On July 25, 1983, when lead singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich were still in their teens, Metallica released Kill ’Em All. The album sold more than three million copies and launched the band to rock star status. Two days later, 24-year-old Madonna released her self-titled debut. The album went on to sell more than 10 million copies and peak at number eight on the U.S. charts on the strength of singles like “Holiday,” “Lucky Star” and “Borderline.”
These are not artists that have a lot else in common. They’re opposites in a lot of ways: opposite coasts, opposite sexes, divergent genres and audiences. But it is a pretty big coincidence that two debuts released within 48 hours of each other ended up launching two huge careers. Think about it. Thousands of artists release debut albums every year. Most of those artists don’t go on to have 30-year careers and almost none go on to sell hundreds of millions of albums. Given this strange coincidence, we decided to compare Metallica and Madonna's careers over the past three decades.
Madonna: With 12 studio albums (and 3 compilations), she has sold more than 300 million copies.
Metallica: The band’s nine studio albums and handful of live albums and compilations have sold 100 million.
Points: +1 for Madonna.
Madonna: The singer has won pretty much every music award there is including seven Grammys, 20 MTV VMAs and 39 Billboard Awards, in addition to two Golden Globes.
Metallica: Among others, Metallica has won a total of nine Grammys, three MTV VMAs and four American Music Awards.
Points: 0. Metallica was nominated for the first-ever Grammy for best hard rock/metal performance, which they lost to Jethro Tull, forever proving that awards are dumb and pointless.
Madonna: Her acting has been widely panned, but her performance in Evita earned her a Golden Globe. Truth or Dare was pretty great though.
Metallica: Their 2004 documentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, features the band recording an album while working with a Cosby-sweater-wearing life coach, which is as amazing as it sounds. They also have a concert film due out this fall, and their four-hour 1992 doc features a scene with Madonna.
Points: +1 for Metallica.
Madonna: She’s not really an album artist, but her singles have reflected and influenced pop’s evolving style. She holds the record for the most Billboard Top 10 singles, and Billboard named her the top solo artist of all time. And she holds the Guinness World Record as The World's Most Successful Female Musician of All Times.
Metallica: Metallica’s 1991 self-titled album (known as “The Black Album”) not only catapulted the band to another stratosphere of fame, it’s also considered a metal masterpiece. It debuted at number one on the U.S. charts, and has ensured that every subsequent Metallica album has done the same.
Points: +1 for both. Too close to call.
Madonna: She’s probably known as much for her fashion as for her music. Madonna’s style has always been iconic, from lace bras in the '80s to pointy bras in the '90s. She reinvents herself visually and musically with every album; even her microphone choice has become a signature look.
Metallica: Generally a lot of black. And they cut their hair in the mid-’90s, which caused people to call them sellouts. Can you believe we live in a world where people criticize grownups for getting haircuts?
Points: +1 for Madonna. Or +1 million for Madonna. Really, she was the only one trying.
Madonna: The singer seems to welcome controversy from everyone, including the Catholic church, late night TV viewers, adoption advocates and coffee table book enthusiasts. Most of the time, though, Madonna seems in control of the situation.
Metallica: In the early 2000s, Metallica sued Napster over copyright issues. This alienated many fans and made the band seem out of touch with their audience and music in general. Also, did I mention the time people got mad that they got haircuts?
Points: +1 for Madonna.
Madonna: In recent years she has duetted with the likes of Ricky Martin, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and M.I.A., to varying results. She also did those Gap ads with Missy Elliott.
Metallica: 2011’s Lulu with Lou Reed was weird from the get-go, and pretty universally panned.
Points: Oh, let’s say 0.
Madonna: Madonna is one of the most famous people ever. Your grandma knows who she is. Not only that, but people know who you’re talking about when you say “Material Girl” or "Vogue.”
Metallica: Hands down the biggest metal band ever, though I’m not sure Metallica’s goal was ever to be a household name. And they aren’t quite. Your mom still doesn’t really know who they are, and she probably calls them “the Metallicos.”
Points: +1 for Madonna.
Results: 5 to 2 for Madonna. Hopefully Metallica can close the gap by 2043.