Sometimes you discover something that’s so fantastic or terrifying that it needs be shared. Babymetal is both.
Through a couple of friends, my sister and a RadioLab podcast I was recently introduced to the world of K-Pop. That’s a whole other kettle of crazy fish, but it was while discovering K-Pop that I stumbled across Japan’s greatest export (after sushi, the film The Cat Returns and those high-tech toilets): Babymetal, the Japanese metal idol band.
Imagine a heavy metal band dressed as the girl from The Ring that’s fronted by three tiny smiley Japanese teens, rocking a Wednesday-Adams-meets-Sailor-Moon style and singing catchy high-pitched tunes – all with impeccable choreography. That’s Babymetal.
Strangely, it turns out this band isn’t a one-hit-wonder, destined to join the ranks of Jedward and the Cheeky Girls. The gothic trio (and Ring girls) has rocked out stadiums worldwide for five or more years now. They’ve got two albums, played to tens of thousands at Reading and Leeds Festival last year, recently performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and are opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the UK stint of their upcoming tour!
All this from a band whose biggest hit, Gimme Chocolate!, is all about wanting chocolate but worrying about weight gain… The singers are Suzuka Nakamoto, Yui Mizuno and Moa Kikuchi, otherwise known as Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal (do you see what they did there?) and none of them are more than 18 years old.
After getting over the initial shock of Babymetal, I started asking questions – a lot of questions. Namely, “what the bloody hell was that?” and “what the heck is a metal idol band?”
Turns out, ‘idol’ is a term that’s been bandied around in Japan since the ‘70s and refers to these super young stars (most often singers) who are basically manufactured to be super cute – think school uniforms, cartoon sushi with faces, bows, pulling the peace-sign in pictures, general kawaii-ness. It sounds a lot like K-Pop (my new favourite obsession), where young children are said to be sent away and essentially train for pop stardom.
It makes the Disney child stars look sane.
Anyway, so a lot of these idol bands have ten or more members, who work on an audition and rotation process, meaning that fresh young boys and girls are brought in to replace the older ones when they ‘graduate’…mental. (You can just imagine some greasy old man in a suit mumbling “keep them young” to himself from his throne of Hello Kitty dolls).
The band Sakura Gakuin, known for this hits Song For Smiling Full and Friends, is one of the biggest and best examples of these bands and is actually where the Babymetal trio started out.
So yes, it turns out Babymetal is 100 per cent pure A-grade manufactured. It makes sense too; their regimented dance moves, well-trained smiles and professional cutesiness just has to be the result of military-esque training. These girls have played Wembley for giddy god’s sake! (There’s a BBC documentary about it – check it out.)
How someone at a Japanese music agency knew that the world was crying out for a heavy metal band fronted by three smiley teenage girls, we may never know, but it worked and now hard-working adult men and women are paying money to see them sing about chocolate in sold-out stadium tours!
Babymetal is strange, unbearably catchy, completely manufactured and just plain bemusing. However, the world can be a dark place and isn’t it nice to have some happy gothic girls blasting out heavy metal songs every once and a while to remind us how weird and wonderful life can be?