The dark princesses of heavy metal.
My goodness, where do I start?
For starters, it must be said that I love Babymetal.* For reasons,** I can tell you exactly when I first heard them, first experienced the “Megitsune” video and first fell completely in love (it took about 30 seconds). I don’t kid around when it comes to Babymetal; if not for them, I never discover BiS, never get into the world of Japanese idols and never become obsessed to the point of starting this website.
Anyway, Babymetal. For a trio of teenagers, they’re not only delightfully awesome, but they’ve been doing this for a remarkably long time.
And this is the part when Sakura Gakuin comes into play. I won’t get into the group too much. Suffice it to say:
- They’re a pretty traditional [kawaii] idol group.
- Members age out when they graduate from middle school (9th grade in the USA).
- Babymetal began as a subunit of Sakura Gakuin.
I could go on about Sakura Gakuin for days because I’m one of those Babymetal fans who eventually got a little bit curious about the members, started to look at Wikipedia, saw references to this other group, bit on a few YouTube recommendations … and that was it. It’s infectious.
But this is about Babymetal, dammit, so let’s stay on topic.
One of Sakura Gakuin’s clever producer types, Kobayashi Key, had been carrying around the notion of a kawaii metal idol group, and got the blessing of Amuse Inc. management to go ahead with the girls who would become known as Su-metal (Nakamoto Suzuka, “vocal and dance”), Yuimetal (Mizuno Yui) and Moametal (Kikuchi Moa) (both “scream and dance”).
Kobametal, as the man is now known, probably didn’t expect Babymetal to become what they did.
The beginnings were pretty unexceptional. That’s not a critique of the music or the performance, just the results — while Babymetal certainly stood out, I think it’s fair to say that they didn’t make a huge splash at first.
What’s interesting, though, is how thoroughly Babymetal is defined by those early tracks, all mishmashes of J-pop melodies and metal rhythms and, hell, let’s throw in some EDM and dubstep and why not steal “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for that trippy break?
As Babymetal becomes more and more of a thing, their music becomes increasingly just plain metal, but their signature is still that tight combination of pop and brutality.
But didn’t I mention the metal?
Su-metal is a stupid good singer. She got her start at the Actors School Hiroshima, which seems to have a gift for turning out talent, and was plucked out of there by Amuse to join the little sister group of ASH graduates Perfume.
Karen Girl’s eventually sort of gave birth to Sakura Gakuin, and interestingly it was Karen Girl’s that got Yuimetal interested in being an idol in the first place.
But Su-metal’s talent was obvious from the jump, and Kobametal was smart to build around her. Yuimetal and Moametal didn’t have her pedigree, but they were cute and good enough dancers to convincingly pull off the look, so the combo worked as intended.
That all happened in 2010. 2010! They were 12, 11 and 11 when they started!
And, if you aren’t familiar with Babymetal, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Su-metal completely earning her referential “Goddess” nickname from among fans is any slight to Yuimetal and Moametal. They do so much heavy lifting during performances, mostly as dancers but also as accompanying vocalists, that Babymetal literally wouldn’t be the same without them. And let us not forget BLACK BABYMETAL, the subunit of the former subunit!
Only bad people don’t get super excited about BLACK BABYMETAL.
And, for what it’s worth, the only Babymetal song for which the girls have received writing credit is “4 no Uta” up there, which Yuimetal and Moametal apparently wrote while on a tour bus in Singapore. Without going into too much explanation, it’s basically a song that makes fun of the idea of being afraid of death. YUP.
It’s been a hell of a journey. They started with singles that came as part of the Sakura Gakuin package (the parent group gets a lot of mileage out of its subunits, with Yui and Moa notably also being part of Mini-Pati and Twinklestars during their time).
It’s seriously okay to like these songs; it happens to a lot of people.
There’s been speculation over exactly when Amuse decided that Babymetal was a horse worth riding, and I’m not putting forth much of an endorsement one way or another, but:
As they slowly but surely built a fanbase, they went from just doing Sakura Gakuin events to doing “one-man lives” (as they’re known) to doing bigger and bigger stages, and that culminated in the Legend IDZ series of concerts in 2012-2013.
The thing is, Legend Z, the final in the sequence, was held just short of two months before Su-metal was going to graduate from Sakura Gakuin, and, if you’re able to track down video from the graduation concert, you’ll notice that Moametal in particular isn’t really acting like a person who knows that this is less goodbye than “see you at rehearsal next week.”
