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Metal At The 59th Grammy’s

megadeth grammy

Let’s get one thing straight right up top. The Grammy’s don’t matter to heavy metal. The Grammy’s don’t matter to most music, but they really don’t matter to metal. This is because heavy metal doesn’t mean all that much to the Grammy’s either. We don’t play nice with others and we don’t move the needle when it comes to ratings. We like it that way, frankly. But unlike many metal heads, I view the Grammy’s irrelevance to my life as an invitation not to take the whole affair seriously. Their meaninglessness makes them more fun. In the interest of having fun, here are some quick thoughts on metal at the 2017 Grammy’s.

Some Kind of Little Monster

Despite not being nominated for Best Metal Performance, an award that they’ve already collected six of, Metallica had a sizable presence at the ceremony. They were involved in both of the night’s most metal-centric moments. They had the sole metal performance of the night, a duet version of “Moth Into Flame” with Lady Gaga, and scored the announcement of Best Metal Performance. Both of these were weird as hell, so let’s break them down one at a time.

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The Gagatallica thing was fucked from the start. Even if James Hetfield’s mic hadn’t crapped out there was no way anyone was going to be happy with this pairing. I say this as a fan of both artists. I am this performance’s absurdly small target demographic, and the prospect of it gave me a headache. Metallica are not built for TV performances. The only times they’ve ever sounded truly great on camera is when they are playing to fans, not a seated audience. Gaga on the other hand is a seasoned pro of the televised event and knows how to sell to both the room she’s in and the one you’re in. The attempts to translate the Metallica live experience onto the screen by adding fuckloads of fire and a “mosh pit” to the stage only served to highlight the band’s stiffness.

This meant that Gaga’s theatrics, while totally appropriate for the absurdity of an award show, felt incongruous with everything happening around her. Throw in Hetfield’s mic troubles, and the whole event took on the feel of a fever dream. The complete bungling of sound and set design aside, it almost kind of worked? Metallica are very hit or miss with their choices of collaborations. Sometimes you get King Diamond, other times, Ja Rule. Gaga is about as perfect a fit for them as you could find in American pop music, and while she sounded a bit awkward on the staccato verses, she sang the shit out of the song’s chorus. It was still strange to hear someone doing melismatic runs over the Hetfield-Ulrich rhythm section, but overall Lady Gaga performed about as well as anyone could have hoped for in these circumstances.

The Endless Indignities of Dave Mustaine

This other incident doesn’t actually involve Metallica directly, although I really wish that it did. After Megadeth won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance for their 100% forgettable song “Dystopia”, the Grammy’s house band struck up a 100% terrible rendition of Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets” while Mustaine and co. made their way to the stage. All signs point to this being a well-intentioned programming flub on the part of the Grammy’s. Its likely that the music supervisor for the event had no familiarity with either Metallica or Megadeth’s music, and thus no context for the glaring nature of this error.

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At the same time, it’s much more fun to imagine this as an intentional act of trolling. Mustaine has lived in Metallica’s shadow his entire career. Not only that, but Megadeth have been nominated for a Grammy 12 times and hadn’t won once until 2017. And what music is this triumphant moment set to? A Metallica song. A badly played Metallica song that Dave Mustaine DIDN’T EVEN WRITE. If Mustaine wasn’t such an unrepentant asshole, he’d be the most sympathetic man in metal. The only thing that could have made the moment better was if Metallica themselves had popped up on stage and played the song themselves before smacking the Grammy out of Mustaine’s hand and stuffing him a locker. Music award shows are basically WWE for pop music nerds anyway, so why not go all out?

But instead, Mustaine thanked the usual combo of family, management and God, then left the stage. Given Megadeth’s competition, this outcome was practically inevitable. The Grammy’s treat Best Metal Performance like a lifetime achievement award. Megadeth’s victory didn’t stem from the quality of “Dystopia” or any other song of theirs. Megadeth, like Slayer, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest before them, won because they stuck around long enough and couldn’t be ignored. Their biggest competition, Korn, had already won back in 2003, and the other three nominees, Gojira, Baroness, & Periphery, were all first timers with no real shot at winning.

This is quite literally the nicest we’ve ever looked. En route to GRAMMYs.

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I don’t have to tell you that plenty of other artists put out better songs than these five. But, for a largely pointless popularity contest, I think the Grammy’s actually did a not too shabby job here. Each of these five bands, while hardly representing the full stylistic diversity of modern metal, are all immediately and recognizably distinct from each other. They hail from different decades, different scenes, and in Gojira’s case, different countries, and even your average “it’s all just screaming and noise” type would have to concede that they sound very little like each other. Besides, look at that picture of Baroness all dressed up. That’s just adorable. How cool is it that Baroness, who came very close to not being a band at all, got to go to the Grammy’s? They didn’t need the win, and metalheads don’t need a stodgy clique of record executives to know what albums are worth celebrating. But there Baroness were, and we were there with them.

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