Maple flavored sausages.
There it is. Took me some Inception-level digging to uncover it, but there’s the answer. As a Canadian, this seemingly disparate combination of flavors holds a near-reverential status. Keep your truffles, your caviar, your 5000yen melons–who needs ’em? And while were going down this road, order me a Hawaiian pizza with extra ham and pineapple! Yeah, that’s right, I said it! Any of you have a problem with it, you can–um…hold on… I forgot to let you in on the actual question, didn’t I:
Q: “Why do you like BABYMETAL?”
A: “Maple flavored sausages.”
The first time BABYMETAL appeared on my radar, they were being featured on the cover of a convenience store magazine. Given Japan’s long history with both the “visual-k” and “idol group” genres, my initial reaction was (at best) momentary curiosity, followed quickly by bemused incredulity…I posted a picture of the cover on social media, likely captioned with something akin to: “WTF? ‘BABYMETAL’?! Oh, Japan–you so crazy…” And that was the end of that.
Then, months later, a YouTube ambush…
An opening barrage of grungy, metal guitar riffs catch me off guard, instantly peeling away any pretense of resistance, laying bare decades of heavy metal experience (some of the best musical memories of my life), injecting my brain with a flood of adrenaline. Then comes the endorphins: a quick tempo change, layered with a narcotic pop melody chorus (singing about freakin’ chocolate. CHOCOLATE.) and my brain melts into a cocktail of surreal giddiness, and hyperactive energy…
HOLY F★★★. Hook, line and sinker.
BABYMETAL: Gimme Chocolate!!
Like the Canadian delicacy I evangelized at the top of this article, the advent of BABYMETAL is one of those rare moments when two elements absolutely should not work together, yet their deft alignments on those contrasting spectrums somehow make them a perfect match, linked on some quantum level that my feeble mortal mind couldn’t fully comprehend at the time. Eventually, as my fandom flourished, I finally figured out how it was that this improbable (nay, impossible) hybrid achieved such perfect cohesion. An ingredient so simple as to be easily overlooked, yet deceptively powerful…
Even before having my suspicions confirmed, it seemed obvious that “Koba-Metal” (the code-named mad-genius-producer behind BABYMETAL), had a deeper knowledge, respect and affection for the genres he had chosen to Frankenstein together. Whether it be the technicality and heaviness of metal riffs and percussion, or the instantly memorable, melodic hooks of a pop-vocal chorus–he is personally invested, and it comes through in the music. That earnestness combined, is then channeled into his (self-professed) true goal: to create something not only original, but lasting.
Although not solely a burden of Japanese pop, there is an easily forgettable nature that insincerity can produce in music… While a handful of mega-groups dominate J-pop, many others simply get lost in a haze of relative obscurity, their members never achieving anything more than a farm-team level of celebrity. In fact (for those not already in the know), the three young front-women of BABYMETAL were in just such a group. A group so unremarkable (my opinion–don’t freak out) as to be named Sakura Gakuin (translation: Cherry Blossom Academy). If you aren’t familiar with Japanese culture, allow me to tell you that Cherry Blossom Academy has to be, bar none, the most trite, unremarkable and outright lazy name for an idol group EVER, serving more as a cloak of invisibility rather than the iconic branding it’s supposed to be. (Okay, enough bashing on Sakura Gakuin–I don’t enjoy being snarky for extended periods and I actually bear no ill will towards Sakura Gakuin or groups like them. In fact, quite the opposite–I wish they all had the opportunity to be a part of something more original and inspiring).
A Cinderella story of epic proportions
There is no chance that these three (Suzuka Nakamoto, a.k.a. “Su-metal”; Yui Mizuno, a.k.a. “Yui-metal” and Moa Kikuchi, a.k.a. “Moa-metal”) could have had any idea where this Sakura Gakuin side project would take them, when they were first chosen. The very celebrity they assumedly dreamed about (but would likely never have reached otherwise) came to them so far out of left field. Then barely a few years later to be rubbing elbows with the likes of Lady Gaga, Skrillex and a pantheon of heavy metal gods… Not to mention suddenly becoming unwitting ambassadors, putting this wholly original genre of Japanese music on the international map in high-profile. While I’m sure they’ve long since overcome the initial sucker-punch of success, I can only imagine they spent the first few years with their heads spinning in a haze of disbelief. Fairy god-mothers, pumpkin chariots and retifistic princes? Hell no…Fox gods, a phantom band and an international army of fans.
Masters of adaption, experimentation and evolution
One of the now-iconic facets of BABYMETAL is their identity as agents of the Fox god, complete with their own kitsune (fox) hand sign. That sign? Nothing more than an innocent mistake, brilliantly spun into a unifying identity for the group. Lead singer Su-Metal has, on a few scant occasions, sheepishly recounted how she had misread the traditional heavy metal “devil horns” sign as the Japanese-specific hand gesture one makes to indicate a fox, and then unknowingly used that mistaken sign. Soon after, producer Koba-metal took this and ran with it, creating the all-encompassing Fox-god mythos that now synonymous with BABYMETAL.
This sense of adventure also plays heavily into their specific sound, or (some might argue) lack there of. While all built on the same, salty-sweet foundation of metal merged with pop vocals, the songwriters gleefully play with so many different genre tropes that each song on an album can often sound radically different from the track before and after itself. Some, who value a more cohesive experience, might be turned off by this and to be fair, I don’t fault them. There are tracks on both albums that I am more likely to skip than not, but even that being the case I still find them to be solid entries–just not necessarily my taste. Regardless, I love the willingness to try anything and to do so with respect, exuberance and yes, sincerity. (*My personal, most-skipped tracks: (Self-titled album) – “Doki Doki Morning”, Metal Resistance – “No Rain No Rainbow”)
BABYMETAL: End of Resistance
PART II coming soon!
For those on the hunt for unsigned and smaller label Japanese artists, stay tuned for the January episode of WHETHER BREAK. You can listen at: http://j1japan.com/jplayer/
One of our favorite bands is the up-and-coming junKroach, an eclectic duo that mixes latin rhythms, electronic effects, with rock guitar and stylized stage shows. They have been working on their new album so their social-media output has been sparse, but do check them out.
Outro and edit: Apryl Peredo
Guest writer: Chris May