Monday’s episode of The Tonight Show was a bittersweet one for Jimmy Fallon, who took time off last week after the death of his mother Gloria. Speaking to the audience and viewers from his desk, Fallon told a story of how his mom was “the best audience” and was always a fan of the show. “When we were little, my mom would walk us to the store, me and my sister, and we would hold hands. And she would squeeze my hand three times and say, ‘I love you,’ and I would squeeze back, ‘I love you, too.’ Last week, I was in the hospital, at her side. I grabbed her hand and I squeezed, ‘I love you,’ and I just knew we were in trouble.”
The episode also featured an announced performance by Taylor Swift, who performed her ballad “New Year’s Day,” the last track off Reputation. Following the show, Questlove pointed out the unexpected connection between the lyrics in "New Year's Day," Fallon's loss, and the hand squeezing. As Swifties know (by heart) by now, there's a line that goes, "You squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi / I can tell that it's gonna be a long road."
Mike DiCenzo, a producer and writer at The Tonight Show, also revealed after the show how tough of a day it was for the staff. As DiCenzo wrote on Twitter, Fallon hadn’t told anyone about the story of him squeezing his mom’s hand. So when everyone heard “New Year’s Day,” the whole room—studio audience and crew—became emotional. “Suddenly she sings the line, ‘Squeeze my hand 3 times in the back of the taxi.’ I near 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.”
According to DiCenzo, Taylor was asked to perform “on a complete whim” and she “said yes with zero hesitation.”