Toyo Keizai: Common “BABYMETAL Theories” Are Misconceptions
The book and magazine publisher specializing in politics, economics and business, based in Tokyo "Toyo Keizai" wrote a very interesting article about "BABYMETAL Theories" and misconceptions. The article includes a talk between 3 BABYMETAL fans. Check the article translated below.
BABYMETAL fans talk "BABYMETAL Theories" on Toyo Keizai
“A singer who won hard-fought recognition overseas.” “An artist makes a triumphant return after favorable reception abroad.” These “titles,” if you will, have long existed since the era before the internet. In the days when information spread slowly, performers and artists with international recognition often gained a significant boost in their endeavors in the domestic market.
It goes without saying that there were a few artists who have enjoyed considerable achievements in foreign lands. However, no artist or group from Japan has ever seen such phenomenal success as the metal-dance unit (perhaps better referred to as a project), BABYMETAL.
BABYMETAL is an idol group comprised of main vocalist Su-Metal and two girl dancers (Yuimetal and Moametal). BABYMETAL differentiates themselves from other modern idol groups by not having all performers singing in unison. Rather, BABYMETAL features a single talented vocalist supported by a quartet of authentic metal musicians.
Although the format is indeed that of an “idol group” typically seen in the Japanese entertainment industry, the girls are the subject of incredible amount of international attention.
The Hugely Successful “One Man Live” Show - A Japanese First
The timing of this article is no coincidence. The girls have just returned from an incredibly successful World Tour in Europe and the United States.
Last year, the girls won several awards in the motherland of rock music, England. They have also completed a gauntlet of sold-out performances in north America, typically seen as a market in which success is difficult to come by for female asian idol groups.
This year, BABYMETAL kicked off their world tour campaign at Wembley Arena, selling out the venue of 12,000. The fact that only 500 of those fans made the trip from Japan clearly demonstrates that their accomplishments were not fabricated. WOWOW is primed to broadcast the event via satellite on July 31.
Their sophomore album “METAL RESISTANCE” ranked 15th on the UK charts and 39th on the Billboard 200 in the United States. Landing 39th on the Billboard Top 200 album charts is especially remarkable, as no other Japanese album since Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki and Other Japanese Hits” has broken the top 40 in the past 53 years.
Afterwards, they continued their successful campaign in north America. Whether you like them or not, their music and style is instantly recognizable to any rock fan. Metal fans debate online over their authenticity on almost a daily basis.
On the other hand, debate rages on in the context of why this particular idol group enjoys this much success, and of what can be learned to further help export J-POP culture.
For two years I have been tracking their success story and the surrounding business environment, but have yet to establish a thesis regarding the reason for their success. It goes without saying that the ideal method of investigation is to directly interview the mastermind and producer, KOBAMETAL. Unfortunately, this wish has not yet been granted due to their busy schedule with the world tour since April.
Is there a way to analyze BABYMETAL in depth without having a chance to speak to KOBAMETAL himself? That’s when I decided to hold a mini-interview conference with three die-hard BABYMETAL fans.
“Mr. A” (initials for anonymity), a marketer for an audio hardware maker, is in his late 40s. Since his school days, Mr. A has been an avid metalhead who would not hesitate to dive head-first into the rowdiest of mosh pits. “Mr. B” is a marketer in an IT company. Unlike Mr. A, Mr. B admits he would hesitate on running headlong into a mosh pit. However, he is enough of an avid fan to launch himself into an impromptu trip to see BABYMETAL live at Wembley Arena.
“Mr. C” is a man in his early 50s. A photographer and a former musician, Mr. C is the only writer at the interview and one who regularly contributes to a series article.
Misconception: BABYMETAL Is a “Reverse Import”
One unifying statement at the conference was that “BABYMETAL is by no means a reverse import idol group.” According to the fans, the fact that different groups of music listeners are paying more attention to BABYMETAL after seeing their progression from April should not be attributed to them being a reverse import.
