In one of my older posts, I ripped into everyone’s favorite Japanese kawaii-desu metal crossover band: BABYMETAL. In their defense, I only listened to their first two albums, which doesn’t tell you crap about a band in the long run (unless it’s with god-tier bands like Alestorm). Also, that post was horrible, and I wasn’t as much of a metalhead then as I am now. With a much firmer grasp of the genre (and its ludicrous number of subgenres), I decided to try BABYMETAL again.
Anyway, in the off chance you haven’t heard of BABYMETAL, here’s a basic run-down. They formed in 2010 under the guiding hand of producer Key “Kobametal” Kobayashi. Their style is, obviously, a fusion of googoogaga J-pop with metal. But unlike most traditional metal bands, the girls have zero know-how with the genre, the songs are all composed by people behind the scenes, and the instrumentation is done with hired help. Somehow, they have managed to catapult themselves into mainstream status, earning acknowledgement from figures like Rob Zombie, and the Metal God himself; yes, Rob Halford likes them. And they probably don’t even know who he is. I’m not jealous on behalf of other bands at all.
First off, one criticism that I will still stand by is their album cover art. Every single one is just the band’s name with different Photoshop effects on it. I’m sorry, but I’ve never loved a band with horrible album covers. Maybe some of the ones from the olden days are a bit dated, but with the power of current technology (and freelance artists online), anything should be possible. A real album would’ve had, like, ridiculously busy hand-drawn art of Japanese highschoolers shooting zombies with machine guns.
So, the music. Um. Where do I even start? Upon reexamination, a lot of it is quite good. Of course, for me “quite good” is not a particularly high score. The sound production is great, and they do genuinely sound like metal, strictly in terms of music. And given the branding, the melody and lyrics are really catchy. I can thank Ghost and Amaranthe for making me realize that pop and metal work well together; after all, metal has its roots in R&B. But for some reason, I still wasn’t entirely enthralled.
Admittedly, I have no idea how the music industry as a whole works, but I feel like part of why I’m not enthralled is because the music production is manufactured. While some people can decide to not care that something is manufactured, I feel like there is a visible effect. None of the music is written by the girls, nor by the hired band. And that just feels… weird. There’s some kind of chaotic beauty when it comes to a band (with italics): even if it’s only two members, I want to believe that multiple band members bouncing ideas off of each other is important for the creative process. Of course, if it’s not, then feel free to reprimand me in the comments!
Because I’m insane, I didn’t only base this post on the music itself. I just had to consult the Internet as to why people like BABYMETAL, and then indirectly offer responses to each answer. Keep in mind that a lot of these were Reddit posts from well before other Japanese artists like BAND-MAID started to gain a foothold. But you know what, BABYMETAL is still one million times more popular than them, so they aren’t entirely outdated!
According to what I gleaned, they apparently have wild live shows. As someone who’s never been to a concert, I can neither agree nor refute that. Someone else, in addition to the Apple Music bio, says that they adapt all kinds of metal subgenres into their music. Honestly, metal has such a maze of subgenres that I don’t even know if the bands themselves know what their own stuff falls under. For example, Oceans of Slumber’s OFFICIAL Facebook bio says that they’re a prog-metal band from Texas. However, every review of any of their stuff I read was all like, “Oh boy, this is great doom metal!” So who do I trust? For me, BABYMETAL has only encompassed thrash, power metal, and straight-up vanilla metal. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to believe it to be a fact so that I don’t go insane from subgenre inflation.
A lot of the other reasons given by the less than 1% of humanity that can’t help but feel represent the entire human race are mostly refutable. Well, not refutable, per sé; they are technically correct as far as BABYMETAL itself is concerned, such as the notion that BABYMETAL is very clean and family-friendly by metal standards. However, their reasoning doesn’t appear to take many other bands into account, like a cappella metal band Van Canto for example (who predate BABYMETAL by a LONG TIME). That’s why I feel like most BABYMETAL fans aren’t really metalheads, because as a metalhead, I feel like they should at least know of a lot of these other bands by comparison. Some of the comments I’ve read implied that all the bands they had listened to were stale, and BABYMETAL taught them to love the genre as a whole again.
