When Macklemore and company performed “Same Love” at the Grammys and Queen Latifah came out to cap it off with a mass wedding ceremony that included same-sex couples, Kevin Fallon at the Daily Beast wrote that “so many think pieces are going to be written about this performance.” He was right and that’s totally fair: The dramatic shift in popular opinion on gay marriage is absolutely worth celebrating, even if the “Same Love” performance itself was kind of mawkish.
What stood out to me about the Grammys, though, is that pretty much no one had anything to say about Metallica’s performance of their war-is-hell anthem, “One,” with Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang. For those not familiar, “One” is a heavy metal anthem that starts out softly and builds to a terrifying roar, telling the grisly story -- from a first-person perspective -- of a horrifically wounded war veteran. The performance of the song at the Grammys included stark silhouettes of young people marching off to battle, gunfire sound effects and a whole lot of pyro. The message was not subtle, but even though the performance itself seems to have been well received, I have seen literally zero comments related to the thematic content.
Admittedly, Metallica hasn’t had a new studio album since 2008 (aside from their 2011 side project with Lou Reed) so their inclusion in the 2014 festivities playing a song from 1988 didn’t exactly scream relevance to begin with. They also got paired with a renowned Chinese classical pianist who, though extraordinarily talented, was an unfamiliar name to many of the show’s more pop music-oriented viewers in the United States. It was never going to be a massively headline-making combination.
Still, if this performance had happened a few years ago, it certainly would have been seen as a commentary on Iraq, Afghanistan and American military involvement around the globe. Hawks would have shouted about “cut and run” and doves would have insisted that this showed the “chickenhawks” the real horrors of war.
But two years after withdrawing combat troops from Iraq and one year before we’re out of Afghanistan, those conflicts are so far from the public consciousness that the connection either didn’t occur to most of the audience or did occur to them but didn’t seem worth mentioning. Indeed, after scouring news sources and social networks, I found just one tweet connecting the Metallica number to America's current and recent wars, and it came from a veteran with 58 followers who commented that “As an Iraq Vet, ‘One’ had my heart in my throat for the whole performance.”
By contrast, when “One” first came out in 1988, its connection to the Vietnam War was clear. The war had ended 13 years before, but it was still very much part of the public conversation. Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” had come out a year earlier, and the year before that, Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” won best picture.
With Iraq and Afghanistan, however, it seems we’d prefer to forget -- so much so that when an antiwar song plays at a major music event, the wars are simply not discussed. Those wars have produced 1 million wounded veterans (as well as anywhere from 120,000 to 500,000 Iraqi and Afghan civilian deaths), but in a country where the vast majority didn’t serve and weren’t asked to sacrifice, is talking about the cost of war just too heavy?
Which brings me back to Macklemore. One of the reasons I suspect that opinion on gay marriage has shifted as quickly as it has is that once people get past the idea of gay sex, they get to celebrate love and marriage. They get to see weddings. And weddings are always the symbol of a happy ending -- a happy ending that we didn’t get in Iraq and won’t get in Afghanistan.
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