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Why Kate McKinnon's 'Hallelujah' struck a chord

Saturday Night Live opened their latest show with a simple, passionate tribute by Kate McKinnon to Leonard Cohen and Hillary Clinton.

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    Saturday Night Live actor Kate McKinnon at a piano, portraying Hillary Clinton and singing Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah."
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Saturday Night Live, the iconic NBC sketch comedy show, eschewed humor for the opening of their first post-presidential election show, instead opting to begin with cast member Kate McKinnon at a piano singing Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah."

The performance served as a resonating tribute to both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost the presidential election to billionaire Republican Donald Trump, and also to Mr. Cohen himself, who died last Monday.

Ms. McKinnon’s performance portraying Mrs. Clinton, as she has throughout the campaign, ended by turning toward viewers to say, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.” That final, impassioned note appeared to almost resemble the remarks of Clinton’s own concession speech, given earlier in the week, in which she said, “So my friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary, let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come. And there is more work to do.”

The subdued, slightly somber note hit a chord for Democratic viewers (the YouTube video has had more than six million views since Saturday) who remain reeling after Trump's win. In the immediate days after the election, protests and riots sparked around the nation with vows to march on Washington following Trump’s inauguration.

Reactions to McKinnon’s performance published via Twitter demonstrated an overall support for SNL’s choice of opening, with messages like, "I needed to see @katemckinnon sing Hallelujah, I didn't know it, but I did. Thank you. #ImStillWithHer."

One YouTube commenter, Alec Sander, wrote: "This is the first time SNL made me tear up. So poignant. Also, first time I've seen the opening act trying to heal folks instead of making them laugh. Thank you SNL. I needed this."

As in previous recent presidential election years, the show gathered a considerable following leading up to the election by consistently lampooning all the presidential candidates and the polarized nature of the country as a whole. McKinnon's portrayal of Clinton provided a dynamic counterpoint to actor/comedian Alec Baldwin's popular depiction of Trump.

In fact, the show’s consistent focus on politics and political figures helped boost their overall ratings, with this year’s season opener debuting as the highest rated "Season Premiere" in the past eight years, and a full 29 percent higher than the opening show the year before.

SNL has made a tradition of political, pre-election comedy sketches. The last time a premiere hit such high ratings numbers was eight years ago, on Sept. 13, 2008, when Tina Fey debuted her now-famous Sarah Palin impersonation.

This year, joining Mr. Baldwin and McKinnon in their portrayals, former cast member Darrell Hammond returned to the show for the opener to portray former president Bill Clinton and comedian Larry David came in as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Baldwin, who signed on to perform his Trump characterization as a recurring element throughout the season, chose not to reprise the role following Trump’s election win, and similarly McKinnon didn’t tell a single joke in her Hillary garb. And yet the post-election episode, which opened on the somber note, quickly sped up to surpass the premiere and hit the highest ratings for SNL this season.

Host Dave Chappelle was joined by musical guest A Tribe Called Quest, as well as other celebrity comedians such as Chris Rock in post-election sketches.

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