Metallica and Lady Gaga’s unlikely team-up at last night’s 59th annual Grammy Awards has created quite a buzz in the heavy metal community — either you love it or you hate it. Die-hard purists have slagged the performance as a further insult to Metallica’s iconic status and another case of “selling out,” while others believe it was an admirable effort for a pop star like Lady Gaga to jam with a legendary heavy metal band at the music industry’s biggest event of the year. As far as this writer is concerned, you can count me in the latter camp.
Having been only 4-years-old when Metallica released their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All, and still in short pants when they reigned atop the thrash metal niche but didn’t get much mainstream recognition, my introduction to the band came a bit late. I was about 12 or 13 when thrash first appealed to me, with Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album,” Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction, and Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss happily joining Seattle grunge albums (and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion double album) as mainstays of my adolescent soundtrack. At that time, I was mostly unaware that Metallica was so much heavier and less-accessible in the 1980s, and for me, that meant the Black Album was as good as it got.
Of course, I would eventually discover Metallica’s back catalog as I progressed through high school and college, and deem it to be much better than the polished tracks that made the band a household name with the Black Album. I was greatly disappointed when they cut their hair in the mid-1990s and became even more polished and accessible with Load and Reload. The polarizing St. Anger is a guilty pleasure at best, and that’s mainly because of the brilliant documentary Some Kind of Monster, which focused on the album’s troubled making.
For this longtime heavy metal fan, 2008’s Death Magnetic won me back, and November’s release of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct was the closest Metallica had gotten to recapturing their 1980s thrash metal glory. You’ll notice I didn’t mention the band’s compilations and collaborations, but there’s a reason for this — last night’s surprising Grammys performance featuring Metallica and Lady Gaga.
Metallica has been known for unusual collaborations, having released the album S&M with the San Francisco Symphony in 1999, and the album Lulu with the late Lou Reed in 2011. The Inquisitr noted last week that there have also been some rather unusual team-ups when it comes to live performances, as Metallica had previously jammed with the likes of classical pianist Lang Lang (in 2014) and classic rock icon Neil Young (in 2016), among others. But heavy metal heroes Metallica and Lady Gaga of “Poker Face” and “Born This Way” fame, sharing the same stage at the Grammys? Doesn’t that sound like an insult to the band’s 35-year legacy?
For fans, it’s a case of “your mileage may vary.” In MetalSucks‘ feature on the Metallica/Lady Gaga team-up at the Grammys, most of the commenters had good things to say about their performance of the Hardwired… single “Moth Into Flame,” technical difficulties with singer/guitarist James Hetfield’s microphone notwithstanding. But there were a few fans who weren’t quite happy about how one of heavy metal’s most enduring performers teamed up with a pop superstar, including one longtime fan dating back to Metallica’s early days who chimed in with his comments.
“Just embarrassing. Metallica is blinded by fame. It’s sad to see a band you looked up to as a teen have these missteps. Still remember picking up Ride The Lightening [sic] when it came out. At least I have those memories.”
Others felt a sense of schadenfreude, opining that Metallica and Best Metal Performance winner Megadeth had long sold out and are the type of bands whom today’s millennial audiences couldn’t naturally relate to.
“I don’t even have to watch to simply be glad this happened to them. (Megadeth frontman Dave) Mustaine, too. All those overblown, ‘cool-dad’ egos getting served humble pie that they’re not really welcome to the party except to be laughed at ironically by an audience who doesn’t actually like or want them and never has.”
Another commenter took note of the fact that Lady Gaga’s musical tastes are diverse enough to include some heavy metal, but warned that Metallica just might be adventurous enough to consider collaborating with Gaga on an album.
“I’m glad they chose a pop star who at least has some talent and actually likes metal. No, it doesn’t tarnish their legacy. Now this doesn’t mean they should do an album with Gaga, though given Lulu‘s history, I wouldn’t be surprised if (drummer) Lars (Ulrich) was considering it.”
My take on Metallica/Lady Gaga at the Grammys? Ten years ago or more, I probably wouldn’t have liked it. But being that I have admittedly mellowed with age, I’ve got nothing but respect for Gaga, who did admit to being a “metal dudette” in a 2014 Reddit AMA, as reported by Metal Injection. As for Metallica, their 1990s-and-beyond albums mostly may not have appealed to me when I was a younger man, but I’ve got to respect them as well for moving beyond the confines of thrash metal and embracing other musical influences. Those albums did not tarnish their legacy one bit, and neither did last night’s Grammys performance.
— Roman | Lady Gaga (@MisterBroRo) February 13, 2017
— jurgen swinstiger (@JSwinstiger) February 13, 2017
— hollowman777 (@hollowman777) February 13, 2017
As you can see in the above tweets, it’s still sad to note that many a rock band has been accused of “selling out” by taking the pragmatic approach and realizing that there’s more to the genre they started out playing, or even revolutionized. Selling out can pertain to changing one’s sound purely for monetary gain or greater popularity, but not to doing so in an attempt to step out of the proverbial box.
In that light, the Metallica/Lady Gaga performance at the 2017 Grammys is not another case of the band allegedly selling out to the mainstream scene, and it’s not an insult to heavy metal or an insult to the band’s legacy either. Chances are I’ll still have Metallica’s 1980s albums playing on Spotify, as opposed to their newer ones, but I’m one of those fans still looking forward to their latest out-of-the-box collaboration.
[Featured Image by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]