gomez on the premise that Gomez could sing, and, well:
— ㅤ (@oldwaysgrande) January 24, 2016
Ronda Rousey says she can't sing so she hands the mic to Selena Gomez, another person who can't sing. SNL is off to another fantastic start.
— alexandra (@lexandragalinat) January 24, 2016
You learn something new every day.
I'm watching SNL, and apparently Selena Gomez is a singer in addition to being a series of memes on my phone.
— Alex Wyse (@alexwyse) January 24, 2016
— Rand Duren (@RandDuren) January 24, 2016
OMG! My mentions are filled with Selena Gomez fans telling me I'm a bad old man. And Demi fans being nice. pic.twitter.com/ztKs2EKWjW
— Rand Duren (@RandDuren) January 24, 2016
My dad watching selena gomez on SNL: the dancers should be been covering her mouth instead of groping her. She sounded like she was dying
— satan,, (@gigglenouis) January 24, 2016
Did you just google “Someone Good At Opera” or
Selena Gomez could sing like Maria Callas and they'd still say she's whispering. She did great on #SNL. Stay pressed.
— lefteris☁️ (@smgupdated) January 24, 2016
the amount of love i have for SNL and Selena Gomez just SEPARATELY is a lot ok…. so Selena + SNL = I'm bald and crying
— baby (@tomlinsadist) January 24, 2016
And finally, for the REAL stars of the show: Gomez’s Turtlenecked Snap Squad.
Selena Gomez tops T. Swift's squad with 12 men whose sole purpose is to snap. #SNL
— Samantha Highfill (@samhighfill) January 24, 2016
Selena Gomez officially killed it on #SNL and I'm officially obsessed with her gang of snapping turtlenecks.
— lauren piester (@laurenpiester) January 24, 2016
Why are all these guys behind Selena Gomez dressed like Steve Jobs, is this an Apple commercial? #SNL
— BrowntoBure (@BrowntoBure) January 24, 2016
Selena Gomez seriously has a group of guys just snapping around her as her instrumental during her performance on SNL, goals
— Cori Sakurai (@HerroDisCori) January 24, 2016
Putting Selena Gomez Snapper on my resume right now. #SNL
— Thin_White_NotADuke (@brimaguire) January 24, 2016