All Hail Babymetal, the J-Pop-Loving Metal Band of the Damned
Earlier this month, news circulated widely that a metal group called Unlocking the Truth have inked a record deal worth $1.7 million with Sony Music Entertainment. Loads of outlets picked up on the item, including People, CBS News and other places where you wouldn't expect to read about no-name metal acts making business moves. Why all the hubbub? The extravagant dollar amount wasn't the draw (though it had to help), but rather the ages of Unlocking the Truth's members. The band is made up of one 12-year-old and two 13-year-olds. It's pretty odd to imagine a bunch of middle-schoolers getting deep enough into metal -- and being in-demand enough -- to make a career out of music, much less one that yields seven figures.
But if that gaggle of metal-loving minors have a peculiar story, Babymetal's is positively freaky.
Hailing from Japan, Babymetal are a group of three teenage girls -- plus some backing personnel skulking behind them -- who combine Japanese pop (aka J-pop) with death metal (throw in some speed metal and metalcore, too). A thick guitar riff crushes with a thud, followed by some deep screams. Then, bring on the bouncy, sugar-sweet vocals. Mix and match future elements as needed.
The girls wear gothy schoolgirl costumes, do choreographed dance routines and bang their heads violently. They're also gaining a hell of a following -- one substantial enough to justify them opening for Lady Gaga on their first-ever American tour. (They played their inaugural American show in Los Angeles on Sunday and kick off the Gaga tour at US Airways Center on Wednesday.)
The video for their sometimes sweet, sometimes vicious song "Gimme Chocolate!!" is currently sitting at around 12.5 million views on YouTube. It's about time you added to the tally.
Established in 2010, Babymetal are tied to the far more conventional-sounding J-pop idol group Sakura Gakuin. The band's cast of naïve-looking leads includes Suzuka Nakamoto (aka Su-Metal, who handles vocals and dancing), Yui Mizuno (aka Yuimetal), and Moa Kikuchi (aka Moametal), the latter of whom both scream and dance. Officially, they dub themselves "Kawaii METAL," making their stylistic allegiances relatively clear, but listen long enough and you'll hear some hip-hop and techno tossed into the chaos.
The trio up front aren't responsible for the actual music. That duty goes to the mysterious crew in the background of Babymetal's kinetic performances.
They have become a sensation in Japan. Videos evidence massive crowds and large-scale productions at their concerts. Another clip shows people waiting in a long line for what appears to be the midnight release of Babymetal, their first full-length. That album, which landed in February, received 4.5 stars out of 5 from the Japanese edition of Rolling Stone. The appeal of Babymetal is spreading, too: a subreddit dedicated to the band does healthy numbers and receives frequent submissions, and Babymetal hit the top spot on U.S. iTunes' heavy metal chart. Now, they have multiple dates with Lady Gaga.
What makes Babymetal simultaneously terrifying and amazing isn't just the mere existence of this outlandish project but the fact that it's working. You get the sense that some exec or svengali drummed up this grotesque creation in a plush high-rise, and voila, their awfully artificial-feeling band has come to life. Manufactured groups are old news in the music business, but Babymetal feels especially contrived and focus-grouped, what with the project's clear roots in the glossy traditions of J-pop and the singers' hollow je ne sais quoi. To broadly stereotype for a second, the Babymetal premise reels in young males whose curiosity in piqued by the metal aspects and probably the teenage-girls-in-schoolgirl-outfits thing, young females who dig the pop vocals and identify with the band's avatars, and everyone in between who can't resist seeing the results of a concept so brilliant, so bizarre that it could go viral worldwide. This is not the kind of project that just happens.
Is Babymetal a novelty liable to flame out? Yes, but it's still only summer 2014, and the hype train looks to be just leaving the station. We still have so much more Babymetal left to go: albums, concerts and media appearances, maybe video games, a cartoon, an app or two. Don't forget the apparel: Babymetal shirts, hoodies, high socks, backpacks, branded lollipops. Just imagine the Hot Topic display, the inevitable Hello Kitty tie-in line. Babymetal is a machine that will need feeding, and in writing these words (and likely more to come), I'm only helping. May God save us all. jpg
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the band members wore skeleton bodysuits while performing. While that has been the case in the past, it appears for the Lady Gaga tour the band will be wearing white robes. Also, Kobametal was referred to as a guitarist. Kobametal is actually the producer who formed the group.
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