BABYMETAL’s September tour finale at Tokyo Dome was sold out in a blink of an eye. The second day’s concert is also set to sell out as well. However, Mr. C points out that the media’s attribution of the sold-out 2-day show at the Budokan Arena two and a half years ago to reverse import is being far too insensitive. “In Japan,” Mr. C explains, “tickets are extremely rare and people are scrambling to get a hold of one. They’re on their third world tour this year. Two years ago BABYMETAL were the opening act for Lady Gaga, and on their tour finale announced a groundbreaking collaboration with DragonForce, one of the top metal bands in England. Last year, they performed together on stage.”
Mr. A adds: “The turning point was two years ago when they burst on to the main stage at the Sonisphere Festival in the UK. Videos of the event pervaded YouTube, and it wasn’t long until ‘non-idol fans’ like us became BABYMETAL fans in droves. It was only six months after their performance at the Budokan Arena. They’ve been moving the hearts of music fans since then.”
Mr. C also mentions the following. “There were many who criticized the project, stating that it’s a product of a bunch of adults who jokingly adorned the girls - who had never even heard of the genre - with the trappings of metal. But we must not forget that those girls were only in their early teens. Even in European countries where metal is genuinely a part of the culture, it would be absurd to see very young girls understand and embrace the genre fully. We should instead judge them for their accomplishments.”
Well then, what aspects of BABYMETAL do these three fans see as particularly noteworthy?
Mr. A, who has been a fan the longest of the three, remarks as follows. “The group has been a subject of attention among metal fans since the release of Ijime, Dame, Zettai (a popular song known as IDZ among fans) and the subsequent debut album. When I saw the live performance of the song, I was shocked. The album was fantastic. Metal music is often melodious, and laid upon the melody are the riffs we expect. The songs often progress according to our imagination, and that is why it feels so good to listen to.”
Mr. A has even gone so far as to compile a report on why he became a BABYMETAL fan for his company’s in-house newsletter.
Their songs and T-shirts are filled with homages to heavy metal
The backing band consists of the country’s most talented instrumentalists
Their lives do not feature talks and narratives are mostly expressed through graphic contents. They exceed in their delivery of professionally composed songs, instrumentals, and dance performances
All three girls are cute.
The Rhythm and Sound Do Not Betray Expectations
Mr. A has been an avid listener of various groups attempting to refresh the metal genre with new sounds, but admits that, “Most bands were novelties, and I was not able to find ‘real metal.’ However, I believe the music they are performing is legitimate. The rhythm and sounds do not betray our expectations. And you can say part of the reason why I am hooked is because the girls are just so cute. You can’t help but to want to support them from a fatherly perspective.”
Mr. B, who experienced the Wembley Arena live, describes his discovery of BABYMETAL.
“My first live experience was the gig at O-EAST before their first world tour. I first really discovered them when I saw their IDZ performance on video. At first I was just going with the trend and watching video after video going “What the heck is this?” They are often treated as a novelty act. But when I watched them, it was so shocking that I can only describe the experience as like getting punched in the gut. I then discovered how awesome their shows are when I went to their live concert at O-EAST. I truly regretted not finding out about them earlier on, going to their Budokan Lives, and watching them grow up. I believe I share this feeling with many of the fans. Since then, I joined the fan club and have been to all of their events and concerts. I still wish I could go back in time to see them in their early stages.”
Having seen BABYMETAL’s performance overseas, Mr. B has seen firsthand BABYMETAL’s wide and varied fan base. “I’ve always recognized their wide fan base, from teenagers to seniors. But having seen the same thing at Wembley Arena was really special. I have never seen metal artists with such a hugely broad fan base. I’ve seen fans as young as 10-year olds to those as old as 70 attend the concert. There was even a family whose most avid fan was a 10-year old girl. I think this is another proof that BABYMETAL is pioneering new frontiers for the metal genre.”
Mr. C, a former musician, describes his admiration of BABYMETAL and explains that he became a fan because he appreciates the core capability and talent of the band. He points out that while one part of BABYMETAL’s appeal is their cuteness and their high level of quality and polish as an “idol unit,” the true reason they are selling overseas is Su-Metal's proficiency as a vocalist and her high physical potential. “BABYMETAL is a dance unit, and many criticize them saying that they are just doing as they’re told. But honestly, how many people fronting a metal band really do everything - the composing, arrangement, and performance?”
