10 times rock and metal bands totally ruined mainstream awards shows

Tim Commerford, Kurt Cobain, Iggy Pop and Oli Sykes
(Image credit: Tim Commerford, Kurt Cobain and Iggy Pop: Getty, Oli Sykes: NME/YouTube)

Let’s be honest, here: most awards shows just aren’t very metal, are they? A load of backslapping, gushing, self-congratulatory nonsense that lasts for four-plus hours? For the most part, we tend to ignore them like the plague. But, occasionally, they pique our interest - not least when someone has the bright idea to invite a metal band on and cause absolute chaos. It’s never quite resulted in Will Smith smacking up Chris Rock levels of madness, but there have been plenty of times when metal and hard rock bands have turned up to awards shows and just about ruined it for everyone. Here are 10 classic examples.

Metal Hammer line break

The KLF and Extreme Noise Terror (The BRITs, 1992)

Without question, this is the bar to hit for controversy and chaos caused at an award ceremony. The KLF might have been a dance band, but they had more of a “fuck you” punk rock attitude than a thousand rock bands combined. When they were asked to open the 1992 BRIT Awards, they were so fed up with the music industry they decided to use The BRITs to exit it and go out with a bang by inviting Birmingham grindcore, anarcho-punks Extreme Noise Terror to perform with them. It’s gone down in history as one of the most subversive performances in music, as the odd couple grunt through a deconstructed version of 3am Eternal complete with machine gun fire, bombs going off and a dead sheep all adding to the madness. It was The KLF’s last ever live performance. Chef’s kiss. Top that.

Nirvana – Rape Me/Lithium (MTV Video Music Awards, 1992)

After the success of their monolithic Nevermind album the year before, Nirvana were a huge deal by the time the MTV Awards came around in 1992. It was a no-brainer for MTV to ask the band to perform, but their rocky relationship with the channel meant that this was a risk for the producers of the show. Nirvana wanted to play new song Rape Me, while the TV folk demanded they play something from Nevermind. Nirvana reluctantly relented, but when they were introduced, vocalist Kurt Cobain held his ground by teasing out a few lines from Rape Me before going into Lithium. Towards the end of the performance things started to get increasingly ragged, with bassist Krist Novoselic launching his bass in the air and having it come straight down onto his head, nearly knocking him out and leaving just Cobain and drummer Dave Grohl to finish the song. Cobain promptly smashed his guitar into his amp, leaving amongst the wail of ensuing feedback, while Grohl clambered over his kit and sarcastically shrieked “Hi Axl! Hi Axl! Where’s Axl?!” at Guns ‘n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose, whom Nirvana were feuding with at the time. Pure punk rock bedlam. 

White Zombie – More Human Than Human (MTV Video Music Awards, 1995)

At the 1995 MTV Music Video Awards, White Zombie picked up the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video. Pretty wild for a band that were considered a bizarre, underground, art-punk collective a decade earlier. Even more bizarre was the fact that, even armed with R.E.M., Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers and, bloody hell, Michael Jackson as performers at their disposal, White Zombie were picked to close the show. They did so with a manically unhinged version of More Human Than Human, vocalist Rob Zombie starting the party by getting in the crowd before climbing the set next to him. Watching the video back now, there are also some very large, and very unsafe looking, fireworks going off incredibly close to drummer John Tempesta’s kit, but its status as a classic is confirmed by the pit that starts up as soon as the song kicks in. Clearly, a few people were there solely for White Zombie, and those that weren’t looked incredibly freaked out by the whole thing. 

H-Blockx – Risin’ High (MTV Europe Music Awards, 1995)

Some of you won’t remember German rap-rock band H-Blockx. For a band that most people outside of their home country only knew for a cover of Snap’s dance hit The Power, they were surprisingly nominated for the Breakthrough Artist Award at the 1995 MTV Europe Music Awards. They lost out to Dog Eat Dog (yeah, really) alongside fellow nominees Portishead, Weezer and Alanis Morisette - a decision we’re sure MTV don’t regret at all decades down the line. H-Blockx were asked to come and play their song Risin’ High at the show, and during the performance vocalist Henning Wehland spent the majority of their short set pouring water all over himself, then the audience, before stripping down to the waist, waggling his belly about and swinging a mic stand around somewhat dangerously. Not content with letting his bandmate look like the most unpredictable man onstage, co-vocalist Dave Gappa finished the song with a spur of the moment stage dive, and the entire crowd movesdout of his way. He landed flat on his face, and H-Blockx were never invited back.

