It’s an image etched in Grammy history: James Hetfield, the iconic frontman of Metallica, belting out alongside pop sensation Lady Gaga as they both perform “Moth Into Flame.” This electric duo took the stage at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 12, 2017.
The foundation for this unexpected partnership was laid during a casual dinner party at actor Bradley Cooper’s residence. Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s famed drummer, and Lady Gaga had been in attendance. Ulrich recounted, “I was at a dinner party [with Gaga], and we were sitting next to each other… and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this would be cool.’ So I said, ‘We’re doing the Grammys in a couple of months; do you want to join us?’ and she was just, ‘Yeah, that would be great!’”. Below is the dress rehearsal performance for the show.
Gaga, known for her eclectic music style, had always been vocal about her love for metal. She’d attended Iron Maiden and Anthrax shows and even cited ‘Metal Militia’, a track from Metallica’s first album, as a personal favorite. In preparation for the Grammys, she devoted time to perfecting her part, arriving hours ahead of Metallica for rehearsals. Hetfield praised her dedication on The Howard Stern Show, labeling her “extremely creative and a fearless artist.”
But the actual Grammy night was fraught with issues. Laverne Cox, introducing the performance, failed to mention Metallica, later apologizing for the oversight on Twitter. And as Metallica began performing, it became apparent that Hetfield’s microphone was malfunctioning, rendering his powerful voice mute. However, Gaga’s quick thinking saved the day as she invited Hetfield to share her mic, turning a technical debacle into an intimate duet. Watch the full Grammy performance below:
Afterwards, Hetfield expressed his frustration over the incident: “I felt embarrassed. I haven’t been that angry in a long time.” Ulrich shared the sentiment, stating on The Late Late Show that those first few moments backstage were tense. The root of the microphone issue? A stagehand had inadvertently unplugged a wire just before the duo began.
Despite the mishaps, there was a silver lining. Hetfield later reflected on the New York Post, “It ended up being a blessing because I ended up singing in a microphone with Lady Gaga—maybe even more than she wanted. It felt more like a real collaboration because of that.”
Such on-stage snags might have deterred other artists, but for Metallica and Lady Gaga, they only emphasized their consummate professionalism and resilience. Their Grammy performance, though imperfect, remains indelibly imprinted on the memory of viewers as an iconic fusion of rock and pop.