Why is Elvis Costello not allowed on SNL?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

Elvis Costello was banned from Saturday Night Live (SNL) after he deviated from the agreed-upon song choice during his appearance on the show in 1977. Costello had originally planned to perform his hit single “Less Than Zero,” but at the last minute, he decided to switch to “Radio, Radio.”

The song “Radio, Radio” was a scathing critique of the commercialization and corporate control of the radio industry. Costello believed that the song’s message was particularly relevant to the context of SNL, as the show was broadcasted on a major network and had ties to the entertainment industry.

However, Costello failed to communicate his change in song to SNL producer Lorne Michaels and the rest of the production team. As a result, when he took the stage, he surprised everyone by launching into “Radio, Radio” instead of the agreed-upon “Less Than Zero.”

The decision to deviate from the planned song choice did not sit well with Michaels and the SNL team. The show was live, and they were caught off guard by Costello’s impromptu decision. Michaels had specifically prohibited performers from making any changes to their planned performances without prior approval. Costello’s act of defiance was seen as disrespectful and unprofessional.

As a consequence, Costello was banned from ever appearing on SNL again. This ban lasted for over a decade, until 1989 when he was finally invited back to perform on the show.

The incident with Costello on SNL became infamous and is often cited as an example of the tension between artists and the constraints imposed by commercial television networks. It also highlighted the power dynamics within the entertainment industry and the control that producers often have over the creative decisions of performers.

Elvis Costello’s ban from SNL was a result of his decision to deviate from the agreed-upon song choice without obtaining prior approval. The unexpected performance of “Radio, Radio” instead of “Less Than Zero” was seen as disrespectful, leading to his ban from the show for over a decade.