Making Metal Marketable: My Conflicting Feelings with BABYMETAL

I’m a big fan of J-Pop, and I’m a seriously big fan of metal. So, it stands to reason that I’d LOVE the kawaii metal group, BABYMETAAAAAAAAAAAAL! Heh-heh, you saw the title of this post; it’s not that simple, not even remotely. In fact, I only started listening to them over the course of Feb. 2020! Just keep in mind that no matter how critical I get, I don’t straight up dislike the group; otherwise they would’ve been on my Top Five Least Favorite Japanese Music Artists post.

So, what is BABYMETAL? Well, you probably should know, for they seem to be one of the few Japanese music artists that have become known even among those who don’t follow Japanese culture. Formed about a decade ago, they have grown incredibly popular, with performances all over the world. They even have a full bio for themselves and each of their studio albums on Apple Music. That’s how you know they’re a big deal! Their claim to fame is the unusual combination of cutesy idol J-pop and angtsy metal. 

With such a brilliant idea, BABYMETAL should’ve been right up my alley. But in execution, it’s nothing more than the same catchy beats of idol pop, but with an edgy paint job. They’re mainstream in disguise. “Well, you cur, you seem to like risky and eccentric groups,” you point out (Assuming that you’ve read my other music posts up to this point), “BABYMETAL is an incredibly brilliant and ballsy band. You’re having the same reaction as the old farts who hated Elvis Presley and the Beatles because it was different from the crap they grew up with. You’re no different.” 

BABYMETAL is ballsy? Actually, I think the exact opposite is true. My problem with them isn’t that they’re too eccentric for me. On the contrary, BABYMETAL is mainstream to the max. It sounds like an idea that couldn’t possibly fail; by combining catchy, “radio-friendly” tunes with metal’s angry vibes, they are able to appeal to both pop and metal fans at once. And that bothers me to no end. It’s kind of like how a lot of young adult novels are marketed as dark and brooding, but have the same romance tropes as a Disney movie. I suppose what I’m saying is that BABYMETAL is the YA novel of music.

“Well, hang on a second,” you argue once more, “you’re saying that the problem with BABYMETAL is that their songs are catchy, which is typical of most mainstream artists. But isn’t that, you know, THE POINT?!” You cross your arms in defiance. “If BABYMETAL tried to do stuff like- say- prog rock, then they wouldn’t be BABYMETAL. The POINT of BABYMETAL is to BE catchy, because that’s how idol music IS. Are you claiming that a rock or metal band cannot be a rock or metal band without taking some kind of creative risk?! You know, Rob Zombie- an ACTUAL rock artist- loves this band, and I’m willing to bet that he knows more about music than you, bub!” You’re probably correct for the most part. If BABYMETAL has succeeded at anything for me, it’s challenging the very definition of a “rock band”. Like you (or rather, my personification of you) mentioned earlier, they honestly are a challenge to the stuff I liked when I first got into music, such as Rush and Queen, with their continuously changing musical styles and experimental ideas. Despite how “open-minded” I claim to be when it comes to some of the weird music I like (including Queensryche and Genesis to boot), I ended up becoming alienated from mainstream music. It’s funny how the human mind works. However, at this juncture, I have no authority to objectively define “rock”, and honestly, with how much it’s changed since Presley, I doubt ANYONE has that authority. It’s pretty much a matter of subjective perspective at this point; it all depends on how me, you, or Zombie have come to understand “rock” based on our own different experiences.

In the end, though, I do like a guilty pleasure. I’ll admit that some of their songs are pretty darn succulent. Maybe, once in a while, I’ll put on a BABYMETAL song and rock out. But even then, I have to immediately follow-up with a REAL group, like BAND-MAID or Crossfaith. Maybe if they had the same manager as, say, Dempagumi.inc, they’re music would’ve been more varied and better. Heck, some Dempagumi songs, like Precious Summer, are already kawaii metal as it is.

