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Kate McKinnon’s ‘Hallelujah’ Will Break Your Heart

Kate McKinnon opens Saturday Night Live on a somber, yet hopeful, note.
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Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

Around the country, millions of viewers hold their breath, eager to see how Saturday Night Live will address the shocking 2016 election. Will Alec Baldwin-as-Donald Trump swagger out, telling America they’re in for “yuge” changes? Will he peel off his mask to reveal he’s a killer clown?

Will Larry David return as Bernie Sanders to scream about Armageddon?

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

A pool of light illuminates a simple piano. Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live‘s first openly gay cast member, sits behind it. For the past two years, she has played Hillary Clinton.

McKinnon’s Clinton is a robotic, power-crazed woman two steps removed from being human. But now, etched into the lines on McKinnon’s face, we see depression. Resignation. The weariness it takes to move forward.

It goes like this

The fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

While sixty million Americans were ecstatic about Trump’s win, the proposed policy of his Vice President threatens to set back women’s and minority’s rights. The election strikes a major blow for Hillary Clinton, who was projected to win in nearly every major poll. The election also strikes a blow for people like Kate McKinnon, whose right to love seems suddenly tenuous.

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

The song could be seen as a tribute to songwriter Leonard Cohen, who passed away early last week. If not for his death, SNL probably wouldn’t have opened with the song – and yet, “Hallelujah” is heartbreakingly perfect. That week’s episode couldn’t have opened any other way.

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I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

Those two lines are buried within Cohen’s rendition of the song and were eliminated from Jeff Buckley’s, so they may sound new to you. However, when McKinnon sings them, the song seems to come to a standstill. She is playing Hillary Clinton, a woman who gave her whole life to politics and yet seems to be left with nothing after this election. She did her best, it wasn’t much. And McKinnon is also being herself, a woman who is now faced with a Republican vice president who openly hates LGBT people. She did her best, it wasn’t much.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

And yet, despite the skyrocketing hate crimes, despite the growing number of KKK protests in the South, and despite the frightening policy that Trump promised to enact – despite all of that, McKinnon sings, “Hallelujah.” She sings “Hallelujah” on behalf of every LGBT, Muslim, black, impoverished, marginalized and oppressed person whose life has just been turned upside down. She sings “Hallelujah” on behalf of every queer girl reading this article.

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I’m not giving up, America
And neither should you

When McKinnon finishes the song, she snaps back into her Hillary impersonation, but there are tears in her eyes. Her voice cracks. We are supposed to see her as Clinton, but instead we see a fractured and vulnerable Kate. We see a fractured and vulnerable America. We see ourselves.

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Author
J. Marie graduated from Duke University with a degree in International Relations and dreams of being a creative writer--dreams she's now realizing as a musical theatre writer in NYC. She's passionate about global black identities, black representation in media, and leather-bound notebooks. She also loves backpacking through a new country at a moment's notice, and speaks Spanish, Swahili and Standard Arabic.

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