Top 10 Best SNL Musical Guests of the Century (So Far)

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Top 10 Best SNL Musical Guests of the Century (So Far)

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Zachary Siechen
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 SNL Musical Guests of the Century So Far. For this list, we'll be looking at the most memorable, groundbreaking, and all around best musical guests who have showcased their talents on this generation-defining variety show. We're considering artists who have appeared on Saturday Night Live from the year 2000 until now. We'll be judging them on the merit of their performances and on how well they've stood out amongst the treasure trove of troubadours who've made a stop at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Our dountdown includes Prince, Childish Gambino, Miley Cyrus, Billie Ielish, and more!
Transcript

#10: Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson


Let’s kick things off with our sunglasses and fedoras on. The multitalented dance-child of Michael Jackson and Powerline has illuminated “SNL” with his personality as a host and a musical guest, and he’s killed it as both. While “24K Magic” got the whole soundstage on its feet, it’s his and Mark Ronson’s presentation of “Uptown Funk” that punched a hole in the fabric of our memories. Bruno and his boys electrify the stage with cool and coordinated marionette-like dance moves, and Ronson compliments the fun with his chill posture and funky guitar sound. The hit has since bulldozed weddings and cellophane floors worldwide, but the “Michelle Pfeiffer” gold that it struck all started here.

#9: Kendrick Lamar


Straight outta Compton, California came Kendrick Lamar, bringing a way with syllables and something important to say. He’s widely considered one of the greatest rappers of his generation, and his “SNL” tour provides an upscale sampling of why. Appearing twice, he’s been a revelation at serving up experimental hip hop with a side of soul, performing “Swimming Pools” and “Poetic Justice” alongside full jazz bands. He really makes a sonic boom with his rendition of “I,” where the horns, rhythm, and beats seem to possess his entire body. If you’re not watching, the magic made by his unpredictable twitches might be lost in the translation of your Beats headphones. It’s spectacular rap-for-the-ages in a performance that’s likely to be long-talked-about.

#8: Rihanna


Robyn Rihanna Fenty has been a mainstay of the music scene since nearly the century’s beginning, and her talent has only ripened with age. Her “SNL” resume is dotted with fearlessly confident showstoppers, like her Season-Forty-closer “B**** Better Have My Money.” When her attitude and impressive vocals aren’t outshining elaborate sets and choreography, she’s aiming at our hearts and minds with soliloquies like “Stay” and “American Oxygen.” Never scared of a high note, Rihanna commits to the character of each song up until the applause, when she usually gives way to an adoring smile of childish delight. No matter how huge her image gets, she always has fun performing, and we love her for it.

#7: Miley Cyrus


Who’d have thought that Hannah Montana would grow up to give us a sultry rendition of “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover?” Miley Cyrus matured into quite the cover queen this century, starting with her on-point take on “Jolene.” On “SNL,” she’s reinvented classics by legends like Paul Simon, Pink Floyd, and John Lennon. When the pandemic hit, she remotely delivered “Wish You Were Here,” a vocally powerful solo with an emotional resonance of the times. She’s one of the most versatile guest entertainers, putting rasp in exactly the right notes in “Wrecking Ball,” and then swinging like a golden-age jazz diva for “Plastic Hearts.” Miley has grown up alongside the 2000s, and we got to see it on the “SNL” stage.

#6: Kanye West


Whatever your opinions of Kanye West, the mogul sure can put on a show. He always checks his ego at the stage door, performing every set like it’s meant to be his greatest ever, not just another paycheck. While we shouldn’t forget his more personal offerings like “Heartless” and “Pinocchio Story,” we CAN’T forget firestorms like “Black Skinhead” where echoes of his melodically arranged, yet thunderous, beats deafened the studio walls. Watching Kanye is like watching slam poetry with an adrenaline shot. His words can be insightfully political, religious, or personal, while still raising a studio audience to its feet. He’s got the heart of a poet, as long as it’s charged with a few hundred-thousand volts.

