It takes a lot to overshadow Lady Gaga, especially on a night in which she’s the sole name on the “Saturday Night Live” bill. However, after her two musical performances, many people were asking, “Who are those people, and is that actually a job?”
For her first performance, Gaga sang “Do What U Want,” accompanied by R. Kelly. The two performed a subtle and romantic pas de deux that made Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s performance at the VMA’s look like a demure square dance. At one point, however, a woman appeared onstage. Was she a guest singer? A backup dancer? No: it turned out her sole job was to hold R. Kelly’s microphone and sunglasses while he simulated sex on Gaga.
For her second performance, Gaga delivered a feel-good, what-if-Stevie-Nicks-and-Elton-John-had-a-baby-esque “Gypsy.” She began the song at her piano, but then halfway through, a very muscular young man clad in little else but tight, sparkly purple leggings handed her a guitar. He then played the tambourine much more enthusiastically than many people ever thought possible. Sunglasses-Holding-Girl and Leggings Guy: We may never know your names but we salute you.
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But what about the star herself? Gaga has appeared on “SNL” before, but with varying levels of success: The awkward 2009 “feud” she had onstage with Madonna seemed only to prove that Madonna was indeed passing the torch to Gaga, if the torch signified “provocative singer; awkward actor.”
However, last night Gaga seemed less "untouchable pop star" and more "former New York City performing arts kid": If she didn't always hit a home run, she at least seemed game to put her all into her performance.
Even though it wasn't the most memorable scene of the night, this sensibility was channeled into "Spotlightz," a sketch about kid actors doing play versions of adult movies. Vanessa Bayer, who like Amy Poehler excels at playing unself-conscious youngsters, ran away with these sketches, but Gaga held her own, especially playing a little girl who threw her all into playing Forrest Gump's dying mother.
Speaking of Madonna, Gaga was game to make fun of both herself and the beef (or nonexistent beef? We can't keep track anymore) between herself and the Material Lady in a commercial for a compilation of poorly conceived song covers, like Lana Del Rey and Nathan Lane covering Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me." Included was Lady Gaga's cover of "Express Yourself," except Gaga sang "Born This Way," tweaking the idea that the song was just a rip-off of the '80s hit. "Was it a cover? Ah, who cares?" said Taran Killan as Adam Duritz.
In another sketch that seemed designed to prove that Gaga is in on the joke, she played herself 50 years in the future (finalizing her gradual transformation into Carol Channing) as she desperately tried to convince her building's superintendent that she was once relevant. The best line of the sketch was the first one: As she began to dig into a sandwich, she sang, "I'm on the edge / of roast beef."
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In other news, it seems unlikely that Kanye West will be appearing on "SNL" anytime in the near future, as the show dedicated two sketches to pointing out how tedious his fiancée, Kim Kardashian, is. In "Waking Up With Kimye," Jay Pharoah as Kanye gave musical jobs to the members of the Kardashian family based on their talent (nobody played anything more complicated than the triangle.) Gaga played a dorky Apple Genius Bar employee and Kanye berated her, "You do not deserve the title of genius!" before listing all the awards that he and Kim have won (that actually only he has won.) "I'm also blond now!" Nasim Pedrad said in her nasal Kim voice.
Kanye then made Gaga's character and Kim have a fashion contest based on something he forced Kim to wear in a segment called "Kim Wore It Better." "People who try too hard with their outfits are maybe hiding something," Gaga said, staring straight into the camera in another "I'm in on the joke!" moment.
The final sketch of the night was a commercial for a spinoff of the Red Zone network called "Rosé Zone," which captures all the raunchiest moments of reality TV without all the boring filler. Many moments from "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" served as said moments of filler, including Rob Kardashian discussing his dress-socks line (yes, that is a thing). The network was billed as "Hot garbage, 24/7." Hey, we would subscribe!
"SNL" returns live next week with "The Hunger Games" actor Josh Hutcherson as host and Haim as musical guest.