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BABYMETAL - One Year Later

Posted by Carlo Jose San Juan, MD on Saturday, August 1, 2015


BABYMETAL with Babybones circa 2012 (from tvqc.com)

    Around March 2014, I first heard of the "metal" musical group known as BABYMETAL.  I immediately dismissed it as something I'd probably never get into.  If other people were into it, good for them, but I certainly wouldn't be.  The premise just sounded like something that could not work.  Even the name sounded ridiculous.

    Then around a year ago, in July 2014, I chanced upon the music video for Doki Doki Morning through my Facebook timeline.  It was visually confusing and audibly bipolar to me.  Check it out for yourself through the embedded video below or through this link.



    I didn't know what to think about it.  I didn't hate it and I automatically would support any group of girls trying to get into any kind of rock genre, especially metal.  Notably, these girls seemed quite young too (hope for the future!).  Nevertheless, when it came to BABYMETAL, I was well on the fence and I thought it would be the last I'd hear of them.  But a friend of mine pointed me to the Fine Bros.' YouTubers React to BABYMETAL video below.




    Their reactions to Doki Doki Morning more or less mirrored mine.  Then they featured more videos (there were more?!).  By the end of the feature their thoughts were surprisingly positive and that sparked my interest.  It at least drove me to try out at least one more song and one video in particular caught my attention, Gimme Choco!!



    Although I still had some reservations (more on that in a little bit), I could say I was at least into this song.  It was catchy and the riffs were actually on the brutal side.  The front three girls were entertaining and sung well.  But here is what I couldn't stomach, this was a live show but the backing "band", Babybones, were merely dancers pretending to play instruments!  So no, I couldn't call them a band.  And definitely not a metal band.

    But then I came across their freakin' epic performance in Sonisphere.  And my world was ripped apart in the most awesomely metal way possible.


BABYMETAL LIVE ~Sonisphere2014~ Full ver,HD by MSDCF0416    

    Before I continue, just who and what is BABYMETAL?  It depends on who you ask.  One person might say that they were originally formed in 2010 by their producer, Key Kobayashi, as a sub-unit of a school-themed idol pop group called Sakura Gakuin (Cherry Blossom Academy).  The idea was that the overall group, being set in a school, would have various clubs (school paper club, cooking club, tennis club, etc.) and one of them would be a heavy music club called BABYMETAL.  Kobayashi, known to the group as Koba-metal, recruited Moa Kikuchi and Yui Mizuno, Moametal and Yuimetal, respectively and both 12 years-old at the time, to join singer Suzuka Nakamoto, Su-metal, then 14 and with previous idol group experience with Karen Girl's, to embody his experimental musical amalgam of widely differing genres.  See them in their first club project in the video below.

   

    And see their first performance as a sub-unit below.



    Another person, however, might tell you that they were called upon by the Fox God to embark on a holy mission to save the world using the power and might of metal music.  Yup, they went the full nine yards and gave themselves a legendary backstory.

    Looking at these early videos, you get the impression that it was never meant to be anything more than it was, just a playful idea with a bunch of giggling teenage girls.  Can you imagine what Suzuka, Moa, and Yui's first thoughts were when they got this assignment?  They were aspiring pop stars.  This wasn't what they signed up to do.  They admittedly never even heard of metal before.  Furthermore, at the time, metal as a genre was a stagnant one.  A road to obscurity.  They were in a group that was destined to fail on paper.  But I assume Kobayashi gave them a crash course on heavy music and they quickly grew to love metal. They found it fun and that was the key.  They began to imagine choreography once they started getting into it.  Did you see how into it the small audience was?  There was something to the idea even as early as back then.  However, everyone knew there was an end date to the group.

    You see, Sakura Gakuin is thematically a middle school.  Eventually, once reaching a certain age, members "graduate" from it and new, younger members come in.  So, the fear was, once Suzuka, Yui, and Moa graduated from middle school, BABYMETAL would cease to exist.  But the uproar over the group's impending end was so great that the group continued on after all of its members "graduated".

    Bit by bit they modified their live act, the parts that worked were kept and further developed.  And over the years they crafted themselves into a metal band and released their first, self-titled full album in February 2014.

