BETTER THAN T.A.T.U. Merging metal with Japanese pop music, Babymetal are either the most awesome thing ever, or the complete opposite.
For decades, Japan has produced some of the world's finest entertainment, food, and electronics. But, as if to offset the universality and widely recognized brilliance of its many innovations, the country's responsible for lots of strange niche shit, too. Japan has introduced sexual fetishes such as bukkake and hentai into the international porn lexicon, served as the origin site of ganguro (the discomforting fashion trend in which women match absurd hair colors with absurdly deep tans), created many a taboo-bending horror flick, and housed vending machines that dispense used panties. This observation is not some ethnocentric attempt to paint America as superior, but rather a way to point out Japanese pop culture's willingness to encourage the gleefully over-the-top. The latest example: Babymetal, a Kyoto group that fuse Japanese pop music (J-pop) and various strains of metal (namely, death, metalcore, and speed) into one hyperactive, cutesy, and completely ridiculous package. Yes, this is that sign of the Apocalypse you've been waiting for.
Formed in 2010, Babymetal is made up of Suzuka Nakamoto (a/k/a Su-Metal, who is credited on Babymetal's site with vocals and dancing), and Yui Mizuno (a/k/a Yuimetal) and Moa Kikuchi (a/k/a Moametal), who both scream and dance. Given that they're all alumni of the J-pop "idol" group Sakura Gakuin, it's extremely unlikely that these girls (whose ages fall between 12 and 15) formed Babymetal on their own. One interview marked their guitarist, Kobametal, as their producer/Svengali, but the legitimacy of his role is hazy. Babymetal's Lolita-like fashion sense is not too removed from J-pop conventions either, as the singers' Hot Topic-friendly skirts, jackets, and high socks make them look like pseudo-gothic schoolgirls.
Babymetal's site (title banner: "Welcome to the mosh pit of chaos") sheds more light on the band, which has yet to play stateside. Aside from clarifying that they play "Kawaii METAL" — officially a "mix of J-POP IDOL and HEAVY METAL" — their bio page features one striking sight: a photo (or perhaps illustration) of all three Babymetallers face down on the ground. Though bloodless, it's a disconcerting image. The girls resemble dead bodies posed in a state of eternal sleep, which adds weird fetishistic undertones to the group — a concept that grows hard to avoid once you think about underage females playing a style of music (as mutated as it may be) that generally appeals to "older" teen and adult males.
Babymetal reclaim some innocence in YouTube clips of the group performing in front of a massive, glow-stick-armed crowd. The act's shows are all spectacle and adrenaline — a brand of sonic junk food the average tween could easily grow to love. Raging metal riffs are juxtaposed with ultra sugary, singsong-y vocal pop, which then contrast with deep growls that surely are not coming from the singers, and guitar breakdowns. Since the girls devote their energy to choreographed dances and vocals, the actual instrumentation is provided by a conventional band decked out in skeleton costumes and hanging out in the background. Babymetal do blend more than just metal and J-pop; their songs include goofy rapping and accelerated techno, too.
: Music Features
, Dance, Kyoto, Japanese, More