Musicians who embarrassingly forgot the words to their own songs
Musicians tend to have a lot on their plates. It’s a profession that entails far more than just writing songs, you know — you’ve got to write them, know them, and be able to perform at the drop of a hat, all while dealing with the logistical and administrative nightmare that is touring and gigging. Throw in a few day-to-day life stresses and a party or two, and it really becomes quite difficult to blame the artists when something goes wrong.
It’s still pretty cringeworthy when it does go wrong, though. More often than many musicians would care to admit, that mess-up comes in the form of forgetting the lyrics to their own songs. It’s arguably one of the most embarrassing errors that can happen on stage, and yes, it happens to the greats, too.
Patti LaBelle's Christmas meltdown
Patti LaBelle is an American singer-songwriter known primarily for her lengthy and spectacular solo career. She’s sold tens of millions of records worldwide, is a member of a number of Halls of Fame and was included on Rolling Stone‘s list of history’s 100 greatest singers. In short, she’s a legend of R&B, disco, funk, and soul all at once — no amateur, that’s for sure.
Her experience didn’t save her at a tree lighting ceremony in 1996, however, when basically everything that could go wrong with her performance went wrong. She came on to sing “This Christmas,” one of the world’s most beloved Christmas songs, only to find that her backup singers weren’t on the stage. Patti carried on anyway, launching into the song and making it about three lines in before she realized her cue cards had the wrong words written on them. She helplessly pointed out to the audience that she didn’t know the song before ad-libbing her way through the rest until the background singers finally showed up. What a trooper.
Adele gets sweary
Being a Tottenham girl, Adele has never exactly been afraid of letting loose a bit of foul language while on stage. The Grammy-award winner and renowned singer, among her many records and accolades, even briefly held Glastonbury’s record for the most swearing in a Pyramid Stage headline set (until Foo Fighters saw her off a year later).
No real surprise, then, at her reaction to forgetting the lyrics to “Million Years Ago” at a gig in Lisbon back in 2016. Everything seems to be going so well right up until the moment she drops out of the song to declare “sh*t, wrong words — sh*t, sh*t, sh*t” before cackling maniacally and stopping the song. Adele’s not exactly a stranger to misremembering or forgetting lyrics, but honestly, her reactions tend to be just as engaging as the actual songs themselves.
Jay-Z has No Words in the Wild
You could quite easily make a decent case for Jay-Z being one of the most influential and well-known hip-hop artists of the 21st century so far. With no fewer than 17 albums (14 of which reached #1), 21 Grammys, and 65 other awards all under his belt, you could even make a good argument for him being one of the most influential and well-known musicians of all time, too. But that’s not going to improve his memory, is it?
In 2013, Jay-Z performed in Manchester to a crowd of tens of thousands. During “No Church in the Wild,” his Watch the Throne collab with Kanye West and Frank Ocean, he made it about two-thirds of the way through his first verse before things fell down. He ended up skipping four or so lines at the end of the verse, leaving an awkward gap in the vocals before Frank Ocean’s recorded part came in to save him.
Demi Lovato perfecting the definition of irony
A quick Google search defines irony as “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result.” Plural: “ironies.” There’s no picture to illustrate the meaning of irony, but we’ve got a pretty good idea for a video that will do the trick.
At a gig in Dallas in 2009, Demi Lovato — prominent Disney-actress-turned-well-known-pop-singer — broke out a performance of “Don’t Forget,” the title track on her debut album. In a stunning display of irony so delicious it should be served as fast food, Lovato then went on to forget the lyrics to the song, even trying to cover by asking the audience to help her out. It doesn’t work, and she ends up kind of just rocking through the acoustic guitar until the chorus comes back around. It’s art.
Bieber pulls an Adele
Not content to let Adele be the only one who punctuates their memory loss with swearing, here we have Justin Bieber, a singer who … well, he strongly divides public opinion, and let’s just leave it there. Anyway, he got in a cheeky little curse as he struggled to remember the words to his original Christmas song, “Christmas Eve.”
Performing an acoustic evening for KUL News, Bieber croons through the first verse before reaching something of an impasse, laughing, turning to look off-stage and asking, “What the f*ck are the words?” Clearly denied any kind of help, he then moves straight onto the second verse and starts singing about leaving cookies out or something. In all fairness, he does style it out pretty nicely.
Damon Albarn plays the blame game
Before they broke up (temporarily) in 2003, Blur had been the kings of the British indie rock scene. They’d helped define Britpop in the ’90s, had led the Cool Britannia movement, and had nailed seven albums out of the seven they’d released. They were up there with the best. Even the best fall down once or twice, however, and nothing illustrates this quite as well as their 2000 gig at Meltdown Festival.
During a performance of “Beetlebum” from the band’s self-titled album, Damon Albarn — never a stranger to messing about on stage — messes up instead by stumbling over the lyrics going into the first chorus. His mortified reaction is nothing short of adorable, and he later stops the song to explain that he made the mistake because he was distracted by Graham Coxon’s smoking.
Both Gallaghers get it wrong
In the interests of fairness, and to avoid offending any partisan sensibilities, you shouldn’t shame one Gallagher brother or the other for forgetting the lyrics to any Oasis songs. Instead, you should shame both of them. We begin with Noel, who, while singing “D’yer Wanna be a Spaceman,” stops mid-lyric to tell the audience that he’s “f*cked that right up.”
Next, we’ve got Liam with “Wonderwall,” a song that every teenage irritant with a guitar knows inside-out. During the first verse, he switches out what should have been “I don’t believe that anybody” with “nobody knows” before recoiling from the microphone in horror. Noel, pro that he is, carries on playing and Liam catches up without another hitch. You won’t see that happening these days.
Mariah Carey, but not the time you're thinking of
It’d be far too easy to chide Mariah Carey for her, uh, unique live TV performance on New Year’s Eve 2016 and the fallout that ensued. Instead, we’ll chide her for something else. During a performance on The Today Show a few years before her NYE mishap, the legendary R&B singer styled out her memory failure with admirable panache by singing “oh no, messing up the words of my own song / and I don’t care,” which most historians agree were not the actual lyrics to the track.
Still, it’s a great recovery and she dives back into the song right after. If anything, the whole ordeal should prove that Carey isn’t quite as prone to floundering as people thought in the first days of 2017.
Thom Yorke reaps some bad karma
There’s something so strangely supernatural about Radiohead, about their music, and about Thom Yorke himself that makes the very idea of them messing up during shows almost impossible to believe. It happens, though. During this 2012 performance of “Karma Police” in St. Louis, Yorke draws a blank on the first verse at the line “he’s like a detuned radio” after seemingly getting a few lines back-to-front.
Egged on by a supportive crowd, however, the band sails through the rest of the song. Later on, he replaces the line “this is what you get / when you mess with us” with “this is what you get / when you forget the words,” to rapturous applause. And try all you might, but you won’t find a better recovery than that.
Elvis gives in to the giggles
Elvis Presley, King of Rock and Roll that he was, always had a bit of a reputation for the sheer charm with which he smoothed out the mess-ups and mistakes that happened on stage over the course of his career. Most famous of all is one performance of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” in 1969. Only moments into the song, he fumbles the lyrics and starts spouting nonsense instead.
The rest of the song is a write-off. Presley is utterly incapable of keeping a straight face for the rest of the song. According to legend, it was the sound of background singer Cissy Houston (that’s Whitney’s mother, doncha know) that made him flub the line and crack up. It’s a pretty heartwarming performance, all things considered, and all the more poignant for its timing, too.