Jimmy Fallon’s emotional return to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon included a surprise appearance by none other than Taylor Swift.
Following a moving statement about the death of his mother, Fallon kicked off Monday’s Tonight Show with a special appearance by Swift, who performed the reputation track “New Year’s Day” for the first time on live television. (Swift debuted the song during last week’s TGIT programming block on ABC.)
Swift, who performed two tracks off her hit album on NBC’s Saturday Night Live over the weekend, played “New Year’s Day” while seated behind a piano and flanked with a small group of backup singers. The song’s lyrics proved appropriate to Fallon’s emotional return, particularly this line: “You squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi / I can tell that it’s gonna be a long road / I’ll be there if you’re the toast of the town, babe / Or if you strike out and you’re crawling home.”
During his tribute, Fallon recalled how his mother would squeeze his hand three times to signify “I love you.”
On Twitter, Tonight Show producer Mike DiCenzo explained how Swift’s appearance came to pass and what the lyrics to “New Year’s Day” meant to Fallon.
“She was not scheduled to do our show today. But we wanted something special for this first show back, so we asked her on a complete whim, since she had been in town doing SNL. She said yes with zero hesitation,” DiCenzo wrote. “She sang ‘New Year’s Day.’ No one had heard it. Suddenly she sings the line, ‘Squeeze my hand 3 times in the back of the taxi.’ I nearly gasped. Tears. I think everyone in the audience started sobbing. I could see Jimmy silhouetted at his desk dabbing his eyes with a tissue. We all lost it. It was a beautiful coincidence in a beautiful performance. ‘Hold on to your memories, they will hold on to you,’ Taylor sang.”
He added, “That hug between Jimmy and Taylor after the song was 100% real emotion. Whatever you think of Taylor, she did something beautiful for Jimmy and our show today, and we’re forever grateful.”
The Roots’ drummer Questlove also commented on the “New Year’s Day” lyrics and Swift’s appearance.
Watch the performance above.