JAMES HETFIELD on gatekeeping: "It could be hard to be a METALLICA fan" | Revolver

JAMES HETFIELD on gatekeeping: "It could be hard to be a METALLICA fan"

Frontman weighs in on "Master of Puppets" virality and metal newcomers
metallica james hetfield HUBBARD, Jimmy Hubbard
Metallica's James Hetfield
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

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Ever since "Master of Puppets" experienced an unlikely renaissance following its feature in last year's season of Stranger Things, the concept of gatekeeping fandom has become a hot-button topic among Metallica listeners. The Stranger Things plug, which snowballed into a viral TikTok run, thus exposing a whole new generation of fans to Metallica (many of whom weren't metalheads previously), has rubbed some stodgy headbangers who're protective of their subculture the wrong way. In fact, the friction between new and old fans spilled over into the band's purview, and last summer, Metallica issued their own statement defending the "fake" new fans who found their band through the popular Netflix show, writing, "Everyone is welcome in the Metallica family."

Fast forward almost a year later, and James Hetfield has offered a slightly more nuanced opinion on the concept of gatekeeping as it relates to his band. During a recent appearance on Kerrang! Radio to promote their new album, 72 Seasons, Hetfield and Kirk Hammett were asked what it feels like to see their fans reacting to Metallica's increased presence in the mainstream limelight. Both members reaffirmed their belief that no one should be kept out of the Metallica fandom, but Hetfield did sympathize a little bit with the old-heads who were thrashing along to "Master of Puppets" years before the TikTok explosion.

Before asking the question, the interviewer referenced a recent Corey Taylor quote about Metallica, in which the Slipknot frontman said, "For so long, they were our secret. They were ours. We worshipped them. It was a cult for a second." The interviewer shared that, as a longtime Metallica fan herself, she related to that sentiment. Then, she asked Hetfield and Hammett what it's like to see so many young fans be introduced to rock music through this moment when their band is in the mainstream limelight. 

"It is beautiful," Hetfield gushed. "It is so cool that, first of all, people are interested in that song ["Master of Puppets"], which I still can't believe. But to have a connection with a younger audience ... it takes me back to hearing 'Purple Haze' for the first time on my brother's stereo. It's like, 'What is that?' This whole new world opened up. 

"So I get it, and I relate to it. And I love that you relayed that Corey message. It could be hard to be a Metallica fan. If you see this big 'M' everywhere and it's like, 'Oh my god, everyone likes them now.' And I get it. I want to have something that no one else has. 

"But I think what I'm trying to say is there's a connection between us and an individual fan deep down that no one else might have. So there's a connection through the lyrics or just the feel. And yes, there's a big brand and blah blah blah. I think there's both, and I guess you choose which one you want to focus on more." 

See the full interview below.