If you’re wondering why that feels familiar, it’s because this is sort of how SNL began its first episode after the 2016 election. That time it was Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton playing the tune, and also as a tribute to Leonard Cohen who had just died. But unlike most SNL sketches, McKinnon’s Hillary cold open was entirely serious; she appeared to have tears in her eyes as she ended the song with a nod to Clinton’s concession speech.
That kind of sincere emotion was absent this time, which was made sense after SNL spent all season poking fun of Trump — so much so that even after getting elected president, Trump publicly complained about the show’s impersonation.
On Saturday, Baldwin’s character was joined on stage by the growing group of cast members and guests who have come to satirize Trump’s White House team and his orbit: Kate McKinnon as Kellyanne Conway; Beck Bennett as Vice President Pence; Aidy Bryant as Sarah Huckabee Sanders; Alex Moffatt as Eric Trump; Mikey Day as Donald Trump Jr.; and a skeleton grim reaper as Stephen K. Bannon.
Then came the big guest appearance, with Scarlett Johansson bringing back her Ivanka Trump impersonation, joined by Cecily Strong playing Melania Trump. (Johansson had previously played Ivanka Trump in a fake perfume ad — “Complicit” — that encapsulated a central critique of the first daughter’s critics.)
“I’m not giving up, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Baldwin as Trump proclaimed after the song concluded. He gestured to his team surrounding him at the piano: “But I can’t speak for these people.”
That line echoed what McKinnon-as-Clinton said back in November during her cold open: “I’m not giving up, and neither should you. And live from New York, it’s Saturday night.”
Apparently McKinnon was slated to sing as Clinton for the post-election cold open even before the election result, show producer Erik Kenward told the Hollywood Reporter. One idea had been “Imagine,” but then “Hallelujah” came to mind since Cohen had just died. “He’d been a big thing for Lorne growing up in Canada,” Kenward added.
“It was very emotional,” McKinnon told THR. “On an extremely personal level, I had been playing this person for a year and a half, and I grew so attached to her as a person. That song so perfectly encapsulated what I wanted to say.”