Metal isn’t usually ‘cute’, but Babymetal is changing that

Jordan-Marie Smith

THE WASHINGTON POST – Babymetal is dark, heavy, and undeniably cute? Those descriptors don’t seem like they would work together, but when it comes to this Japanese trio’s music, they do.

The concept is kind of out there: The band is made up of three young women who dress in kawaii, or cute, schoolgirl outfits. But they don’t play instruments – they sing, dance and make movements in front of a set of older musicians who are often shrouded in darkness behind them.

Their sound is raw and infectious, accompanied by the soft voices of original bandmates Suzuka ‘Su-metal’ Nakamoto, 21, and Moa ‘Moametal’ Kikuchi, 20. They sing about things like wanting chocolate – their 2014 song Gimme Chocolate!! put Babymetal on the map and has over 100 million views on YouTube.

The band toured with Lady Gaga in 2014, and its second album, Metal Resistance, debuted at No 39 on the Billboard charts in the United States (US) in 2016.

Babymetal’s entire aesthetic does what it’s supposed to, which is surprise.

Babymetal is a kawaii Japanese metal band. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Few would think to put the delicate sound of teen girls singing with brash and thrashing guitars and drums together, but one talent agency, Amuse, did in 2010.

Babymetal doesn’t shy away from the fact that they came together not because of Su-metal or Maometal’s love for the genre, but for their desire to get into the heavily orchestrated Japanese pop world. In Japan, there are several talent agencies that will audition young women and men to be a part of a concept group.

But even though Babymetal is manufactured, in a way, that hasn’t stopped it from gaining dedicated fans, including some from Anthrax and Metallica. Rob Zombie has come out in support of Babymetal after fans derided him for posting a photo with the group. This made it seem a bit more acceptable to like a metal set that throws up a symbol for their mythical muse – a fox – rather than devil horns.

“I would describe our concerts as pretty intense,” Nakamoto said via email. “During our performances, fans mosh and create a wall of death and it’s (altogether) intense in a positive way.” She added, “One thing that brings everyone together are the lyrics. Even if the people singing don’t know the Japanese words, they still sing along.”

The chorus of Gimme Chocolate!! sounds poppy, with its lyrics about worrying about one’s weight, but it also has an undeniably raucous sound that makes you want to dive into the middle of a mosh pit and happily throw elbows. The mosh pits can get overwhelming but it’s something that Babymetal’s US fans are into.

Babymetal also has its critics. For years, metalheads on forums have said that the band’s shtick is a gimmick and is purely for profit. But in 2017, Korn’s frontman Jonathan Davis stood up for the band and called them “entertaining as hell”. Korn guitarist Brian Welch even joined Babymetal onstage at one show as a backing instrumentalist.

“The way people receive our music is different, and some people may say that our music is not metal,” Kikuchi said via email. “But I feel that those reviews allow us to challenge ourselves and gives us an opportunity to grow even more.”