Metallica’s 1989 Grammy Performance Had an Underwhelming Start, but Epic Finish

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This past week marked the 34th anniversary [editor’s note: holy shit] of Metallica‘s seminal fourth studio album, “…And Justice for All.” As anniversaries are apt to do, it sent us down a streaming binge and YouTube rabbit hole. One video that caught our eye (which, we admittedly hadn’t seen since we were starry-eyed kids), was Metallica’s now legendary performance of ‘One’ on the 31st Grammy Awards in 1989.

This particular Grammy Awards holds a bunch of metal significance. It was the first time that The Academy actually recognized heavy music artists, with the inaugural Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental award. It was the first time a metal band had the opportunity to play the televised event to millions of American homes.

And infamously, Metallica would go on to incredulously lose that night to friggin’ Jethro Tull. In 2019, Lars publicly reflected on what that loss was like, stating:

“Today 30 years ago, February 22 ‘89, we played the Grammys for the first time and that was quite a mindfuck!!” he began. “First time we were in front of a mainstream TV audience. First time mainstream America was exposed to whatever the hell it is we do. First time they had a hard rock/metal category on the Grammys,” he continued. “First time we were Grammy losers, since Jethro Tull, somewhat unexpectedly to most people, walked away with the win. But all was not lost.. The expressions of disgust from most members of the audience (other than Iggy!) is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. And I was rocking some pretty crazy hair that was edging dangerously close to a mullet!”


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Anyways, the thing that surprised us in reliving the ‘One’ Grammy performance was that, if we’re being completely honest here, it really wasn’t that good! At least the first half. Let’s chalk it up to nerves, but James is often out of key, there sounds like a flub at 2:27 that appears to cause Hetfield to shoot a dagger glare at Newsted, Kirk flubs some notes in the solo around the 3:15 mark and also at the 4:00 mark.

But then, something finally clicks. James looks directly into the camera, seemingly taunting it as they launch into the iconic double bass section at 4:21, and now, with the true heaviness driving their fury, you can see the greatest metal band in the world find themselves and proceed to level the stage for the remaining 2 minutes or so of the track.

One YouTube commenter summed up our thoughts best: “They started this performance as a high school band covering Metallica and they ended it as the thundergods of metal.” Thundergods of metal, indeed. Relive it (or watch for the first time) yourselves below:

Don’t worry, though, folks. There’s a happy ending here. Metallica went on to win their first Grammy for ‘One’ just a year later, nabbing a Best Metal Performance Grammy in 1989. They also have gone on to be a fairly successful band, having sold almost 20 million concert tickets ($1.2B gross revenue), and god knows how many albums sold as well at this point.

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