Game Changers: Korn's Jonathan Davis turns 50
Today, we celebrate the 50th birthday of one of the most influential heavy metal vocalists of the past 25 years, Jonathan Davis of Korn. Originally from Bakersfield, California, the band came onto the scene in 1994, and within a few years created a new genre of heavy metal, that redefined the culture of heavy music. As the band's iconic frontman, Davis has become an revered for his innovation, his sincerity, and his ability walk a fine line in craft art that is both classic and contemporary.
Over the course of 13 full length studio albums, legions of fans across the globe, and a lifetime of accolades, Davis continues to be a central figure in the evolution of heavy music.
To mark such an important celebration,, we now present just some of the most memorable highlights of Davis’ storied career - with Korn and as a solo artist in his own right.
Black Labyrinth - After at least a decade or more of working on solo material, while still in Korn, Davis finally released his debut solo album, released on Sumerian Records in 2018. For his critically acclaimed debut record, Davis wrote all the songs but had guest musicians help him in the studio and on tour, including Wes Borland, Ray Luzier, Miles Moslet, and Shenkar. There is even a documentary of the album available here.
Grammy Award Wins (2000, 2003) - Korn were thrown into the mainstream in the early 2000s, with coverage on MTV, and radio play around the country, leading to massive world wide tours and successful album sales.But, in 2000, the band won a Grammy Award for its innovative video for the song ‘Freak on a Leash.’ Then, the band won another Grammy in 2003, for the Best Metal Performance, with the song "Here to Stay" off the album Untouchables.
Obama calls out Korn - In 2015, then President Obama made a reference to Davis and Korn in a nationally televised event. The backstory was that Obama was giving the medal of Honor to a soldier named Florent Groberg, who was wounded in Afghanistan. It just so happened that Davis had visited the soldier previously, and while the President was there the soldier mistaken him for Davis. “I am not the singer from Korn,” Obama reportedly told the soldier. The remark was made in a speech seen on national television, giving Davis the rare opportunity to say he is only one of a few number of heavy metal singers referenced by a Us President.
Collaboration with The Cure - Davis has always said that he was a fan of Robert Smith, and has always shown his admiration for The Cure. So, when Korn did an MTV Unplugged Live album in 2006 in in front of a studio audience in in New York, it only made sense that they do collaboration with one of Jonathan’s musical icons..Robert Smith and Davis jammed together in a mash up of Goth and Nu Metal, acoustic of course, performing the Korn song ‘Make Me Bad’ and The Cure’s ‘In Between Days.’
South Park - Davis and his bandmates in Korn were forever immortalized in the animated series in South Park, in 1999 on the third season, in an episode entitled ‘Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ship Mystery’ a Halloween themed episode. In the episode the band performed a Halloween concert for the kids in South Park.
Korn at Lollapalooza (1997) - Just three years after their debut album, Korn was picking up momentum. The band managed to secure a spot on one of the biggest musical festivals of the 1990s, Lollapalooza 1997. The band performed on the main stage alongside The Prodigy, Orbital, Tool, and Snoop Dogg.
First Family Values Tour (1999) - Just two years after Korn’s appearance, Davis and the band decided to organize their own music festival, one that fused together rock, metal and rap. The result was 1999’s inaugural Family Values Tour that featured Korn as headliners, with Rammstein, Limp Bizkit, Ice Cube, and Orgy.
Queen of the Damned - In 2002, Davis was enlisted to work alongside film composer Richard Gibbs. Davis produced the soundtrack to the 2002 vampire film based on the book by Anne Rice in, Queen of the Damned. Davis also wrote and performed five songs for the film.
Issues Release Show at the Apollo Theater - In 1999, Korn kicked off the release of their 4th LP, Issues, with a historic performance at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York in a rare rock performance. The band played the album in its entirety complete with a ensemble choir. The band also flexed their ability to be ahead of the curve, as the event was "cybercast" via their website - given the current prevalence of livestreaming, Korn was doing it more than 20 years ago.
The Recording of "Daddy" - Korn’s self titled debut album in 1994 was one of the most cathartic alternative metal albums of the era - a true game changer. The combination of weighty content, dark imagery, and the band's innovative sound asserted a sea change in landscape of aggressive music. One track in particular stood out on the album for it’s sincerity - which can be heard in the vocal performance of Davis is the song ‘Daddy’. On the track, Davis can be heard crying as a result of tapping into the real life trauma that inspired the track. It remains a landmark moment and one that underscores Davis' rank among the genre's very best, all time.
Korn Conquers Woodstock - Though the event would ultimately go down in infamy for its resulting violence and mayhem, the 1999 edition of the generational pilgrimage got of to an auspicious start as Korn served as one of the headliners on the Friday night of the three night engagement. Opening with "Blind" watching Davis launch the rallying cry "Are You Ready?!" into the microphone in front of 100,000 rabid fans is a truly iconic moment that added another chapter to the archive of heavy music history.
Words by Alex Distefano