Nights to Forget: Looking Back at Some of the All-Time Worst Live Performances

Even great artists are not immune from off days, and these rank among the most embarrassing.

December 10, 2018 5:00 am
worst performances
Singer Mariah Carey performs during New Year's Eve 2017 in Times Square on December 31, 2016 in New York City. (Noam Galai/FilmMagic)

Nothing beats seeing your favorite band or musician live on stage—the energy, the set list and the experience is different at each performance. But even great performers have bad days, and whether because of exhaustion, nerves, trying something new to invigorate the crowd, or just bad lip-syncing, sometimes artists crash and burn—hard.

As we start to gear up for the upcoming New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl and awards season shows, we take a look at some of the worst live performances ever.

Mariah Carey, New Year’s Eve, Times Square, 2016

Mariah Carey had one of the best-known bad performances when she went live in Times Square during “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” Her team said Carey couldn’t hear anything coming from her earpiece, and the singer was reportedly lip-syncing to some of her biggest hits, shown when an audio track malfunctioned.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge,” Saturday Night Live, 1992

The Red Hot Chili Peppers performed “Under the Bridge” on February 22, 1992 while appearing on Saturday Night Live. At the time, the band was becoming increasingly popular, having sold millions of copies of their album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. But guitarist John Frusciante was so unhappy with the band’s sudden success that he deliberately sabotaged the band’s SNL performance by playing slowly and erratically, and then later, screaming incoherently at the song’s end. Anthony Kiedis wrote in his autobiography, Scar Tissue, that it felt like he was “getting stabbed in the back and hung out to dry in front of all of America while Frusciante was off in a corner in the shadow, playing some dissonant out-of-tune experiment.”

Amy Winehouse, Tuborg Festival, Serbia, 2011

In 2011, Amy Winehouse was at the height of her career, and at the height of her struggle with addiction. She showed up drunk, incoherent and unable to play at the Tuborg Festival in Belgrade, Serbia in 2011. She was met with a mixture of anger, disappointment and concern from the crowd. The singer died one month later.

Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love,” Live Aid in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1985

In 1985, Led Zeppelin decided to reunite for the first time since drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980. The venue: the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The band was playing for a crowd of about 100,000 people and an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion on television. But singer Robert Plant’s voice was sore from playing three solo night shows before Live Aid, while guitarist Jimmy Page was handed an untuned guitar and Phil Collins was added as a second drummer at the last minute and was clearly unfamiliar with the material. The show suffered accordingly.

 Ashlee Simpson, “Autobiography,” Saturday Night Live, 2004

On October 23, 2004, Ashlee Simpson was caught lip-syncing on Saturday Night Live. Simpson was supposed to sing “Autobiography,” because she had already performed “Pieces of Me” earlier in the show. But the vocal track that played instead was for “Pieces” and no sound came out of Simpson’s mouth. She tried to dance, or jig, to make up for the mistake, but the damage was already done.

Katy Perry, “Fireworks,” Live on the X-Factor, 2011

Katy Perry surprised audiences when she showed up on The X Factor in 2010 and just didn’t do that well. Her voice cracks and wavers and she ends up screaming during parts of the song.

Justin Bieber, “Out of Town Girl,” Arizona, 2012

Justin Bieber had a rough time when he threw up not once, but twice, on stage in Arizona during his “Justin Bieber Believe” tour in 2012. Bieber, 18 at the time, seemed fine when he first bounded on stage, but suddenly, turned his back on the crowd and vomits twice, then runs off stage. The performer later blamed drinking too much milk before the show.

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