By the time Lady Gaga climbed into a latex suit for the “Bad Romance” video, she had already established herself as an artist whose only constants were her mighty voice and her restless approach to genre. Each musical chapter over nearly a decade of fame has been met with an aesthetic reinvention, too: She can throw on musical styles as effortlessly as she can don the pink topper from the Joanne cover. If anything, that album is the culmination of years spent trying on different genres and seeing which one fits her whims in that particular moment.
At last night's Grammy Awards, Gaga split vocal duties with Metallica frontman James Hetfield on “Moth Into Flame,” the second single off the veteran rockers’ 2016 album Hardwired … to Self-Destruct. Technical difficulties left Gaga singing on her own for the first half of the set, as Hetfield’s mic made him inaudible — but she met the vocal challenge head-on. Her bellow was deep and undeniable, a substantial foil to Hetfield’s gravelly voice. And the mic problems ultimately meant she did a rare thing: Gaga sidled up to Hetfield at the microphone and stood as an equal on Metallica’s turf.
Despite Gaga’s winning efforts, the performance suffered from cheesy staging, tech glitches, and her own awkward stumbles with the Metallica dudes themselves. The flailing kids in flannel off to the side were enough of a distraction, as was Gaga’s not-quite-crowdsurfing moment. Gaga, lost in the moment and her own task at hand, perhaps, often found herself getting in the way of her collaborators, clutching Kirk Hammett’s chest at one point and finding herself between the guitarist and his guitar, and later perching on drummer Lars Ulrich’s shoulder (why anyone who values their fingers or their eardrums would even think of approaching Ulrich’s kit in the middle of a song is an open question). In order for MetalliGa to really shine, Gaga, used to running her show, would have had to cede a little control — perhaps one of the only skills she lacks.
This was never going to be a breakthrough moment, and her self-awareness and that of Metallica in agreeing to stage it — and in this manner — proves it. This MetalliGa experiment was about trying something new and having fun in the process, a move that very much fits in with the singer's methodology, Joanne and all. If the band t-shirt fits, wear it to a performance with that same band on national TV — it's such a cheeky move that it might actually work. And if the metal riffs fit, scream the shit out of them, too.