    Going back (or forward?)  to Sonisphere, I still struggle to find ways to express how epic this performance was without using the word "epic" too much.  It's the stuff of legend.

    You see, BABYMETAL has its haters both in J-Pop fandom and among metalheads.  Sonisphere 2014 was a metal festival being held in England and it was the group's first outside of Japan.  They were originally to perform on a smaller stage in the festival but were promoted to the main stage, basically opening for Iron Maiden.  IRON. MAIDEN.  They had problems backstage, constantly being threatened by organizers to stick to their alloted 45-minute on-stage time and that included the sound check.  Fears of them being booed and having bottles of urine thrown at them were there and arguably justified.  If metalheads didn't warm up to the idea and sound of BABYMETAL, they'll make sure the band knows.  Look at the image below, just before the front three girls walked on stage.


BABYMETAL, reportedly taken at Sonisphere 2014, photographer unknown

    It's not hard to imagine how nervous these girls, then an average of 15 years-old, were just before they walked on that enormous stage in front of arguably their largest audience ever of purely metal music fans who will not understand a word they'll say.  Nevertheless, they came, saw, and conquered.  They made every second of their allotted time count.  To many they were the talk of the whole festival.  If anything, they definitely earned my respect.  But most importantly, this signified their entry into the western metal world.

    So, what changed?  Why did this performance suddenly change my impression of BABYMETAL?  They played songs I hadn't heard of at that point, apart from Gimme Choco!!, and I loved them all.  They were heavier than what I had heard so far and were the perfect song choices for the audience.  It surprised me!  Yes, the amount of guts and professionalism they had to even get on that stage with all the circumstances circling in their heads was mind-blowing.  I respect that.  Another huge factor is the phenomenal Kami Band.


Live @ Budokan 2014 Kami Band Solo Performanceby cleruawakened

    It would have been absolutely criminal had BABYMETAL not decided to get these metal virtuosos to back them because the world would not have gotten to know names like Takayoshi Ohmura, Leda Cygnus, BOH, Hideki Aoyama, Yuya Maeta, Mikio Fujioka, and recently, ISAO like they do now.  When it comes to shredding, it's not too far-fetched to say that they are truly second-to-none.  During BABYMETAL headliners and festival acts, the Kami Band is given their chance to shine in the limelight and rightfully so.

    So, as performers, I gave them their due.  They spent years refining their act and it paid off for their careers.  But the question remains... why is this working on me?!  After the Sonisphere performance I followed them as they continued their first World Tour and still do to this day.  Relying purely on fancams, blogs, interviews, and the occasional press release, I was mystified by the effect the band has on me.


BABYMETAL live in Paris 2014. Photo by Dana Distortion Yavin

    First off, needless to say, I really dug their album.  The music is amazing and quite a thing to behold.  It's almost a miracle it even got produced.  It just goes to show how meticulous the Japanese are with their craft.  The individual songs and the arrangement of the record as a whole are precision-engineered and they truly had to be, considering how unique it was.  Indeed, they took an idea and had fun with it but made sure they got it absolutely right.  But the fun was clearly there.  So apart from my enjoyment the album earned my admiration.

    Su-metal is a fantastic vocalist and, quite frankly, the center from which everything BABYMETAL revolves around.  She's still quite young (she's currently 17) and still has a lot of potential, whether as a metal frontwoman or as a pop star.  But even this early in her life, she's already a metal festival veteran and some argue is among the ranks of the metal gods and goddesses.  She's certainly the Queen to the Metal Resistance (what the pre-show narrator calls BABYMETAL's fandom).  Whether they scoff or smile upon bringing her up, there's a good chance a lot of metalheads have heard of her by now.  That's quite an achievement.


Su-metal in the house.

    I have heard arguments that BABYMETAL can do without Yuimetal and Moametal, the band's resident "screamers" and "dancers" (their actual job descriptions).  I disagree.  To me, they make BABYMETAL what they are, a truly unique live music act.  They hold the daunting responsibility of projecting the group's charm and are clearly working themselves to the limit in every show.  Choreography is not something I normally pay attention to in metal concerts but Moa and Yui definitely bring that added aspect to the show and successfully sell it as a co-feature to Suzuka's vocals.  They even know what to do with their signature pigtails!  It is because of them did I finally get what kawaii means.


