When Chance the Rapper made his hosting debut on Saturday Night Live on Saturday, November 17, the show tapped his musical talents from the very start. (The Grammy-winning rapper was a musical guest on the show in December 2016, and joined Kanye West when he was a musical guest earlier that year.) He channeled Mariah Carey to sing an original Thanksgiving song about spending the holiday with your weird relatives as part of his opening monologue.
But his best musical turn in the episode came when cast members Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd joined him to play a Boyz II Men-style R&B group, singing a love song that could only have been written in 2017.
Clad in white tuxedos, the trio appeals to a lost love, whom they think about at night while staring forlornly at a framed photograph: “Every night I turn the TV on and cry,” they sing. “I say why / I feel we’re all gonna die!”
The hook reveals the punchline. “Come back, Barack,” the group croons in harmony. “We didn’t know just what we had / now things are looking bad / like really bad, like real, real bad, like nuclear bad.”
Over a montage of the group singing on music video sets that feel ripped straight from the ’90s, mixed with images of the 44th president enjoying life after the presidency, the group sings about the constitutional impediments to his return, about their anxiety about the future of the country, and about watching Barack and Michelle from afar. “Maybe Michelle could run,” they sing. “No, let’s not put Michelle through that. I mean, if she wanted to?”
The song showcases the trio’s pipes — especially Chance’s — but also taps into worries that, as the song puts it, the institutions of American democracy have suffered a unique blow since the Trump administration took power in January.
But it also pokes subtle fun at the way so many people have had a crash course in American government over the past year. Did most Americans — or at least most of the Americans on Twitter — know what the 25th Amendment even was last Thanksgiving? How many people were experts in the finer points of laws about disclosing connections to foreign powers, or even of the interaction between various branches of our own government? That’s not even counting the things we’ve learned about the capabilities of technology to disseminate false information, or about how foreign governments can weaponize social media against us.
It’s been quite a year, and “Come Back, Barack” commemorates it all, while also lamenting that the very institutions Americans are hoping to preserve also mean that barring historically unusual circumstances, “we stuck,” as the song puts it, “with this dude for a while then.”
“I don’t think the three of us have the firmest grasp on government,” Thompson says to the camera as the song ends. “But hey, have a great Thanksgiving, everybody.”