I will admit to being a little bit dubious, upon first discovering Babymetal, as to whether they had any place in the music world, let alone in the world of heavy metal. A few months after I stumbled across them on YouTube, they were booked for Sonisphere Knebworth in 2014, and I checked out their set completely through curiosity. After all, here was a band who represented everything we love about the culture of Japan: bizarre genre mash-ups that don’t fit perfectly into either world. As always, curiosity is what creates popularity for the act, but so far, nearly four years after their inception, Babymetal show no signs of slowing in their ascendancy. Sell-out tours of Europe, including some massively received performances in the UK, have helped them steadily grow to the point where even my parents have heard of them…and have lifted an eyebrow in confusion when watching footage of their performances.
In case you live in a cave and had only just discovered the internet, let me take a few moments to describe the enigma that is Babymetal. They are a fusion of heavy metal and J-Pop, Japan’s own unique brand of bubbly happy pop music, and they sound about as unique and strange as you’d expect. On their debut album, the opening song has death metal growls, enthusiastic use of the double bass pedal, and bruising riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place being played by, say, Gojira. Then, about halfway through, something both awful and awe-inspiring occurs- the squeak feminine vocals of a typical girl J-pop singer starts singing in native Japanese. If you were in any doubt as a listener, you immediately have it confirmed- Babymetal are a band who will earn as much hate as they do love. The band- if you can call them that- consist of three dancing girls and a backing band of genuinely talented metal musicians.
The dancing girls are all of Japanese origin and, in typical Japanese fashion, are all young girls who are still a few years away from proper adulthood. Even the ‘leader’ of the three is only 18 years of age, and has been doing this madness since she was 15. They’re live performances are bizarre, too- they tell a story of a Fox God who visited Earth to play heavy metal. As thunderous riffs blare out, the girls pull off dance moves that wouldn’t look out of place in the Olympic rhythmic gymnastics competition. But musically, if you strip away the odd lyrics and the silly gimmicks, Babymetal actually have some wonderfully catchy lyrics and some genuine metal credentials. That’s the thing that confuses me as a metal fan. Part of me wants to follow the droves of ‘true’ metal fans who absolutely hate everything this band stands for. Part of me understands the hatred, because people will always dislike something they don’t understand. But I can’t hate them. I just can’t. When you listen to them, and when you allow yourself to accept that listening to them will surprise you a little, you’ll actually find yourself enjoying them. There’s something charming about the way they launch into their songs with no apology. There’s also something charming about the way the girls have walked into the metal world despite not having a single clue about the bands involved. In an interview, the namechecked Metallica, although none of them had any idea who they were talking about or why. An agent somewhere has given them some key names to reel off and they’ve done so admirably. But that’s actually charming. They have no idea of the hatred they incite, and they keep on doing what they do regardless- that’s true bravery!
Personally, I have no problem with discovering new artists. I discovered Nightwish of my own accord, and they were radically different to anything I listened to at the time, and Babymetal are the same. I don’t love them, and if you were to ask me, I think they need to be kept for the fans and not exposed at every UK festival, but I don’t hate them. I think music is an art, and art is about expression and being unique. Babymetal belong in the metal world- I just don’t know how much of the metal world will like it!
But do I hate them? No way! They’re bloody good fun!
Haven’t listened to ’em? Check out their newest single- Karate- and decide for yourself!