Why Korn on South Park remains the greatest cartoon music cameo ever

Korn in South Park
(Image credit: YouTube / South Park)

In a world where Eddie Munson and Stranger Things have helped Master Of Puppets inexplicably become the biggest metal track of 2022, decades after its original release, it's easy to overlook just how rare it is for metal to make a real impact on mainstream television.

23 years ago, as nu metal was fast approaching its all-encompassing apex, scene daddies Korn would make a TV cameo of their own that'd help consolidate the mainstream's swerve towards alternative culture as the new millennium beckoned. 

Trey Parker and Matt Stone's potty-mouthed juggernaut South Park, then in its third season, had become a cultural phenomenon. Catchphrases like 'Oh my God, they killed Kenny!' and 'Respect my authori-tah!' had become part of the public lexicon; the South Park album, Chef Aid, featuring contributions from everyone from Elton John to Primus, entered the US Billboard top 20 in 1998; the show's first feature-length film, 1999's Bigger, Longer And Uncut became the highest-grossing R-rated animated movie ever, earning a Grammy nomination in the process for its soundtrack.

Later than same year, nu metal's founding fathers made their debut on the show, in one of the series' most memorable episodes. Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery was the 10th episode of season three, airing on October 27, 1999, just in time for Halloween. Fittingly, the episode centred around the band's involvement in a local 'Halloween Haunt', managing to lampoon Scooby Doo, the Satanic Panic and cartoon powerhouse Hanna-Barbera along the way.

The climax of the ep sees Jonathan Davis teach South Park's townsfolk some crucial life lessons, reminding them that, really, Korn are "just normal guys" - before the five-piece launch into Falling Away From Me, shocking the locals with the all-out heaviness of their music.

"We had an amazing time," Davis told Kerrang! in 2018. "It was really fun to do this weird Scooby Doo thing." The frontman went on to reveal that there was a somewhat colossal fuck-up in the studio's first attempt to record the band's lines. "We did the whole thing, we put it in the can, we were all excited," he adds, "and, I think it was four or five days later...they hit us back up and said, 'Someone forgot to hit record', so we did the whole thing for nothing!"

Luckily, despite being in the middle of a tour, Korn were able to return to the studio to redo their lines and make South Park history. The episode received rave reviews: DVD Verdict described Korn's appearance as "expertly handled", while The Music Times would later anoint Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery as the "single greatest South Park episode of all time."

For metal fans of a certain generation, the episode also takes on a more profound status: not only does it perfectly encapsulate the mainstream's relationship with heavy music, but it represents a key marker in nu metal's rise to power, the moment where two of the 90s' most powerful counter-cultural voices crossed streams. And, over two decades on, the Falling Away From Me scene in particular remains hilarious - in no small part thanks to the band's 'performance' looking completely ridiculous in the knowingly crude animation style of South Park's early days.

Other metal moments may have invaded mainstream TV over the years, and few will ever match the sheer cultural impact of Eddie Munson, but in terms of a point in time that perfectly symbolised the moment contemporary alternative culture began to truly take over? You won't find many better - or funnier - than Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery.

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.