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Grammys 2017: Lady Gaga and Metallica won’t be stopped by mere mic problems

This isn’t a great performance, but it shows just how fluent Gaga is in many musical languages.

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Lady Gaga rose to fame as a pop star, on the back of full-throated dance hits like “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face.” But Gaga always seemed to bristle slightly at the idea that she was a creation of the studio. As she’s shown over and over again, she can sing and has the training to back it up.

In recent years, as her album sales have failed to match the heights set by her first few releases, Gaga hasn’t let that stop her from taking over the music industry, genre by genre. Her collaborations with Tony Bennett crossed pop standards and the great American songbook off her list, but she’s also dabbled in country, hip-hop, and songs verging on rock. She’s a musical polyglot, and if she’s playing Bobby in a Tony-winning, gender-flipped revival of Company in the year 2022, I will be into it.

Her choices in 2017 mark this adventurism. She followed up a terrific Super Bowl halftime show — in which she attempted to reclaim patriotism for Gaga Nation — with a somewhat messier but still compelling performance with Metallica at the Grammys, in which she added “hard rock and/or metal” to her list of cross-genre musical achievements. The one-night-only supergroup ripped into a performance of Metallica’s “Moth Into Flame,” and what it lacked in seamless technical qualities or sensible staging decisions, it made up for in energy.

I don’t want to overstate this performance, because, to be honest, much of it was a huge mess. Microphones worked sporadically, if at all, and Metallica frontman James Hetfield was frequently completely indecipherable, thanks to the sound issues. Meanwhile, the stage was crowded with lots of dancers listlessly hurling themselves about in the background in hopes of creating the illusion of an on-stage mosh pit. It, uh, didn’t work.

But Gaga seemed to seize the “how much worse could it get?” spirit of the moment and raced about the stage, leaning into the same mic as Hetfield, leaping into the crowd, and just generally behaving like she was a 12-year-old belting out “Master of Puppets” at the top of her lungs in her bedroom. It was way more fun than it probably should have been, and Gaga was the biggest reason why.

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