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Japanese idol culture has nothing to do with Keith Urban or jazzy interpretations of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.”
The idol performers are interchangeable figurines who, unlike American pop culture icons, are not individualized. Idols typically sing saccharine, Kawaii-styled J-pop, but there are rare occasions in which these teenage performers jump genres, moving away from the existing, seizure-inducing model. Yuimetal, Su-metal, and Moametal are the trio behind the Japanese sensation Babymetal—a group that both embraces and defies the Idol genre.
Before her turn to the dark side, Su-metal was a member of two bands, Sakura Gakuin and Karen’s Girls, both of which produced up-tempo dance pop. Now, with the help of the Fox God, their fictitious, benevolent spiritual overseer, Su-metal and the rest of the gang have transitioned into hardcore music overlaid with j-pop vocals. The result is undeniably fantastic and bizarre. Babymetal is a craze, drawing tens of thousands of diehard fans into arenas around the world. Read the transcript below, or watch NYLON’s interview in which we sweat under the sheer force of this epic teenage trio.
Hi this is Mickey from Nylon and this is…
Su-metal: We are…
What is the craziest thing you’ve seen at a concert?
Moametal: Once when we performed at a festival there were between 50, 000 and 60, 000 people in the audience we were so shocked. It was crazy.
Nylon: Who is your favorite singer?
Yuimetal: Ariana Grande.
Oh! Mine too. Can you sing any part of any Ariana Grande songs for us?
Who is the Fox God and what is his purpose?
Su-metal: we don’t really know a lot about the Fox God, but we believe in him. We never imagined ourselves in this unbelievable situation that we’re in today such as having concerts all over the world and we believe this is all given to us by the Fox God.
How do you communicate with the Fox God?
Su-metal: We receive revelations through Kobametal the only person who can receive revelations directly from the Fox God.
And who is Kobametal?
Yuimetal: The producer.
What are the Babymetal fans called?
Su-metal: We are called ‘the one.’
Oh, so all of them together are ‘the one.’ Alright. Powerful. Who are your typical fans and what do they look like?
Su-metal: Depending on the country there are different types of fans from older generations to kids, males, females, pop fans, and metal fans, there are varieties of fans that like different genres.
What happens when your pop fans and your metal fans come together and mix it up in the mosh pit?
Su-metal: Well, I think the pop fans were surprised by the metal fans in the beginning but now they all enjoy moshing and getting together.
So how do you guys talk to your fans? Is there a scream or is there a gesture or is there a hand movement?
Su-metal: We always do this fox sign that appears in our choreography very often. Our fans enjoy doing this sign together at our shows.
What is one thing that you love about America?
Yuimetal: I like the freedom America has in Japan people tend to think too much about others’ opinions and how to be like everybody else but to Americans it seems more important to be who you are and find your own way.
So as a very rad and intimidating metal singer yourself is there anything you’re afraid of?
Oh ghosts? Me too. I’m terrified of ghosts. And you?
Babymetal is a Japanese music group that gets best attention worldwide not by its idol-ness but by its performance. By researching its popularity coming from, we might see the new possibility of advertising Japan Culture, Cool Japan to be said.
Its success began with MV of Gimme Chocolate in ’14, its viewcount is over 32 million now. Its album was on Billboard Chart. It hit No.1 on iTunes Metal and Rock chart in western countries and southeast asian countries. Babymetal did its world tour last year in UK, France, Germany, U.S. And Canada. In the UK they performed in front of 65,000 audience at Sonisphere Festival, their quality of singing, dancing, songs, plays were praised.
Then they made their appearances on other music festivals over the world, now in their world tour again at 15 sites in 10 countries. Big names like Metallica, Megadeth and Dragonforce are on the same festivals. And they were awarded in two of popular Metal magazines. They’ll perform a solo live at famous Wembley Arena with 12,000 audience next year.
This is a series of accomplishments as Japanese artist, and exceptional as an idol. They are the youngest solo performers at Budokan, also did at big arenas like SSA and Makuhari Messe. On the other hand, they rarely appear on TV, don’t do any handshake event like other idols. Release periods of songs are slower, they’re far from “National Idol”, even their idol-ness is getting disappearing in Japan.
Then, what in them gets attention from people around the world? I (the author) am a huge fan of them, my wife sent doubtful eyes on me being excited about watching underage girls singing and dancing on YouTube. Now I believe two of us are fans…I assume these eyes are familiar to many middle aged men. Ages of Babymetal audience are varied. Men and women. Their types of music too, from Metal to idols. Fans in their 40s and 50s are not so rare.
I stood alone at a platform of Keiyo line in Tokyo station, in the band tee with red and black, to their concert at Makuhari. I felt weakness remembering my wife’s glare, but noticed many men, like me, in the same tee. Solo attendees were there. So I was much encouraged to Makuhari.Metal in Japan is said to reach its peak in 80’s, then lost its moment. So they would be that old boys who loved Metal and its heroes in these days. After long years, they found Babymetal, their love of Metal firing up again, and took their feet to the venue again. There’s a reason why people distant from idol culture accept Babymetal. They don’t use Metal as a flavor of idol performance, but they try to pursue Metal as their own power, in a high level.
The concept of Babymetal revealed through Kamishibai, is Metal Resistance (a movement of three girls taking back the moment of Metal). Each member of the back band is top notch players in Japan, their solo performances are in a program. The girls barely talk in their lives, songs performed nonstop. A lot of homage to metal songs grab metal fans’ hearts. From their lives we feel that they aims to be more Metal than idol.
Here’s the point why Babymetal is getting its success over the world. Heavy Metal has dedicated fan base in western countries and Babymetal ran straight into it, not as an idol with Metal fashion but as Metal with girls singing and dancing.
Regarding Metal is western culture, Babymetal can be said to localize idol and Kawaii boldly to western Metal culture. Not to mention, it’s not about deodorizing a smell of idol, but about making a fusion. Metal instinct of pursuing performance skills and idol ones of appealing to majority are two opposites, so making fusion of the two in a higher standard results in a unique performance never been for a Metal fans, gives an impression vividly. There’re discussions going about Babymetal is Metal or idol, or a real thing or not. The fact itself is some kind of proof that Babymetal makes the fusion to some extent, and it’s innovation.
An uncompromising fusion of opposites in a high standard – to generate something new. Babymetal might be the case of it. They even make this attempt to their ongoing story as Metal Resistance.
This can be adopted to other Japanese contents making their way to overseas? It would be just about combining something different into one. But pursuing it to the limit, new contents for new markets would be made. A problem is that such things could survive long or not. Babymetal just released its debut album. As a fan I hope their release of the second and keeps us surprised.