What Happened to James Hetfield’s Mic During Performance With Lady Gaga? Metallica Tech Explains

Metallica’s guitar tech Chad Zaemisch shared a few details about the band’s early 2017 performance at the Grammy Awards with pop star Lady Gaga. Although the seemingly odd combo managed to win over the hearts of the majority of metal fans out there, most attention went to the unfortunate microphone malfunction, with frontman James Hetfield ending up helplessly singing into an unplugged mic.

As Chad explained in an interview with RJM Music Technology, the exact explanation of what went wrong on that day isn’t all that simple. Although a few sources back then shared some explanation, Chad added a few bits and pieces, painting the full picture of the chaos that actually happened on that day.

Lady Gaga & Metallica - Moth Into Flame (Dress rehearsal) at the 59th Grammy Awards 2017

“If you had a bad show, you load it out, and it was gone and done forever. Now, we record everything,” said Chad when reminded of the incident (transcript via Ultimate Guitar). Sure, this was a televised event but the pressure that artists and their crew are feeling is now present at pretty much every live show. As he added:

“Everybody’s got their phones out. Every moment is recorded. So if something goes wrong, it’s like everybody hears about it.”

Now, going back to the February 2017 performance, Zaemisch explained that the first signs of trouble came with the band having to go with different personnel for the event:

“We had to use some other personnel for the award show for particular reasons. And the audio guys ran the mic cable kind of from backstage out and around and then plugged into their mics. And we did a run-through earlier — everything was fine.”

Metallica & Lady Gaga: Pre-Grammy Rehearsal

Another issue, as Chad recalls, was that Metallica and Lady Gaga were joined by additional stage extras. They were all part of the performance. As he added:

“But we went out to do the show, they had taken a bunch of… I guess they were actors or something — to stand behind the band on either side, to jump around and be all excited. This was the big song with Lady Gaga. She’s got a wireless mic, that’s cool.”

The song that they performed together was Metallica’s “Moth Into Flame,” which was from their new album at the moment, 2016’s “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct.” But despite everything going smoothly at rehearsals, the performance was headed for a disaster.

Metallica Talks Performing With Lady Gaga at the Grammys

Although sources back in 2017 claimed that one of the stage dancers stepped on a cable and plugged out the mic cable from the base, it was actually a stage extra stepping on a connector on the stage. As Chad adds, there weren’t cables that were long enough so they had to patch things up. And that’s where the whole thing went wrong:

“They didn’t have a long enough cable, so they put two mic cables together. So somebody was jumping up and down and jumped on the connector and that’s what unplugged it.”

At that moment, Chad and the crew were trying to solve the issue on the spot. However, the chaos, pressure, and miscommunication made it impossible to sort it out:

“But you couldn’t really see that because people were kind of going nuts over there screaming and rocking out doing the whole thing. And I finally was looking at the cable and figured out what had gone wrong, and ran over there and plugged it back in.”

How the Lady Gaga, Metallica Duet Happened at the 2017 Grammy Awards | ABC News

“And by this time, James had knocked it over. So I ran out. He didn’t see me set it back up. And then I think audio guy turned it off or something.”

“And he went to go speak into it again, and it still wasn’t working. Or it wasn’t working in his ears, but it was working out through the broadcast truck or something. It was a mess. And I can’t remember if he knocked it over again or whatever. But yeah, at the end of that, that was pretty miserable.”

Fortunately, James got help from Lady Gaga herself, as she was quick enough to bring her mic to the Metallica frontman. But although Gaga saved the day with her quick, smooth, and absolute rock ‘n’ roll move on the stage, the damage was already done.

Metallica Welcomes Lady Gaga's Edge And Attitude

“At the end of that, if you look at the video, you can see James kind of coming off stage and just threw his guitar to me, and I was still kind of ducked down behind some equipment trying to watch this mic cable and just somehow caught it, reached my arms up and caught the thing.”

Chad concluded by saying:

“And it was like, ‘Oh, boy, man, this is like, the exact moment you don’t want something to go wrong.’ And it did. So it was just one of those things where we weren’t using all of our stuff. It wasn’t like our tour. Some things were out of our control, some dumb stuff happened, and, you know, that’s what the result was. Wasn’t fun.”

Metallica and Gaga Are Shining in Their Shades

Photos: Ralph Arvesen (James Hetfield 2017), Steve Baker (Lady Gaga A-Yo JWT, 2018-01-31)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.