SNL Remembers Prince With Music & Comedy

Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC/Getty Images.
Prince and Saturday Night Live have known each other for a long time. His first appearance was on February 21, 1981, serving as the musical guest. In the 35 years that have passed, Prince became permanently embedded in our collective unconscious. The world has had a purple hue since the artist’s untimely death and Saturday Night Live paid tribute with a heartfelt and heartbreaking retrospective.

“Goodnight, Sweet Prince” (a reference to Horatio’s final goodbye to Hamlet, fitting for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death) was an hour and half of musical performance and all things Prince from the last 35 years of SNL. Jimmy Fallon opened the show, reminding us all, “There was always something different about a Prince performance. It was special. It was Prince.” Fallon was working hard to hold it together while he talked about Prince’s importance and significance. “Prince has never not been cool,” he said. There was even a joke, even if it’s a sad one: “He owned the color purple.”

The first clip was that first performance from 1981. Prince was 22 years old, performing “Partyup” from Dirty Mind. Looking back, there is no way we could have known then the impact he would have, but watching it now, it is all there and it runs through all of the clips: the energy, the charisma, the presence.

Fallon points out the subtle wink from Prince to Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher character at the end of “Beautiful, Loved, and Blessed," from 2006. After the song has ended, he raises his arms in her signature move, “Superstar!”

The story goes that it was Chris Rock that convinced Lorne Michaels to give Prince an eight-minute block during Prince and Rock’s appearance together in 2014. If there was ever a musical guest who deserved this kind of unprecedented freedom, it was Prince. For the unusual appearance, he was backed by the all-female 3RDEYEGIRL and he flat-out shredded on guitar.

The never-before-aired footage from the SNL 40th Anniversary Special after-party lived up to its hype. Fallon tells the story of an all-star jam session after the big special. Fallon challenged Prince to make it to the stage. The crowd parted, as Fallon tells it, “Like he was Batman. You send a signal and he shows up.” Everyone rushed the stage. All of the A-listers clamored to get a closer look, many shooting video with their phones. The jam session that had opened with Paul McCartney ended with Prince and he, in Fallon’s words, “destroyed it.” It’s a version of “Let’s Go Crazy” like you’ve never heard: raw, dirty, and just what you’d want a private Prince concert at 4:30 in the morning to sound like.

Fred Armisen played Prince several times on Saturday Night Live alongside Maya Rudolph as Beyoncé. The sketches remind us of the universality of Prince’s appeal and the measure of his mystique. Even a Prince tantrum is beautiful and mysterious, with purple feathers and white roses.

Cue the organ and start the dance break. After all, “It’s The Prince Show.”

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