You’ll never unsee Yuimetal falling to pieces; also, what a song.
Nonetheless, Legend IDZ was the beginning of the all-important Babymetal legend (it’s complicated; a Fox God and a supernatural war between idol and metal and all kinds of wonderful), and it coincided with the “Headbanger” single and the very important inclusion of the Kami Band during live shows (they’re the gods of metal, is the thing).
Legend 99, a celebration of the younger girls’ birthdays, was held a few months later, but I think that Babymetal went from cool curiosity to “fuck you, we’ve arrived” with the Legend 97 show held for Su-metal’s birthday in December 2013.
Huge set, ultra-dramatic show, their absolutely best costumes to date (I will brook no disagreement), THE UNFINISHED VERSION OF “AKATSUKI” … anyway, I hope that Babymetal’s eventual “Behind the Music” correctly pinpoints Legend 97 as the beginning of the beginning, because those girls were on nothing but an upward trajectory from there.
There’s a lot that could be said about their breakout in 2014, but it’s ultimately due to the viral-going video for “Gimme Choco!!!” and the fact that they went to some of the biggest rock and metal events in the world and just crushed it in front of thousands of metal fans (objectively some of the most pig-ignorant music people alive) who hadn’t even heard of them before.
They also embarked on their first Western tour dates, which included opening for none other than Lady Gaga on some of her West Coast stops.
All of their live shows are like this.
But, for fans, 2014 will be remembered for the release of Babymetal’s self-titled first album and their back-to-back sellout nights at Nippon Budokan (Red Night / Black Night, or Legend Big Corset Festival / Legend Doomsday if you want to be cooler about it), becoming the youngest women to headline there (and just missing the all-time age record, currently held by some little group called the Jackson 5, whoever they are).
Here’s an obligatory promo clip:
Has it sunk in yet that these girls are metal as hell?
If 2014 was the beginning, then 2015 was the realization of that. Yuimetal and Moametal took their turns graduating from Sakura Gakuin, so now it’s all Babymetal all the time for the girls, and they embarked on something pretty close to a world tour by hitting up a bunch of dates in North America and Europe, becoming an obsession of Metal Hammer and winning awards all over the place.
It’s worth pointing out that this a website that celebrates subculture idols, for lack of a better word, but Babymetal is sort of the reason for the season, and, the metal trappings aside, they really couldn’t be more idol, from the kawaii on down.
So what are they doing here? Well, while BiS was busy bringing the underground to the mainstream, Babymetal was (and is) changing ideas of what even belongs in the mainstream. Even if they don’t realize it, don’t care, etc., whatever, the fact remains that they’re giving metal a very thorough kick in the ass, and they’re adding incredible depth to idol at the same time. I think the burgeoning collection of copycats and tributes is a good indication of the work they’re doing.
Anyway. Babymetal. If you don’t like them, you’re a terrible person.
What they sound like
The delirious fever dream of a metalhead who went on an acid bender in Akihabara and decided that heavy music could and should be fun. Power metal meets “typical” J-pop meets death metal meets clubcore meets …
You’ll like them if
This is surprisingly difficult. Yes, you’ll probably dig Babymetal if you like heavy music (and not necessarily metal), but I find that a diverse musical taste to begin with is the best way to start. A little NWOBHM, a little thrash, a lot of power, a lot of pop. Maybe straight power metal is the easiest way to line it up.
Entries on the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist:
So, so many. Please don’t make me list them again. Just go enjoy the list.
“Doki Doki ☆ Morning” (ド・キ・ド・キ☆モーニング) (single)
“Babymetal × Kiba of Akiba” (Babymetal × キバオブアキバ) (split single)
“Headbanger!!” (ヘドバンギャー!!) (single)
“Ijime, Dame, Zettai” (イジメ、ダメ、ゼッタイ) (single)
“Megitsune” (メギツネ) (single)
Babymetal (album) (has been issued in several versions in various countries)
Metal Resistance (album)
*It’s officially styled BABYMETAL, but I prefer to use all-caps only when I want you to know that I’m yelling, so … sorry, Babymetal.
**It was Sept. 4, 2014. I know this because it was my brother’s birthday, and he messaged me with this counter-gift when I wished him a happy one. A day that will live in infamy!