In 1989, Grammy had finally recognized heavy metal. And Metallica, aged 25-26, were among those initial nominees (although didn’t win it, Sandman would fix that a couple years later). This was the turning point not only in Metallica’s career, but the history of metal in general.
Metal was looked down upon by mainstream media since its birth in the late 60s. And even when the genre gained commercial success in the 80s, the neglect was still there. It was still underground, kept going only by its fans, who are among the most dedicated fans of anything.
The track carrying the metal torch at Grammys 1989 was One from Metallica’s newest album And Justice for All. The song itself was groundbreaking, being a mix of the two extreme sounds: a ballad and a thrasher. And now the band had to perform it at the biggest music awards and in front of the mostly snobbish audience. The vibe wasn’t that welcoming, if not straight up hypocritical. It was obvious, the band were nervous. James’ vocals were shaking.
But as One went, the boys began giving ever so less shit. And you can catch the exact ‘Fuck it. Let’s jam’ moment. It’s right before the machine gun part starts: James Hetfield looks at the flying camera, turns around, throws a fist and comes to Lars (and maybe says something to him like ‘Let’s kill em all’). From that point onwards, Metallica played for themselves and millions of metal boys and girls watching Grammys on TV.
Here’s what one of the boys, now grown men, tells about that [OP screenshot below the quote].
I cannot express how MONUMENTAL this moment was for metal back in 1989. This was the first time metal (not poppy hair bands) was given the stage at the Grammys. All of us teen boys in our black t-shirts and leather jackets were poised in front of the TV, across the country, to see this moment. It was eerie. Hoping for the best.
At first James seemed nervous – out of place – and it felt cringey. This was a stuffy room full of the pop industry in tuxedos and dresses. Sitting there likely smirking at ‘how did they let this grubby filth in here’ . The paradox was palpable. But things started to pick up…
First glimmer of hope: “Cut this shit out from me” James didn’t censor the lyric, and the network didn’t bleep it ! Okayyyy… I remember my heart started beating faster. The boys were getting into the groove now. Fuck it.
THEE Moment of Ownage: While the boys were hammering it out, something literally changed. I still tear up a little seeing it, because watching it above, it still is as clear as day for me, 30 years later… around 4:15, coming out of the first solo, James catches a glimpse of the crane camera in the corner of his eye… at first you can see him catch it… then something changes… he then LOCKS EYES with it.
After not paying attention to the cameras (or even looking up at the snooty audience), suddenly James seems to have a moment of clarity. He’s looking at US. The fans at home! Completely breaks the fourth wall. I swear to god, you could feel it. Then he seems to just say “FUCK THIS SHIT – LET’s DO THIS” with a distinct shake of his fist at US. Us at home. At this point I the band just lets go, and goes into beast mode. Fuck the industry. Fuck this fancy ass audience. We’re doing this for the guys at home.
And what you witness from this point is Metallica as real as if they were at their own gig in front of us. They take out the rest of the song with absolute guts and blood… and James now looks straight at the audience. No more looking at the floor. Oh. My. Living. Fuck. You cannot believe what it felt like that night.
It was not the first and last time Metallica took shots for all the metal bands. But at Grammys 1989, they had forever claimed the title of the greatest metal band ever. Metallica have been through ups and downs, but they still are THE fucking band.
Witness the epic moment below, as well as the full Metallica One live at Grammy Awards 1989.