Miley & Kanye’s Saturday Night Fever: Different Shades on SNL40

Audiences might have known what to expect on the immensely star-studded guest list for Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary Special. There were certainly surprises, and even a handful of disappointments of no-shows, too. What also could have been expected was superb and bizarre performances from billings like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus. Two of the most controversial acts of this generation, there was no doubt that newsworthy personality would gleam. They held up to that expectation, but then they took it by the neck and flipped it upside down.

Kanye West had a busy week including a surprise performance at the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend, at the first annual Roc City Classic, and also running around for the media stir he’s blending with Adidas. His offering of an exhausted, almost self-derisive, rendition of “Jesus Walks” spun into a somber performance of “Only One.” The minimalist setting of a bright white muslin and dark clothes continued into a third song, as Vic Mensa and Sia found their way to the meager stage to accompany him during “Wolves,” a new track from his currently untitled album. This version of Kanye appears sporadically, and might have left many taken aback. Perhaps he’s still reeling from his rants about Beck vs. Bey, or he’s strung out from studio time. Nonetheless, this could be indication of the continued spiraling down a dark alleyway that Kanye’s music has taken is a permanent thing. Little brightness has come from his genius, at least in the figurative sense, since 808s and Heartbreaks in 2008.

The execution of his SNL40 bit was emotionally visceral, steady like a slow burn that went unnoticed but a scar was left. There wasn’t anything remarkable about his triad, and no one is going to talk about it. But what happened, in the thick of his purposely rough and whipped vocals hidden through autotune, was the most accurate insight to what’s happening in Kanye West’s mind.

There’s nothing that can be done about it–he can’t even be kept off the stage at award shows. Nor does Kanye seem to want anything done about it, and his menacing contact lenses and plain hoodie are tokens of the self-awareness of his own helical plummet. Kanye is embracing himself as if he were Kim Kardashian’s plump side.

Can we blame him?

On the other hand, there’s Miley Cyrus. Look away from the television screen and listen to her performance. Close the judgment of your eyes and sweep everything you know about her under the rug for four minutes. What you’ll hear is a wonderful voice struck in the accord of a upbeat folkswing country. A voice that may lack the audible prowess of her peers, but has a staying power that is as surprising and incredulous as finding a $100 bill on the street. She’s rich with something–a revitalization (or perhaps more of a realization) that everyone should pray is here for the long run, or at least an overhaul. The sass and the bitch swag that Cyrus was force-feeding fans is as tired as a Kanye West SNL40 performance.

Is it too soon to hope that she’s knocked down her overbearing Cyrusisms with a new-fangled wrecking ball? Or is this just a one time excursion, like that time Michael and Janet Jackson made Scream? Perhaps she was ordered to show some class after being sandwiched between Paul McCartney’s and Paul Simon’s performances.

Nonetheless, she bravely took on covering Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”

And damn, she looked good doing it.

Miley’s awareness is different. After sending a homeless person to accept the Video of the Year Award from MTV, and spending some time in the hospital after suffering an allergic reaction to medicine meant to treat her heart condition, there’s evidence of a turn-around. To what she’s turned isn’t clear, and we’d have to wait until her next album, but what happened at SNL40 looked like what many might have imagined a grown-up and sophisticated Hannah Montana was supposed to look like.

The phase might not be over, but her 2013 documentary/biopic Miley: The Movement might have been the first stage exhibit of her maturity. She’s wrapped herself around her image, gone through what she’s needed/wanted to for the sake of experimentation (as should be allowed for any twenty-something), yet she’s still young. This may only be a glimpse into the future. She turns 23 this November.

What might Miley and Kanye look like come SNL50?

They could possibly be feelin’ themselves a lot more like BeyoncéWe’ll just have to wait and see as the story unfolds.

What did you think of Miley and Kanye at SNL40?


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1 Comment

  1. Lauren S

    February 18, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    I think you made a great point about Miley showing off her new maturity at SNL40, although I felt both her and Kanye’s performances were underwhelming and not quite appropriate to the event. I would have much rather seen more classic SNL clips.

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