How The Grammys Disrespected Metal From The Very Beginning

Craig ONeal, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons DallasFletcher, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Published on:

Since the very beginning, the relationship between metal and awards shows has been awkward at best. While some programs are worse than others when it comes to the heavy stuff (…cough VMAs cough…), even the ones with a stable track record have checkered histories; none more-so than the granddaddy of them all: the Grammys.

Originally called the Gramophone Awards, the Grammys had turned up their nose at harder guitar-driven music ever since its 1958 inception. After years of lobbying, the Academy finally recognized heavy rock music  for the first time with the inclusion of the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental category in 1989. The nominees for the inaugural award included Blow Up Your Video by AC/DC, “Cold Metal” by Iggy Pop (from the album Instinct), Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction, Crest of a Knave by Jethro Tull, and …And Justice for All by Metallica

Having broken through to the mainstream on the heels of their video for “One,” Metallica were considered shoe-ins to take home the Grammy. The band even performed at the ceremony earlier in the evening, marking the first time a heavy metal group graced that particular stage. At the same time, Jethro Tull were surprised to be nominated at all; as the flute-centric act were about as far from heavy metal as the rock world got. For their part, Tull were told by their label to not even bother attending the show because they “weren’t likely to win.” 

They were wrong. 

Presented by Alice Cooper and Lita Ford, audible booing erupted from the audience the moment the shock rocker read the words “Jethro Tull.” As they weren’t in attendance, band leader Ian Anderson later said that he was glad they sat out the ceremony because “there’s no way I could have accepted it under those circumstances.”

The snubbing of the biggest metal band in the world in favor of a folk rock act generated a ton of controversy for the awards show. Responding to the criticism, Jethro Tull’s record label Chrysalis took out an ad in Billboard  that pictured a flute lying amid a pile of iron bars with the caption, “The flute is a heavy, metal instrument!” Subsequently, Metallica also added a sticker to the new pressing of …And Justice for All, that read: “Grammy Award LOSERS”.

Due to the negative response, the Grammys immediately separated the categories between Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Metal Performance. Metallica won the next three years in a row.