The Most Cringeworthy Live Performances Ever

Singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor (brother of James!) thinks live performance is an absolutely integral aspect of releasing music. He's sung with everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Fleetwood Mac, so he knows a thing or two about life on stage. "It's not enough to just put the music out there," Taylor said (via "This Business of Concert Promotion and Touring"). He continued, "You have to watch it go out there and land. You need to see what effect your music is having on people." As the book notes, "When everything is working as it should, the live performance creates a deep and lasting connection between the artist and the fan."

What happens when everything doesn't work out the way it's supposed to? Live music is a balancing act already, and putting a live performance on television adds a whole extra layer to the number of things that can go wrong. Something can fail technically, something can happen with the crowd, an artist's voice can go out on them, or they can simply forget the lyrics in a moment of panic. It's a wonder, really, that more televised live performances aren't awful! Sometimes, though, that "deep and lasting connection" is more like a "deeply cringeworthy memory, never to be forgotten by the internet." Read on for the most cringeworthy live performances of all time.

Hilary Duff came clean... as a lip-syncer

2003 was a good year for Hilary Duff. She was a bonafide crossover success, a Disney Channel star with widespread appeal. That year, she starred in the theatrically-released hit "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," and she released an album called "Metamorphosis," which ultimately went more than 3x platinum (via Billboard). "I love singing and I love being on stage. And when there's a venue packed with people that are all there for me," she told The News-Times. "I'm totally pumped."

Considering the year she had, it's no surprise that the "Cheaper By The Dozen" star was tapped to perform her hit "Come Clean" on MTV's New Year's Eve celebration to ring in 2004. Unfortunately, the performance went awry. Duff was blatantly lip-syncing to what sounded like the album track, which glitched during the first chorus. The distortion chopped up her vocals, making it obvious she wasn't really singing. The track glitched again toward the end, and Duff's mic seemed to finally turn on for just the final line... which came out incredibly flat. 

Fans still talk about the awkward performance. "Just a year after she exposed Paolo for being a lip syncer in the Lizzie McGuire movie at the Roman colosseum," one fan wrote on Twitter, "her own CD starts to skip." 

Christina Aguilera forgot the words at the Super Bowl

The U.S. National Anthem is a notoriously tricky song for even the most seasoned performers. As should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the difficult notes involved in the song, it turns out there is a reason why there are only a handful of classic versions and a whole host of disasters (you'll find two more further down this list). 

In 2011, "The Star-Spangled Banner" claimed another victim: Christina Aguilera. While performing the song at that year's Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, Xtina started off strong. About halfway through, though, she seemed to lose her place, and she began repeating herself. Finally, the lyrics started coming out mangled. "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming," she belted at the end, which... isn't a line from the song. 

Aguilera released a statement after the incident. "I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through," she said (via The Guardian). The incident birthed a meme where people paired Christina with incorrect song lyrics. "In New York... concrete jungle wet dream tomato!" one viral image reads, forever changing the way we hear Jay Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind."

Adele restarted her George Michael tribute

At the 2017 Grammys, fellow Brit Adele was supposed to pay tribute to the recently-deceased George Michael with a performance of his hit song "Fastlove." Backstage at the show, she told press [1:01] that Michael's estate specifically requested that she be the one to perform a tribute to the Wham! singer at the ceremony. "I found him to be one of the truest icons," she said, acknowledging that no matter how famous he got, he always paid tribute to his British heritage.

When the song began, the usually-impeccable singer sounded flat and out of tempo. A minute in, she asked to start over, apologizing repeatedly [1:18]. "I'm sorry, I can't mess this up for him," she insisted. "I'm sorry. I can't. I'm sorry for swearing." The second time around, things seemed to go better, and the audience got on their feet to applaud.

The move got mixed reactions on social media. Some loved that she wanted to make sure her performance was perfect. "IT WAS SO HEARTFELT AND I LOVED THAT SHE STARTED OVER TO DO IT RIGHT!!!" one fan wrote, noting that the rendition of Michael's song moved them to tears. Others, however, felt that Adele had dishonored the "Father Figure" hitmaker. "How selfish to make the moment about herself," one displeased viewer wrote. "The News won't be talking about him but her!

