Two things happen when an artist has been around long enough. First, they begin to transcend generations, like when Led Zeppelin T-shirts show up year after year in high school hallways as students continue to discover them. Then there’s the backlash to sustained popularity. At this critical juncture in time, that means being “canceled,” and this week, it’s Metallica’s turn.
Getting canceled is when someone is called out for questionable past behaviors, either ones that have recently been uncovered or those which didn’t receive much attention when they took place. The offense doesn’t need to be grandiose; often an individual can be canceled by doing something that affected just one person. Other times, their negative actions can be perceived as aimed towards large contingents of people.
Examples of those who have faced what is essentially intended blacklisting over the last few years are bountiful – some may even deserve it. But, many times, it borders on ridiculous, like when Harry Styles was called out last year for not wearing the proper mask during the pandemic.
Justin Timberlake was retroactively canceled in 2021 for not doing or saying enough in support of Janet Jackson after the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy and for flippantly addressing his sex life with ex Britney Spears in the early aughts. Taylor Swift was cancelled for beefing with Kim Kardashian. Katy Perry even got cancelled for calling out cancel culture.
The list goes on.
Who is doing all the cancelling? Raging Gen Zers for the most part. Also known as “Zoomers,” it’s the generation born in the late 1990s through the early 2010s who express dislike and, frequently, outright disdain to a previously inaccessible and wide audience immediately via social media platforms.
Enter Metallica, who lately have experienced not exactly a resurgence – because they haven’t not been huge since their self-titled album exploded into the mainstream in 1991 – but rather a boost into another level of popularity with Generation Z. This was due to use of their 1986 single “Master of Puppets” earlier this summer in a pivotal scene of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Overnight the song exploded in plays on streaming platforms and even reentered the music charts in multiple countries.
Predictably, many longtime Metallica supporters frowned upon the influx of newbies into the ranks of their fandom, so much so that the band felt the need to respond when a commenter on TikTok apologized to the group “for all the fake Stranger Things fans.”
“Don’t be sorry,” the reaction from the group on the shortform video hosting app read. “Everyone is welcome in the Metallica Family. If they like ‘Puppets,’ chances are they’ll find plenty of other songs to get into.” Later, the band went a step further by posting a disclaimer of sorts which read, “FYI – EVERYONE is welcome in the Metallica Family. Whether you’ve been a fan for 40 hours or 40 years, we all share a bond through music. All of you started at ground zero at one point in time.”
Despite the overtly inclusive nature of Metallica’s message, one TikTok user took the opportunity to take them to task for decades old infractions. “Serena Trueblood,” as they are known on the platform, produced a three-minute video using Metallica clips and photos from the early 90s accusing the band of Nazism, white supremacy, racism, making fun of mental health issues, drug addiction, suicide, not supporting Black Lives Matter enough and failing to publicly draw political lines.
Not surprisingly, the video exploded across social media and on music news sites while ringing up nearly half a million views at press time. It was captioned by Trueblood, “I find it interesting [sic] that they only cared about gatekeeping in their fandom when they started getting big agaib [sic] from Stranger Things. Thy only care about what lines theor [sic] pockets.”
Metallica is hardly the first artist Trueblood has called out. The channel is full of a recurring segment dubbed “Is Your Fav Problematic” where they have zeroed in on Nirvana, Korn, Lady Gaga, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Demi Lovato and dozens more, sometimes applying a one to 10 rating scale in terms of just how problematic the subject might be.
Trueblood’s “system” is unquestionably flawed and uneven, but what a lot of people aren’t realizing is this is simply a young person using TikTok to voice an opinion. It’s neither right nor wrong, but thousands have fallen on one side of the fence or the other.
Before Trueblood disabled comments on the video, there were some who claimed to now be enlightened and vocalized regret at having purchased Metallica music or merchandise since being turned onto them via Stranger Things. Those on the other end of the spectrum furiously defended the band, attacked Trueblood personally and said they’d gladly take concert tickets and shirts off the hands of people disavowing the metal titans.
As for Metallica, did the bandmembers do and say some stupid and provocative things when they were younger? Absolutely – and who hasn’t? Have they grown away from that? It would certainly seem so.
Whether the uproar over all this sees them try to atone for that past either in the form of some apology or statement remains to be seen. It doesn’t seem to be necessary, with the band this month wrapping up a lengthy tour of headlining solo shows and festivals around the world to untold thousands. More likely will be the idea of cancelling Metallica fading to black in short order.
A version of this article appears in this week’s print and online editions of my syndicated Rock Music Menu column under the title “Zoomers look to ‘cancel’ Metallica after ‘Stranger Things’ bump.”