“What we really should be talking about are not such trivial things, but rather about her talent as a vocalist and as an idol.”
Mr. C then goes on a rather lengthy spiel, summarized below.
“BABYMETAL songs all incorporate difficult riffs and feature complex rhythmic patterns. However, Japan is gifted with many talented musicians, so it’s not difficult for them if they practice hard enough. While it’s true that the backing band known as KAMI BAND are evolving throughout their tour, they are ultimately replaceable. However, there are no replacements for the three girls.”
The Core Lies Within Su-Metal’s Vocals
“In the first place, the core of BABYMETAL lies in making the most of Su-Metal’s vocal and physical capabilities. If you put her in any other group, her exaggerated dancing would stand out too much. It is also impossible for her vocals to find balance with the rest of the singers. In contrast, BABYMETAL not only effectively exploits her attributes but maximizes them by having Yuimetal and Moametal dance at her side and add flair of their own. Of course, it can be said that BABYMETAL wouldn’t exist without Yui and Moa's cuteness. But I personally believe that the core lies within Su-Metal’s vocals.”
“Her voice penetrates even the farthest corners of the venue. Her voice always seem to resonate directly in the brain. Unlike recordings, her voice needs to compete with incredibly loud instrumentals. Typically in these settings the vocal is pushed to the fringe. However, Su-Metal’s voice always finds the mark without the use of shouts or vibratos. Her voice is always clear and effortless. I personally can’t name another vocalist with similar qualities, and it’s safe to say there are only a few singers in the world with these qualities. Anyone in a band would be keen to tell you how difficult it is to have your voice heard among metal instruments played at explosive volumes at huge festivals. The fact that she is able to maintain this level of performance while dancing for two hours is truly astonishing.”
“In addition, the three girls are all growing up to show their own individual character and beauty. If they weren’t as pretty, things may have been different. It’s all coincidental, of course. But we can say this series of coincidences is what makes BABYMETAL. Seeing the team’s capabilities extended by the main vocalist and two talented project members reminds me of the Candies, except as a more evolved, 21st century version.”
Thus concludes Mr. C’s enthusiastic discourse.
It must be fate that brought the three girls to Amuse Inc., where the Candies’ former manager now presides as the chairman of the company. The three fans ‘ assertion does not end with refuting the “reverse import” theory. They assert that BABYMETAL’s secret to success lies partially with the timing in which they started gaining attention.
The men continue to claim their own path to fandom was not through the field of idols but rather through discovery of BABYMETAL’s sheer musical talent and performance. They admit that while currently accepting the “cuteness” factor of the group, they would not have become fans if BABYMETAL had released IDZ and the album a year earlier than they did.
Indeed, one must admit the girls looked a bit too young in the videos prior to that point. Their debut album was released just as Su-Metal’s character as a vocalist had begun to develop, and just when the two dancers’ angelic style were acceptable for typical male viewers. In that sense, the first album dropped at just the right moment.
Mr. A further explains. “Although I’ve been saying that I’m a fan from the metal scene, I don’t deny that BABYMETAL has a certain idol element to it. It’s why I feel I’ve been supporting them from a fatherly perspective all these years, seeing them grow up as they have.”
“One more thing. Sure, we’ve agreed on the point that Su-Metal’s vocals are indeed the core of the band. However, while the quality of performance does come from her vocals and supporting band members’ impressive talents, they’re not the only things that make BABYMETAL, BABYMETAL. The band doesn’t belong to just Su-Metal. Their live performance isn’t complete without Yui and Moa. On the first day at the Budokan Arena, Yuimetal fell two meters off the stage. Moa still completed her dance routine for the sake of the show, and Yuimetal made it back on stage for the next song as if nothing happened. This incident really made us realize the importance of having all three girls in BABYMETAL. None of us see the two dancers as mere “decorations.”
As there seems to be no end to this conversation, let’s skip to the business aspect of this article.