A flu-stricken Lorde kept dancing anyway

When Lorde took to the stage at the 2017 VMAs for a performance of "Homemade Dynamite," no one knew what to expect. The "Royals" singer's live performances are always interesting, such as her rendition of "Green Light" on "SNL," which drew much discussion online for dancing that some viewers compared to the iconically cringy moves from Elaine from "Seinfeld" (via Inside Edition). Lorde even addressed the criticism of that performance, writing on Facebook, "One day, I will do a normal dance choreographed by a nice person, and I will look more like your other favorite performers, but we have not yet reached that day."

That being said, no one could have predicted what was to happen at the VMAs. Instead of singing, as usual, the "Solar Power" star merely pressed play on a boombox. She then proceeded to perform an interpretive dance to her song for the benefit of a bewildered audience. Twitter was quick to make jokes. "I'm really into this Lorde performance because it's gonna p*** some old person off like 'these kids don't even SING anymore!'" one viewer wrote

Lorde admitted in a since-deleted tweet that the performance happened because she had a bad case of the flu, referring to herself as a "cute lil propped up corpse." The VMAs account replied to her tweet, saying she "still slayed." MTV released a 360-degree video of her performance anyway, just in case you want to see every angle possible of her unconventional dance moves.

Charli XCX isn't as famous in Germany as she thinks

Alt-pop queen Charli XCX is best known to most people for hits like "Boom Clap," from the soundtrack to "The Fault In Our Stars" soundtrack. She also provided vocals on Icona Pop's hit "I Love It," though she has mixed feelings about the song, considering the fact that it would come to define her reputation even though she wasn't the lead artist. "I have a lot of quite confusing feelings about it," she reflected to NME in 2022. "In part, I was like, just straight-up jealous. I was jealous, and a little bit regretful."

Still, she knows that it's one of her biggest hits, which is why she was surprised to find the crowd unimpressed when she performed it at Melt Festival in Germany. She decided to let the crowd have it, complaining, "I said, does anyone f***ing know this f***ing song?" She received little response from the crowd. "I thought this f***ing song was big in Germany... What the f*** are you doing?" she shouted.

The internet, naturally, was obsessed. Her expletives became a meme on so-called stan Twitter, where people still use the phrase to promote underrated music they love. One user, for example, asked, "I said stan Twitter do you know this f***ing song?" They attached a link to "Gotta Go My Own Way" from "High School Musical 2." Oh, we know that song, and (sorry Charli) we love it.

SNL mocked Lana Del Rey after her performance

"Chemtrails Over the Country Club" chanteuse Lana Del Rey was still a relative unknown back in 2012 when she was tapped to perform on "SNL." Unfortunately, her performances of "Blue Jeans" and "Video Games" were memorable for all the wrong reasons; the husky-voiced singer swayed awkwardly, even spinning around in a circle for no particular reason, while she forced her way through the songs. 

The incident caused so much conversation that "SNL" itself parodied the situation, later enlisting Kristen Wiig to play the singer in a "Weekend Update" segment. "Based on the public's response, I must have... clubbed a baby seal while singing the Taliban national anthem," she joked. "I think people thought I was stiff, distant, and weird, but there's a perfectly good explanation for that: I am stiff, distant, and weird."

Some fans have reclaimed the performance in the decade since. "Lana Del Rey's SNL performance of blue jeans was camp, and I'm tired of acting like it wasn't," one fan wrote on Twitter. Del Rey herself has defended her much-maligned appearance, telling Elton John in a conversation for Rolling Stone, "It wasn't terrible! ...What's weird is, it's the one night in all my time performing that I wasn't nervous."

Selena Gomez sang off key in her chorus

When Selena Gomez opened the 2019 AMAs with a performance of "Lose You To Love Me," fans were excited; after all, it was her first televised performance in several years. The song, too, was a special one, as she later explained in her Apple TV+ documentary "My Mind and Me." Widely assumed to be about her ill-fated relationship with Justin Bieber, the song apparently meant a lot to Gomez. "It's about more than just a lost love," she explained (via Insider). "It's me learning to choose myself, to choose life, but also hoping that people can find grace and peace in that, too. The song is about knowing that you completely lost every part of who you are, just to rediscover yourself again."

