This song is inspired by the way so many people in modern society live every day striving to be loved. Vocalist James Hetfield explained to the band's official fan magazine So What
"'Moth Into Flame' is pretty literal. These days everyone [has] an obsession with being famous. Being popular. Whether it's your Facebook account or walking around the street, watching someone doing selfies of themselves as they're walking down the street. Like what? What are you doing?"
The song's music video was directed by Tom Kirk, who has previously worked on many of Muse's music clips including "Time Is Running Out
" and "Supermassive Black Hole
The no-frills visual shows the band performing the track in a black room filled with light bulbs and occasionally the camera pans out to show Metallica on an old-school TV screen with moths fluttering around it.
The phrase "like a moth to the flame" means to be irresistibly attracted to someone or something. The term comes from the way moths appear to be compelled to fly around artificial lights, although the reason for this behavior remains unknown.
The track describes a pop queen that crashes and burns. Asked by Guitar World magazine if he had someone specifically in mind when he was writing the lyric, Hetfield replied:
"The 'pop queen' in the song is not really female or male. It's about how people think popularity or fame is going to solve their problems. Or whether fame should even be a goal for a musician. For us, fame has sometimes been a burden, like, how do we get rid of this thing? [Laughs] It's a Pandora's box that often makes you wonder, Okay, how do I become un-famous? Some people have felt that urge so strongly they've taken their own lives to escape it."
The song was inspired in part by the Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy. Hetfield said: "When I watched it, it really made me sad that a talented person like that fell for the fame part of it. But, to some degree, I see that mentality reflected in everyday life — people obsessively taking selfies and sending them to friends for validation."
Hetfield expanded on how the Amy Winehouse documentary influenced the track during an interview with Canadian radio's 102.1 The Edge.
"Just watching that movie was extremely saddening - how her life went from such a lively joyous person, to someone who was just trying to escape the reality of where she was.
It really hit me in the one part of the movie where she was lost in her mind, it seemed, and she was just leaving her flat in England. The press were just hanging out in front of her place all the time, snapping these pictures of her. 'Hey, Amy, how's it going?' Talking to her like they know her.
They just don't notice - they wouldn't say, 'You look skinny, you look unhealthy.' There was a total misconnection there with reality."
Lady Gaga joined Metallica to perform this song at the Grammy Awards in 2017. Gaga rocked out admirably, even executing a stage dive. Unfortunately, James Hetfield's microphone wasn't working for much of the song, so his mouth was moving but nothing was coming out.
Metallica performed the song live for the first time at New York City's Webster Hall on September 27, 2016, the 30th anniversary of former bassist Cliff Burton's death.
Metallica released an alternative symphonic version
as a single on August 5, 2020 that is taken from S&M2
, a box set that captures the metal band's two orchestra-accompanied concerts in September 2019 in San Francisco.