Metallica – Last Caress/So What (MTV Europe Music Awards, 1996)

Metallica don’t need pyro, but if Metallica want pyro, you should probably let them have it. MTV Europe found this out the hard way back in 1996 when they invited the thrash legends onto their awards show to perform their single King Nothing, but told the band they would be unable to use their usual pyrotechnics for the performance. Metallica didn’t like that, and so decided to protest the decision by playing a pair of foul-mouthed covers of The Misfits' Last Caress and Anti-Nowhere League’s So What, leading to MTV airing the pre-watershed sights and sounds of James Hetfield threatening to “Rape your mother today” and that he’d fuck a sheep and a goat. MTV promptly cut the performance from any future re-runs of the show. The cowards!

Rage Against the Machine – Testify (and aftermath) (MTV Video Music Awards, 2000)

This is actually more famous for what happened in the aftermath of the performance, but when Rage Against the Machine performed their song Testify early on at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, bassist Tim Commerford was on one. At the end of a typically powerful performance by his band, Commerford is seen using his instrument to smash up his own amp and a whole bunch of the televisions that were dotted around the stage, leaving a right bloody mess in his wake. It was merely a warmup for Commerford, though, as he infamously later stormed the stage and scaled the set of the show in protest against Limp Bizkit winning the award for Best Rock Video later that night. The reason why has still yet to be explicitly revealed all these years later, although seeing Bizkit frontman Fred Durst duet with Christina Aguilera earlier in the night may well have tipped him over the edge. Who knows?

28 Days – Rip it Up (ARIA Music Awards, 2000)

Um, so, we'll be honest: some of you won’t remember Australian rap-rock band 28 Days either. They arguably had an even smaller impact than their German peers here in the UK, but they did enough in their homeland to warrant a nomination for Best New Band and Single of the Year in 2000 for their song Rip it Up. The song lost to Madison Avenue’s Don’t Call Me Baby, but 28 Days got to perform it at the ceremony anyway. It’s all ploughing along fine in a very early 2000s kinda way, until the band's DJ, Jay Howard, starts pulling members of the audience up onto the stage and making them perform some very awkward stage dives. Awkward, that is, save for the first bloke, who forward flips his way into a bunch of kids who were clearly just there for Kylie Minogue.

The Stooges – Burning Up/Ray of Light (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2008)

Most artists that get inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame grab the chance to perform at the ceremony with both hands, so fair play to Madonna, who decided to use her 2008 induction to shine a light onto one of the many artists that should already have been inducted. Iggy and the Stooges were still, unbelievably, not in the Hall in 2008, and so were invited to take Madge’s performance slot to show just why they were worthy of induction. The band ran through a pair of Madonna classics, Burning Up and Ray of Light, turning them from upbeat pop boppers into grinding garage punk beasts. Always the politest of awards shows, the sight of a shirtless Iggy getting down from the stage and into the faces of the stuffy suits in the front row and screaming “Feel something!” at them from mere inches away is incredible. years later, The Stooges were inducted. Madonna, something of a punk herself, had got a great result.

Bring Me The Horizon – Happy Song (NME Awards, 2016)

BMTH had broken into the mainstream with 2015’s That’s the Spirit album. It meant that they were invited to play at the 2016 NME Awards, something of a rarity for metal bands, and would be rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in music. Their performance of Happy Song was going well, until the mid-song breakdown, where vocalist Oli Sykes decided to vacate the stage and go on a walkabout. When the song kicked in he found himself halfway up the venue and jumping up to perform on Coldplay’s table. Sykes kicked pretty much everything off the table as he screamed his guts up, leaving Chris Martin and his mates to flee the scene, before the frontman jumped into the crowd. Meanwhile, bassist Matt Kean also found himself stood on a table, bashing it in with his instrument. Nice work. 

Body Count – Black Hoodie (Grammys, 2018)

It was a brave decision from whoever allowed Ice-T and his band Body Count onto live TV to play the Grammys pre-show back in 2018. A man with a reputation for being outspoken, it was always going to be a bit jarring to invite him on to play Black Hoodie in front of the notoriously beige Grammy attendees. Ice and his band, as ever, didn’t disappoint. “People out here talking like police brutality is something new: I been talking about that shit for over 20 years!” he bawled before we even got going. Ice then barked his way through a hell of a lot of swears before dedicating the song to all of the victims of police brutality, even begging not to be shot before a gun effect went off. It wasbrilliantly brutal, and certainly not the sort of thing you’d expect from the Grammys to be airing before the kids go to bed. “This is for metal!” shouted Ice at one point. The absolute lad!

Watch the performance here

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.