Unfortunately, when she hit the AMAs stage, Gomez was — as Randy would've said on "American Idol" — pitchy. To put it mildly. This was made all the more cringeworthy because the song she was singing included lyrics like "Sang off key in my chorus," which... she did. Social media picked up on the irony. "Selena Gomez be like 'I sang off key on my chorus' girl you off key on the verse," one viewer joked.

E! News reported that there may have been a reason why Gomez's performance wasn't as successful as she likely hoped. "Selena definitely had anxiety and a panic attack before she went out and was putting a lot of pressure on herself," a source said.

Beyoncé's hair got caught in fan

Beyoncé's live performances are usually impeccable. After all, she's Beyoncé. The woman doesn't do anything if she can't do it perfectly. In 2013, however, she ran into some trouble at a concert in Montreal. A source explained to Us Weekly that Queen Bey spotted a fan in the front row with a bucket list on her sign. "It was things like 'graduate from college' and all the boxes were checked except the last one, which was 'Sing With Beyonce!'" they explained. After seeing the fan, Beyoncé moved downstage to get closer, so that she could hold the mic out for an impromptu duet of "Halo."

Unfortunately, she should have kept her eye on a different kind of fan: the spinning, air-moving kind. As Beyoncé moved to a part of the stage she doesn't normally go to, she got too close to one of the industrial fans that usually keep her hair looking "***FLAWLESS." Fans were left cringing out of sympathetic pain when, suddenly, Bey's hair got sucked into the fan. She kept singing, of course — after all, she's Beyoncé! — while security guys and stagehands tried to untangle her.

Thankfully, it seems she was unharmed. The "CUFF IT" singer poked fun at the incident on Instagram, rewriting "Halo" to be about the incident. "I felt my hair was yankiiiiiiiiiin / from the fan that's always hatiiiiiiiiiin'" she joked.

Fergie made the National Anthem her own

One of the reasons why the U.S. National Anthem is so difficult to sing, according to vocal studies professor Michael Dean, is because of the vocal range required by the high-flying notes. "[The song] goes from the lowest extreme of the voice to the highest extreme of the voice," he explained to ABC News. Some pop stars, he noted, aren't interested in the classical version of the song. "All they're trying to do is get up there and show off. This piece will eat you if you approach it that way," he cautioned.

Someone who should have listened to his advice: Fergie, formerly of "The Black Eyed Peas." She was tapped to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the NBA All-Star Game in 2018, and she delivered a rendition like no other. While sports superstars like Steph Curry and LeBron James looked on in incredulous bemusement, Fergie powered through the weirdest National Anthem anyone had ever heard. In Fergie's hands, the song became a brassy, jazzy number, full of vocal runs and absurd phrasing on lines like "baaaa-ner-er yet way...yayve!"

Social media erupted. The performance still gets comments on YouTube, such as one user who wrote, "4 years later and I still can't watch this without crying of laughter." Fergie seemed just as confused as everyone else. Talking with TMZ Sports, she insisted, "I love this country and honestly tried my best."

Duran Duran's bum note at Live Aid

In 1985, a staggering lineup of music's biggest names united for a benefit concert to raise money to fight famine in Ethiopia. The concert was held in London and Philadelphia simultaneously, and the talent included acts like Queen, Elton John, U2, and Eric Clapton. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the televised special was witnessed by over 1.5 billion people worldwide — a staggering percentage of all humans on the planet, considering the world's population was smaller then.

Unfortunately, Duran Duran's performance of the James Bond theme "A View to a Kill" bombed. Hard. Lead singer Simon Le Bon's voice cracked at the song's climatic chorus, and he squeaked out what would come to be called "the bum note heard around the world." Le Bon later discussed the moment on a 1995 VH1 documentary about Live Aid. He noted that they had spent a week rehearsing, even practicing the day before they took the stage. "I began to suspect that something was going wrong in there," he recalled, gesturing toward his throat. [0:40] "And it really was." While he noted that most of the performance was okay, things fell apart. "I reached that note and it just all went horribly wrong... I just looked around and thought, 'Did anybody else hear that?'" Sorry to break it to you, Simon... We definitely did.

Ashlee Simpson blamed her band

Believe it or not, there was a time in the mid-2000s when Ashlee Simpson was nearly as famous as her older sister Jessica. Thanks to a string of pop hits like "Pieces of Me" and "L.O.V.E.," Simpson seemed like an heir to Avril Lavigne's throne (via Billboard). When she appeared on "SNL" in 2004, however, things went horribly wrong. For her second performance, Simpson was supposed to sing "Autobiography." Instead, the backing track for "Pieces of Me" started instead... which she had already sung. The worst part was that Simpson's vocals could still be heard loud and clear, even though her mic was nowhere near her face. Caught, she danced an awkward jig and ran offstage.