But because I listen to too much music, I’m inevitably going to have to axe BABYMETAL from my life. They aren’t the worst thing ever, but to me, they are severely overrated. I honestly can’t recommend this group to anyone, especially dedicated metal fans. If you want a better version of the same general idea, try Passcode. Or, if you want a different unusual combination of styles that organically mesh together as if it was the most natural thing in the world, try Wagakki Band.

Published by macksamson

I'm just your average Otaku Joe whose been in love with Japanese culture for over seven years. I've read over a hundred manga and light novels, and I'm also researching Japanese culture as well. My modus operandi is to write professional reviews that anyone can rely on to decide exactly if something would suit their desires. I hope to share my passions with you via this blog.

4 thoughts on “Making Metal Marketable: My Conflicting Feelings with BABYMETAL

  1. Babymetal was never meant to be more then a stunt group from their original group Sakura Gakuin, that just happened to pick up/go viral. I’ve seen them live and their energy is unmatched, and they do genuinely seem to enjoy what they do. They do seem like a current dividing force with pop and metal fans respectively. Like you said, they have some great songs to blast but they haven’t quite been my speed in nearly 3 years. So I totally agree with your thoughts on the subject.

    Not sure if you’d be interested but there exists the genre known as ‘alt-idol’ ie alternative idols. Babymetal does fall into this category but a lot of Babymetal fans never really take the chance to look into alt-idol groups outside of them. Mostly female groups that take elements of metal such as instrumentation, harsh vocals, lyrically themes from various rock genres but still have dances and performances like idols. They do a lot of DIY stuff as well taking notes from punk which is always fun. Sorry that part took over my comment, but perhaps it’s up your alley? It’s refreshing to see someone else in a similar camp as myself when it comes to Babymetal.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! As far as the “alt-idol” genre you mentioned, I had no idea that was even a thing. I suppose PassCode, whom I mentioned in my post, falls under that category. I also tried listening to a group called Necronomidol, which is an H.P. Lovecraft-themed idol group, but I didn’t exactly enjoy them because it sounded like the girls hated their job in their singing, which may have been on purpose to make them sound like zombies, but I digress.

      As much as I can appreciate the idea of BABYMETAL, I really dislike how they seem to overshadow J-metal artists in general. I saw a link to an article from some Western music magazine about the band Lovebites and said that they were a cross between BABYMETAL and something else, but Lovebites sounds NOTHING like BABYMETAL! I immediately guessed that the writers assumed BABYMETAL was the only J-metal band they knew of because of how much traction they get on an international scale. You and I both know that J-metal’s been around far longer than them, but I don’t know how many others know that.

      I’m sorry for rambling, but I hardly get to have a discussion about Japanese music with anyone. The groups I’m in on Facebook are very small, and most of their members just post old videos instead of start conversations. I hope we can keep a good connection going in the years to come!

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      1. You’re welcome! I’m glad that it was not completely garbled, as my thoughts tend to go in ten directions at once. You’re right on the money with both PassCode and Necronomidol. I’m actually in the same vein with you about Necro, although they have recently completely rebooted their lineup (within the past month). They might feel different to you now? I never quite dug them either but I respect their cult following though. If you ever want reccomendations for other groups, I’d be more then happy to give some.

        Ugh, I’ve seen the exact same thing with other websites. “Meet XX, Babymetal but they play their own instruments!”, umm, put some respect on their names most of these bands have existed way longer then Babymetal for one. And for two, metal… is a genre. Just ’cause it’s all women doesn’t mean it’s immediately ‘kawaii’. Lovebites is so not ‘kawaii metal’; they’re just metal! Same with Aldious, Mary’s Blood, Fate Gear, etc. I understand your frustrations. I truly do.

        No worries! I’m glad we’re able to have a dicussion about Japanese music! I tend to be pretty quiet online, and stick mostly to my irl friends for discussion on one or two bands. I’m always down for a good chat, so I hope we’re able to keep chatting like this too!

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      2. I hope so too, and I’d love to hear some recommendations from you at any time. I have a lot on my music plate, and I might not be able to get to them immediately. Looking forward to keeping in touch about Japanese music!

        Liked by 1 person

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