BABYMETAL’s Main Attraction Is Their Live Performance
Many of the readers by now realize that BABYMETAL’s charm primarily comes from their live shows. Watch any of the fancams taken at their concerts and you will see, regardless of the venue’s location, the tremendous amount of energy and excitement displayed by the performers as well as the audience.
The fact is, although BABYMETAL is technically a “fusion of idol and metal,” the members have not regularly appeared on TV or in gravure magazines for self promotion. Rather, their main method of promotion has been through YouTube PVs, live performances, and word of mouth.
Although their style is that of an idol group, their popularity model is nothing like that of a typical idol group.
In truth, one of the reasons I became interested in this topic is because of the ongoing discussion regarding how BABYMETAL serves as an example for how we can monetize the J-POP culture as an entertainment business export.
However, through the interview with the fans, I’ve found that it is nearly impossible for BABYMETAL to be a template for other groups in the industry. It is my opinion that BABYMETAL is a product of a series of coincidences surrounding an effort to make the most of a girl’s talents.
BABYMETAL utilizes video sharing websites and social networking services, which makes sense in the context of contemporary consumer markets trending towards services rather than material goods.
While today’s consumers tend to spend as little as possible on everyday necessities, there is no ceiling on what people will spend on entertainment. Sony grew exponentially by applying entertainment concepts to electric appliances. However, as entertainment products became ubiquitous and as smartphones became the center and outlet for various forms of entertainment, they have lost their appeal as a destination for disposable income.
Those who used to spend $5,000 on high-quality TV and audio equipment now would rather spend $100 in restaurants, beauty treatments, and health services. This may be extreme speculation, but most would say they find better, lasting satisfaction from attending 50 dinners with friends than spending the same amount of money on a single luxury item. Responsible for the current upsurge seen in the field of beauty, health, live music, and food services is the transition in how consumers value entertainment in modern society.
A Trend Seen Around the World
Indeed, this is a trend seen not only in Japan, but around the world. Live shows are gaining in popularity, inverse to what is seen with CD sales. Considering this context, we can conclude that BABYMETAL have operated to match the overall trends and shifts seen in the industry.
In other words, instead of spending time promoting themselves on television and establishing a business centered around selling merchandise, BABYMETAL focuses their efforts on attracting fans to live shows and limiting media exposure. This has led to their current success in domestic and foreign markets.
It remains to be seen how far BABYMETAL will continue to grow. Even the mastermind (ed. note - meaning Koba) probably does not know what lies ahead, or how long they can go on as a project.
The three fans I’ve interviewed each revealed how they’ve worried, year after year, about the eventual breakup of the band. They could have failed to garner any sort of attention or success in their very first world tour. Questions also remain on whether or not the girls will continue to be BABYMETAL into adulthood. Fans also worry if Yui and Moa can sustain their peak physical performance with dance routines originally conceived for them when they were little girls.
However, unlike digital music files and CDs, live performances can neither be copied or imitated with ease.
Just as Mr. B mentioned, no one can go back in time to experience the Budokan live shows if they missed them the first time. With their killer global presence in the form of participatory events, it is certain that BABYMETAL will, for a time, continue to operate and thrive.
Singing In Japanese - Everywhere In the World
All three fans say they are bracing for the inevitable disbandment. However, Mr. C remarks as follows. “Everywhere they perform, no matter the country or festival, the girls continue to thrill audiences with songs in Japanese. There are no other world-class performers from Japan that can do the same. When it comes time for BABYMETAL to cease its existence as a project, there is no doubt that Su-Metal will receive a number invitations from top class, reputable bands.”
The Alternative Press Music Awards were held earlier in July in the United States. Although BABYMETAL did not win the award for which they were nominated, they enjoyed a collaborative performance with Rob Halford, lead vocalist of the legendary band, Judas Priest (known for being one of the bands that founded the metal genre). Su-Metal's successful show with the God of Metal himself, along with Yui and Moa mini-guitar performance continue to garner much public attention.
It seems we have yet to see the conclusion of BABYMETAL’s continuing evolution.
Article by: Toyo Keizai