Bad things seem to happen to Megan Thee Stallion right before big things do. This week, someone reportedly robbed her Los Angeles home days ahead of her appearance on Saturday Night Live, where she became the second female rapper to pull double duty as host and musical guest. Last night, she put that incident to the side and strutted out on the SNL stage in a sheer dress and black corset, prepared to be herself. She proceeded to infuse stale sketches with irresistible energy, stretching how much a host can add to a show that’s still figuring itself out following sizable cast changes.
Megan was endearing to watch. She invigorated flat lines with her Houston cadences and posturing tongue pops, she cracked up during an otherwise insipid sketch about a deer, and she grew noticeably emotional performing her first song of the night, “Anxiety.” Known for her provocative and sex-positive lyricism—and outfits—Megan invited a more vulnerable moment by staging the song as a colorful beauty pageant. Her lyric “Bad bitches have bad days too” seemed to overwhelm her, and for a second the veil dropped. It seemed to reveal that all the fun she’d been having up until then belied a deeper strength—that she could jump into the episode so enthusiastically despite the personal drama roiling in the background.
For SNL, hosts are a kind of framing device, adding a novel perspective while keeping the weekly machine turning. Good ones fit in seamlessly, like they’re a standout cast member, and the weakest gum up the gears. Megan, in turn, gave the show license to venture in overdue directions. Even though SNL’s cast has grown more diverse in recent years, its sketches haven’t always followed. Last night, Megan’s presence encouraged the show to feature more specifically Black premises and characters. On the advice show “Girl Talk,” hosted by Mo’nique Money Mo’nique Problems (Ego Nwodim), Megan played a guest seeking advice about her cheating boyfriend. The resulting conversation saw them exchange the word girl, infusing it with different emotional intonations to signify different meanings. That simple bit deepened when the cast member Punkie Johnson arrived with a more complex problem. To help viewers keep up, Mo’nique turned on subtitles “for any white people or men tuning in,” and the group discussed the situation in Ukraine using only one word.
The episode’s final and arguably best sketch flipped an outdated stereotype. When a substitute teacher (Nwodim) encountered a rowdy classroom of Black high-school students, she immediately began making assumptions about their education level. But it turned out they were in an honors physics class. “We all had to take a college-level test to get in here,” Megan’s character informed the sub. Her ever more bewildered reactions to the teacher’s racism propelled the sketch.
Even though the sketches last night were fun, they failed to capture the more pointed racial commentary behind some of the show’s strongest bits in recent years, including last season’s excellent “Amazon Go” critique. The writing at times didn’t rise to meet Megan’s abilities, and the episode was further marred by technical difficulties that would have capsized a lesser host.
Megan’s spirited appearance also only highlighted that the cold open, which recapped the final January 6 committee hearing, was pitiful without her. The sketch needled the committee for being bland and boring, Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi (Chloe Fineman) and Chuck Schumer (in a delightful impression from Sarah Sherman) for being inept, and Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson) for being boorish. It brought both-sides-isms to a serious event, spreading the blame rather than focusing it, and once again suggested that SNL is unequipped to lampoon the current political moment.
But those missteps didn’t detract from what Megan was able to accomplish. She seemed to encourage SNL to find its potency through different avenues. The blandness of certain sketches emphasized how imperative the right host can be, saving the day instead of succumbing to it.