#5: Childish Gambino


Donald Glover, known in the music world by stage name Childish Gambino, only needed one appearance on “Saturday Night Live” to make our list. After warming up with the fluttery fun “Saturday,” Glover dropped the mic with a standout recital of his politically-charged “This Is America.” Complete with school uniform-garbed backup dancers and a shirtless Donald, the interlude magnetized eyeballs to the screen with extraordinary lighting-quick choreography. Glover’s words describe some frightening scenarios in a tone that bounces between lyrical dissonance and disturbingly deadpan. Bigotry and gun violence in the United States are prevalent parts of history, and this is a strong step-to-the-microphone, likely to be fossilized in the story of American free speech.

#4: Taylor Swift


Ed Sullivan showed us The Beatles, and “SNL” showcased Taylor Swift. She was just a rising star when she first appeared, but she put on “Love Story” with the Shakespearean gusto of a music icon-to-be. She returned multiple times with pieces penned by an older Taylor, like “Lover” and “False God.” In 2021, she erupted with an “SNL”-record ten-minute performance of “All Too Well,” slamming every chord like she knew she was making history. She incorporates some popstar-like outstretched arms, a fun little headbang, and a firm, standing finish at the microphone—it’s like she’s presenting various stages of her life and aging before our very eyes. We might someday see this playing as she accepts her Lifetime Achievement Award.

#3: Prince


Anything touched by Prince deserves a place on a WatchMojo list. His 2006 “SNL” showing marked a record twenty-four years since his last visit to the show, and the artist once-again known as “Prince” was ready to bring it. He rocked the house with “Fury,” never shying away from an opportunity to insert a crazy guitar fill. He was also the first guest to perform a single set, stretching an unforgettable medley of numbers, including “Clouds” and “Another Love.” Tragically, this was Prince’s last time on “SNL,” but each of his appearances stack up equally as monumental exhibitions of a rock and roll god. Anyone who can shred furiously while wiping lips like it’s “no big deal” earns a place among entertainment monoliths.

#2: Billie Eilish


Our penultimate prima donna gets a bit… topsy turvy. Billie Eilish hit the scene hard like a funkadelic emo kid with some head-scratching lyrics and devious questions about where we go when we fall asleep. She’s an unusually-shaped snowflake, and her “SNL” debut shows just as much. During “Bad Guy,” Eilish baffled fans when she proceeded to walk and jump upside-down along the walls: a seemingly impossible magic trick as brilliant and astounding as a Pepper’s ghost illusion. She’s not all spectacle, though, as she closed beautifully with the wistful weep-inducing serenade, “i love you.” She’s soon to be the first “SNL” host born this century, and it’s likely that the revolutionary Gen Z creative’s surprises are only beginning to flower.


Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

A Tribe Called Quest

A Banner Honoring the Late Phife Dawg Stops Hearts

St. Vincent

A Performance That Foreshadows a Grammy Win

Robyn

A Swedish Superstar Rocks Out with Double-Drum Sets

The Strokes

Nobody Brings European “Cool” Like The Strokes

Foo Fighters

Isn’t A Dave-Grohl-Set ALWAYS a Killer?

#1: Jack White / The White Stripes


Whether he’s performing with his sister (wait, we mean ex-wife) as “The White Stripes,” or as a solo frontman, Jack White’s stints in the 30 Rock studio are pure, uncaged ROCK. He’s an absolute shredmaster with his fingers, and he spouts lyrics as ferocious as a rapper with a Telecaster. Days after the death of Eddie Van Halen, he performed “Lazaretto” with a custom guitar, designed by Eddie. White even tapped out Van-Halen-style harmonics in the solo, honoring the “GOAT” axman. His magnum opus was an instrumentally innovative song medley, laced with expert pedal effects and wa-wa work. Every note orchestrated by Jack White under “SNL’s” roof will be remembered as the hurricane that a seven-nation army couldn’t hold back.
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