She blamed her band before the credits rolled, telling the audience (via Far Out Magazine), "I feel so bad. My band started playing the wrong song, and I didn't know what to do, so I thought I'd do a hoedown. I'm sorry." The incident caused a media firestorm and has since been parodied by cultural institutions from "MADtv" to "Family Guy." She finally admitted the truth a few days later in a post on her website. She confessed that she wasn't feeling well and decided to lip-sync rather than cancel her appearance. "I'll hold my head high and say I think it was silly of me to do it, silly of me to blame the band, I was just so f***ing embarrassed," she wrote.

Roseanne's national anthem angered the highest levels of government

The U.S. National Anthem is a difficult song that can take down even the most seasoned singer. In other words, it can certainly get the best of an unseasoned singer like Roseanne Barr. Unlike Xtina, Barr actually remembered the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner," but we'd perhaps all be better off had she forgotten the whole thing. Her jokey rendition of the song at a Padres game in 1990 included off-pitch warbling and saw the comedian stick her fingers in her ears while she sang. 

At the time, "Roseanne" was in its third season and abundantly popular, but that didn't stop audience members from recognizing the auditory disaster in front of them. The whole thing baffled and infuriated the crowd, who got even more upset when Barr finished the performance by spitting on the ground and grabbing her crotch. The performance was so controversial that President George H.W. Bush had some choice words for the sitcom star. 

"It was disgraceful," he said (via UPI). "That is the way I feel about it, and I think a lot of San Diego fans said the same thing." For her part, Barr held a 20-minute press conference to defend herself. "I'm sorry I didn't sing so good," she said before clapping back at the leader of the country. "I'd like to hear him sing it." There's no way he would have been worse.

Mariah Carey didn't have a rockin' New Year's Eve

Even the best singers in the world have off days, as Mariah Carey learned on New Year's Eve when 2016 became 2017. She was supposed to perform a number of her hits on "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve," but something went wrong as she attempted to sing "Emotions." Apparently, there was a problem with her in-ear monitors, and Carey couldn't hear the song. Instead, she just wandered around the stage complaining out loud. The whole thing amounted to several minutes of instantly-iconic diva behavior, as Carey dropped gems like, "We didn't have a check for this song, so we'll just say it went to number one, and that's what it is." Occasionally she attempted to find her place in the song, doing partial choreo, while pre-recorded whistle tones echoed around Times Square.

On January 2, her manager Stella Bulochnikov blamed the "New Year's Rockin' Eve" production team for ignoring Carey's repeated attempts to let them know that her in-ear monitors weren't working. "She should have walked off and thrown the mic at somebody's head — that would have been a great moment," Bulochnikov told Entertainment Weekly. The following day, Carey herself granted the outlet an interview to discuss the cringeworthy performance. "I'm of the opinion that Dick Clark would not have let an artist go through that, and he would have been as mortified as I was in real time," she said.

Katy Perry and the Backpack Kid

For Katy Perry's performance of "Swish Swish" on "Saturday Night Live," she seemed to be attempting to capture the same try-hard spirit of the song's music video, which included cameos from a number of viral video stars in an attempt to force a meme moment. For the "SNL" stage, Perry brought along a crowd of drag queens that included "RuPaul's Drag Race" stars Yuhua Hamasaki, Vivacious, Brita Filter, and more. It was another guest appearance, however, that got everyone talking: Backpack Kid, aka Russell Horning, best known for flossing while wearing a backpack. Perry brought Horning out onstage and let him do his thing, while she awkwardly bopped on the sidelines.

"Honestly, he's phenomenal," Perry told Z100 days later [0:22]. "I love him. He's a part of a whole movement of young kids in culture and dance that are just changing the way things go, and that's fantastic." That's a nice sentiment, but it doesn't make the performance any less cringey. Because the moment had set the internet on fire, Horning did his own interview about what it was like to work with Perry. "She was really nice, not cocky and mean like other famous people, where the fame got to their heads," he told Entertainment Weekly.