Babymetal is probably the most polarizing thing to hit heavy metal since Is-Deathcore-Metal? 2005-Ish debate. Since the Japanese vocal / dance group first sounded on the North American music radar in 2012, loud moans and gnashing of teeth have invariably filled the comment sections whenever a metal site deigned to post on the trio and their wacky technicolor take on “heavy metal.” The problem, you see, is that their J-pop-meets-nu-metal approach isn’t REAL METAL (™), which is rightfully important. for a surprising number of adult humans. That’s right: Babymetal is a made-up pop group that was born out of Japan’s thriving Idol scene and only went “metal” when their producer decided he would make a cute theme for a new band from them. girls. The three girls (who were all born between 1997 and 1999 and oh my god I’m an old woman) don’t play instruments and had never heard of heavy metal before joining the band, and now they are. photography hob-knobbing with everyone from Slayer to Carcass. They even have their own cutesy version of the holiest of metal saints which was passed down by Saint Dio himself, the sign of the horns.
So you know, I get it: the very existence of Babymetal could be seen as an affront to a subculture and a genre of music that a lot of people take very seriously and love a lot. Japan is home to so much fantastic, innovative and completely insane metal, punk and noise that ignoring bands like Sabbat, Abigail, Corrupted, GISM, Gauze and Merzbow in order to focus on what is essentially a pop group seems absurd. Hell, Gallhammer cornered the market for all-female Japanese metal bands years ago, and did so with a basket full of riffs from Hellhammer and Amebix. Su-metal is a hypermodern, ultra sanitized, bubblegum pop version of Vivian Slaughter, and while it was unfair to pit these two very different bands against each other, I would have loved to see Gallhammer in his prime shoot even a fifth of the attention Babymetal has received from their one feature film. There are so many killing underground metal bands that will never make a dime of their hard work, as this scintillating band tour with Lady Gaga and sell out. Babymetal’s music itself is … well, it’s J-pop mixed with nu-metal, dubstep, reggae, hip hop, and a lot of noise you can make on a middle keyboard. range, but heralded as the next evolutionary step in extreme metal. It’s a little ridiculous (Babymetal isn’t going to cut sales numbers on this new reissue of Barathrum, guys) but people are really excited about them. As far as I’m concerned, if you like it, that’s fine (but a little silly). If you think it’s stupid, that’s fine as well. Until tonight, I had managed to almost entirely ignore Babymetal’s deliberate antics towards world domination, but my editor then thought it would be fun to send me to their sold-out show at the Hammerstein Ballroom for soak myself within 80 minutes of this. Thanks, Fred.
In theory, I really like the idea of Babymetal. They are an extremely popular group led by three young Asian women who aim to spread the gospel of heavy metal far and wide. They serve as the perfect gateway group to the more sulphurous corners of the metal, and they seem to be having a really good time up there. Their outfits are age appropriate, they don’t twist in an attempt to be sexy, and they’ve tried hard to get an anti-bullying message in big letters at the end of the show. Even though their image and production are surely tightly controlled, the girls try to use their powers for good. After spending an hour and twenty minutes trapped in the world of Babymetal, I fully understand why people like to watch their performances. It’s bright, it’s flashy, it’s manic, it’s everywhere and there are fucking lasers and it’s kind of like an anime comes to life in the middle of a Britney Spears show in Vegas . I cannot however understand why anyone would ever want to listen to his music. I walked into tonight’s show as open-minded as possible, and after my first “What the fuck is going on ?!” I really enjoyed the show during the first two songs. Then it got very old, very quickly… and it went on, and on, and on. The brothers sitting behind me were in seventh heaven, but they also had a lot of beer hidden there.
As a backing band consisting of an alien and three Joey Jordison clones with mismatched guitars (thanks to the pink guitar guy for looking super content the whole time) skillfully navigated the mishmash. sonorous melody that makes up the actual music, Su-metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal frolicked the stage in matching red tutus and shiny silver breastplates, matching ponytails hovering happily above their ever-smiling faces. They had a ton of energy and made no effort to pretend that they were actually involved in the music playing behind them, which I kind of enjoyed. Su-metal is the only member of the band who seemed to actually sing, and even with a backing track, the girl has a voice of hell for someone her age and stature. She even pulled out a cape at one point, so you know she takes this shit seriously. Her Yuimetal and Moametal cohorts were happy to ignore their own pre-recorded voices and instead tumbled onto the stage like puppies, rarely in sync with each other. The choreography was a mess, and I found myself worrying that the girls’ grueling tour schedule was making them tired and wondering when they had time to sleep (again, I’m an old woman). Despite the technical flaws, the light show was amazing and the crowd ate just like chocolate coated crack.
The joint was packed and the whole crowd was making dough, waving glow sticks and usually having a weather whale. I walked past teenage girls in Sailor Moon costumes, young professional guys, young kids, groups of high school kids in anime shirts, a few grandmothers, and, unexpectedly, lots of bald spots. I was surprised how many middle aged men were in attendance; we’re talking about a significant percentage here. Considering that Babymetal seems scientifically designed to appeal to teenagers, it seemed a little odd, but instead of dwelling on more spooky alternatives, I decided they were probably just drawn to the nostalgic tunes. The “metal” portions of Babymetal are straight from late 2000s nu-metal, swirling through fragments of Slipknot and Coal Chamber as well as Linkin Park and, at times, Lacuna Coil (and guitar playing sometimes becomes very jagged and almost neoclassical too – think Children of Bodom). There’s no age limit for the fandom, and it’s not like typical metal concerts are a fountain of youth, either.
The only thing everyone in the crowd (except me) had in common was that they were PUMPS to be there, delighted to see Babymetal, and not even crazy to pay ten dollars for a weak pissing Jack and Coke. The guy stood next to me saying the words for each song loved Babymetal more at that time than I ever liked anything. Su-metal and the girls had the whole room wrapped around their Lilliputian fingers from the moment they bounced on stage, and as I stepped outside I heard tons of excited fans swear tonight had been the best night. of their life. The queue to get to the merchandising area was a dread of horror (hope the merch people who threw this shit up gave some great advice tonight) and there were a good number of shirts and Babymetal hoodies sprinkled around the audience before the show even started. Some of the clients seemed young enough that it was their first gig, and you know, there are worse ways to start. Hell, my first gig was NSYNC, and look how I turned.
Whether Babymetal is real or newsworthy or respectable or whatever stupid thing the internet worries about or not, it’s hard to deny that people fucking love them. No it’s not heavy or extreme or even really metal, and yes listening to them for over an hour made me want to prick my eardrums, but if a few cute teenage girls who like to sing along death and chocolate are what it takes to get the younger generation on the eventual path of Motorhead and Morbid Angel, then fuck – they can’t all be bad. It’s you, Babymetal.
* Maybe you need to cool it down with the reggae section and do away with that awkward hip hop stuff altogether, that shit was awful.
Kim Kelly recovers from her ordeal with heavy doses of death sheet on Twitter.