In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was asked if he feels the mainstream understands heavy music any better now than it did back in 1989, considering that almost every record Metallica has released ever since has topped the charts.
Lars' response was surprisingly candid: "I don't know if I have as much knowledge of what's going on around me as I did 20, 30 years ago, and I don't know if I'm interested in being as much a part of that conversation as I was, but when asked, it definitely feels like what we're doing in hard rock in general is connecting with a lot of people. But in terms of the zeitgeist and overall mainstream culture, it doesn't feel like we're as much a part of the mainstream conversation as it has been in the past."
"We've probably had the biggest summer we've ever had just in terms of sheer number of tickets sold between our European and American dates. Obviously, that's a complete mindfuck given that it's 42 years into this ride. But at the same time, it feels that hard rock is more of a subculture and less mainstream than it's been." he added.
"Looking back, at the Eighties with MTV and AOR radio and magazines from Rolling Stone to Kerrang! … it feels like hard rock was much more a conversation in the mainstream than it is now. So while these numbers are crazy — and I know so many other bands are doing crazy numbers, like Guns N’ Roses, Slipknot, Ghost, Disturbed — it feels like hard rock is more part of a subculture and kind of outside of the mainstream again like when we started Metallica." Lars concluded.
This is a significant admission from Ulrich, given that Metallica is one of the most successful and influential heavy metal bands of all time, recently beating Taylor Swift's record of the highest attended show in a Californian stadium. It also speaks to a larger trend in the music industry, where hard rock and heavy metal have become increasingly marginalized in recent years.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to this decline, and one is undeniably the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, which have made it easier for people to discover and listen to a wider range of music, leading to a fragmentation of the music market, with different genres appealing to different niches of listeners.
Ultimately, whether or not hard rock and heavy metal are mainstream is somewhat irrelevant: these genres have a long and storied history, and they continue to produce some of the most innovative and exciting music around.