Blogs Of War: What Is The Grammys' Problem With Metal?

So it was another controversial edition of The Grammys last night then. The whole of the American music industry gasped as Beck picked up the album of the year ahead of Beyoncé and Kanye West almost stormed the stage in disgust at the shock of it all. The fact that this story, essentially credible established artist beats fluffy diva pop star to an award and world’s biggest twat almost acts like a twat, caused such a stir is indicative of the cluelessness of this empty, meaningless, back-slapping shambles of an awards ceremony. For rock and metal fans this will not be news, it almost seems to have become an annual event for us to shake our heads in disbelief and confusion as the nominees for the Best Metal Performance are revealed. And this year they really have outdone themselves. Not only were eyebrows raised at the fact that, in what has been an exceptionally strong year for heavy metal, three artists were nominated from the same tribute album. But the winners were Jack Black’s comedy acoustic rockers Tenacious D and their cover of Dio’s The Last In Line. What?

So what exactly is The Grammys’ problem with heavy metal? It’s tough to know, but what we do know is that it took The Grammys until 1989 to even acknowledge that heavy metal was a thing. That’s 31 awards ceremonies without even a passing nod to the fact that heavy metal existed. Sure in 1958 when the awards formed it didn’t, but Sabbath, Priest, all of the early thrash and NWOBHM bands? No dice I’m afraid. They were too busy concentrating on Milli Vanilli and Terence Trent D’Arby. Who have really stood the test of time! Good call, Grammys!

Of course by 1989 metal was the biggest noise on the planet and it was almost impossible for The Grammys to ignore Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden and the rest. So the category, first named The Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, was introduced and awarded to a bewildered and embarrassed looking Jethro Tull. Beating Metallica’s …And Justice For All. Yeah, good one.

A year later the award was rechristened Best Metal Performance. Metallica did get their hands on the award finally, with Lars Ulrich cheekily thanking Jethro Tull for not releasing an album that year. After only a year of celebrating metal The Grammys were already being perceived as a joke by the heavy metal community.

It is worth pointing out that many great artists and songs have won this award, but there is just the sneaking feeling of it all being cobbled together by some industry no marks. Looking down the list of winners and nominees throughout the years there is an unusual amount of live versions of classic songs, Sabbath winning for the 30-year-old Iron Man in 2000, and covers, Motörhead’s version of Metallica’s Whiplash in 2005 (because obviously Motörhead don’t have enough good songs if their own…), that just aren’t apparent in any other categories for more mainstream artists.

Are you really saying that whatever dunderhead whose job it is to come up with the nominees in this category can’t think of five original songs by bands that come under the umbrella, our ever-widening, eclectic, ever-changing genre, of metal in the 21st century? How hard are you actually looking?

It would probably be too much to ask suit wearing, record company pillocks to be able to acknowledge the evil majesty of Behemoth, or the raw, grinding perfection of Napalm Death. But when you consider Anthrax, Pantera, Megadeth, Rammstein, Machine Head and Lamb Of God have never won this award and heavyweights like Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch, Testament, Devin Townsend, Clutch and Bring Me The Horizon haven’t even been nominated, yet Jack Black is looking at one on his mantelpiece this morning the mind truly begins to boggle.

Also, if you do happen to sit down in front of a TV tonight to see how this all unfolded then don’t expect to see any television highlights show cover the award – the Best Metal Performance is to the Grammys what the Best Sound Engineering In a Foreign Language Film is to the Oscars. An afterthought. An annoyance. Irrelevant to all but a tiny, niche group. That’s not, they think, what people tune in for. And so, with this attitude, is it any wonder that these people believe that yet another stellar Mastodon album is worse than a couple of comedic actors covering a metal song on acoustic guitars? I’d say no, not really.

It almost makes you feel patriotic for our own, equally vacuous, Brit Awards. An award ceremony that doesn’t even pretend to give a shit about anything that isn’t played on Radio One – at least they’re honest. At least we know that there is absolutely no point on even tuning in to it. The Grammys instead seem to treat metal with contempt whilst claiming to celebrate it. Throwing nominations around at random, appearing to dismiss true talent and originality as an afterthought, and sneering at metal whilst metal laughs right back in its face.

Of course it doesn’t actually matter. We got along just fine without this award before and the bands mentioned above who don’t have one are doing fine thanks very much. So, here’s an idea, why don’t you just scrap the award, Grammys? You obviously don’t care about it, and the people that win it don’t seem that fussed either. We don’t know the reason that you don’t care about metal, but it’s pretty obvious that you don’t and I don’t really wish to be back here in a year’s time congratulating Maroon 5 for winning for their cover of _Nookie _– or whatever hideous cack you’ve got lined up for us in twelve months. So stop making idiots of yourselves and just focus on your Beyoncés and Sam Smiths. Because at the moment you’re pissing off a lot more people than just Kanye West.

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.