Rock on the Range 2015 Photo from Soundcrave

    I can definitely relate to them realizing the appeal of metal music when they did.  I too discovered metal at about the same age.  I was even in a metal band.  But that's where our similarities end.  These girls are living one of my dreams, man.  They're touring the world, being part of one of the most talked-about bands in music, performing in many of the biggest rock festivals on Earth, winning awards, and hanging out with Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Judas Priest, and others.  It's encouraging to see such a thing is possible, even for a trio of cheerful teenage non-sexualized Asian girls.

    Speaking of Metallica, time and again during interviews the three girls would bring up their first meeting.  They met them first backstage and were seemingly surprised to find that they were just regular, normal, and nice old guys.  But they noted a transformation once they got on stage.  There, they became Metallica.  Suzuka was once asked how "metal" BABYMETAL members were and she had no problem saying that the only time they are "metal" is when they're on stage.  I believe their meeting Metallica was an encouragement that they could still be their normal selves off-stage and could do away with any feelings of inadequacy that they might have felt for not being "metal" 100% of the time.  But when they are "metal"?  Yui had once expressed, she feels she can do anything.

Are their "metal" personas a sort-of superhero alter ego to them?  Even that interests me.  Perhaps when on stage they can feel powerful.  They can be inspiring.  They can be heroes!  And afterwards?  Well, I remember Suzuka pointing out that once she loses the Su-metal ponytail she feels she can disappear into a Tokyo crowd and be unrecognizable.  Maybe Clark Kent's "disguise" isn't so ridiculous after all.

    Everything about BABYMETAL is a combination of stark contrasts.  Their high-pitched vocals are accompanied by bone-crunching riffs.  Their audience cries "DEATH!!" at three seemingly innocent teenage Japanese girls.  They wear bright-red frilly skirts with contrasting blacks.  Their cute dresses are adorned with battle armor, studs, and spikes.  Their chest armor even has flowers engraved on them.  They even contrast against their predominantly painted-white backing band.  It's a look that has become so iconic that by just seeing their silhouette you already know who they are.


    They've even inspired loads of fan art from various artists around the world.  Including me!


Moametal and Yuimetal "chew chew chewing gum" fan art by yours truly.

    Also very interesting is an aspect of theirs that nearly every reviewer I've come across points out.  They are polarizing.  You either love them or you hate them.  And so polarizing is the act that, at least for the most part, everyone on one side of the fence perfectly understands why everyone else is on the other side.  Everyone gets that it's not for everyone, haters and elitists on both sides excluded.


Photo by Dana Distortion Yavin

    But I guess, most of all, they're just a delight.  It's a refreshing change from all the doom, anger, angst, and gloom usually associated with metal music.  On stage you can see everyone's having an absolute blast.  And their joy is infectious as their audience moshes about with smiles on their faces.  They slam seas of bodies together in a wall of death fueled by fun.  To be honest, I didn't think I'd be still be so into them one year later.  But alas, I still latch on to whatever news I could find online about them.  Their studio and live albums are all over my daily playlists.  That old, buried metalhead in me really needed to cheer up and have some freakin' fun again.  Metal has a ray of sunshine upon it and it is BABYMETAL.

Post-script:
  • All interviews referred to are from memory so there may be some errors.
  • I do not own any of the images and videos embedded in the above blog post except for my fan art.  All images are the copyright and property of their respective owners.  I did my best to attribute appropriately.
  • Erratum: It was pointed out to me that Moa and Yui were 11 years old and Suzuka was 12 when BABYMETAL was first formed and not 12 and 14 as reported above.  That's even more impressive, if you ask me.


Tags: babymetal  kami  metal  heavy metal  su-metal  moametal  yuimetal  kobametal  music 
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About the Author


Carlo Jose Caz is a practicing licensed physician, professional voice actor/talent, writer, and cartoonist. He has been working on the Callous comic strip since 1996, winning several of The LaSallian's Silver Quill awards for his work. He has written several published short stories. He currently lives in the Philippines with his wife and two children.

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