The season premiere of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Woody Harrelson, wasn’t great. In fact, the whole episode was embarrassing, except for Aidy Bryant cracking up when a crew member came in at the wrong time. So, as I wrote last week, it was going to be interesting to see how the show bounced back for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, because she comes with her own standard. Right off the monologue that was obvious, it was clear that she wrote it herself, and almost every sketch was solid. My favourite, obviously, was Love Island but it was a strong episode overall, the strongest we’ve seen in a few seasons. Shout-out to Bowen Yang on Weekend Update as Chinese Trade Daddy, just two weeks in and he’s already created an excellent recurring character possibility for the segment, one that might be just as popular as Stefon.
So to sum up, Phoebe Waller-Bridge can do no wrong.
Were you surprised though that Taylor didn’t show up in any sketches? I was expecting it but I love that she abstained and chose instead to focus on her two performances. Taylor came out first with “Lover”, then “False God” for the first time live, both really good songs, both songs she wrote and produced. Make no mistake, this is a flex. This is a reminder that she is her work, that she does the work. And she sounded good. I mean, I prefer the “Lover” performance over “False God”, not because of the singing, necessarily, but because I generally like Taylor more with an instrument than without – still find her stage movements, the dancing, really awkward – and yet, the main takeaway here, especially with “False God”, is that musically, it’s a different vibe from what we’ve heard from her in the past, probably the freshest vibe she’s shown us in a while. Way more f-cking fresh than the vibe we hear on “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down” which brings me to my main point…
She led the album with “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down” and the way you kick off an album can set the tone for it. This has always been her move: a strategic deception, like you think you know what this album is but it’s not. We saw with “Shake It Off” from 1989 and also with “Look What You Made Me Do” off reputation. The intention, perhaps, is to slow burn her albums so that you feel like you’re discovering something new out of something you had already thought you knew.
I get that…but I also wonder if we might be ready to move past it? I wonder what Lover would be, culturally, if there was no “ME!” and no “You Need To Calm Down”, and the focus was more on the work we saw on SNL this weekend. And if she needed a summer jam to kick it all off with, it could have been “Cruel Summer”. I f-cking LOVE that song. SO MUCH. Seriously, if you haven’t already, crank it up in the car with the windows down before it gets too cold, now that – in some climates – you can barely smell summer anymore. You will FEEL it.
So we’re now moving into the stage of Taylor’s album promotion where she’s shaved off the fluff and leaning into the real gold of Lover – and that was on display on Saturday Night Live as she delivered two back-to-back impressive performances that were not just the best performances she’s ever given on SNL but the best broadcast performances of this album cycle.
Here’s Taylor, celebrating that achievement, with Joe Alwyn at the SNL after-party. The SNL after-party is always well attended but Page Six reports that it was even more star-studded than usual with several of Taylor’s model friends showing up to support, as well as SNL veterans and even Steven Spielberg coming out to acknowledge the magic of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.