I must say: Who the eff have these people been listening to (or lack thereof) to think that?! In just the past ten years alone, metal has gotten more varied than ever, and without BABYMETAL’s help, thank you very much. If you name me a reason to love BABYMETAL, I can recommend at least two other bands that satisfy the same condition (and obviously, they do it better). If you have listened to these other bands and still like BABYMETAL more, at least you had a fair comparison to make.
But you know what, I can’t blame people for having never heard of these other bands. Becoming mainstream puts you in a position of robbing the poor to feed the rich. What I mean by that is that you’ll get so much attention, the niche bands who have to work harder to get attention get exponentially less attention unless they become mainstream themselves. I, for instance, haven’t heard of most of my niche bands until I magically stumbled upon them by looking at random lists in Apple Music. But even before then, I knew I had something missing musically in my life. You just have to be explorative, which is easy if you have a streaming service for music. It’s not at all hard to follow the metal market. Have some of BABYMETAL’s older fans completely shut themselves out of the market due to nostalgia? And if so, why did BABYMETAL of all things drag them back into the fold? J-Rock News had an article with interviews of fans of various ages, but none of them explained exactly how they came across BABYMETAL. I know I did because of Mario Maker. But how could an old geezer who doesn’t follow the market come across them WITHOUT also coming across these other bands?
Seriously though, the gap between mainstream and niche is monumentous, especially in a country as powerful as the U.S. In my experience, BABYMETAL is the only 2010s band to become this big in American culture. Beyond them, the most popular American hard rock and metal bands have still been Linkin Park and Slipknot for the PAST TWENTY YEARS. What about Oceans of Slumber, Helion Prime, A Sound of Thunder, or In This Moment? All new, shiny American metal bands, and yet they’re still little babies in diapers. The latter even had a Grammy nomination and I still don’t know ANYONE who’s even heard of them.
Another reason for my not liking them is something I didn’t write in the old post, but something I had discussed with another blogger in that post’s comments. It was actually my first ever interaction with RiseFromAshes (who has great Japanese pop culture blogs, by the way)! Plugging aside, the thing that bothered me about BABYMETAL has to do with how Japan is viewed on an international scale. By being an idol-metal outfit, they cement the stereotype that Japan is all about goofy silly kawaii-desu sensory overload nonsense. As someone who’s studied the nation at length, I know that this stuff is a big part of Japanese culture. However, an uninformed American might not necessarily understand kawaii-ness is a recent addition to something much deeper and infinitely more complicated. BABYMETAL gives off an impression that Japan can’t be manly, even with a genre as manly as metal, and makes things rough for old-fashioned-type J-metal bands such as Lovebites.
I also read a big fat post on Reddit about BABYMETAL being special because they’re accessible. I don’t know enough of the facts to vouch for the age variety of fans they claim to have, but I can say that I don’t like how accessible they are. What pisses me off about it is that it’s framed as if their accessibility is factually good. In my experience, the toxicity of fandoms has consistently been proportional to its size. Yet, the notion that “accessibility = good” is arbitrarily a fact makes me feel like a subhuman species. Of course, that could be how I’m reading into whoever wrote that. As much as I try to sound as subjective as possible on my reviews, someone could see my values and think that I’m assuming that those values are factually good. Being human is fun, isn’t it?!
But you know what, no matter how much I can explain with facts, this all remains an opinion. In the end, I cannot explain why I’m not in love with BABYMETAL. I don’t think Su-metal is a particularly talented singer, for starters. I welcome the earworm that is Ghost’s ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’, but songs like ‘Gimme Chocolate!’ feel like an ear-parasite. And as far as memey-ness is concerned, any band with Christopher Bowes has more memes in one song than BABYMETAL has in an entire album.
Overall, I like BABYMETAL more, but I also dislike them more. The music is better than I thought, sure. But now, my envy toward them is worse than ever. Not only have they taken more attention from a lot of Japanese bands, I now realize that they’ve taken attention from a massive slew of Western bands as well. It’s good, but I don’t know what makes people (including the Metal God) think that BABYMETAL is one of the greatest things since sliced bread. Well, it’s not exactly new for me to have animosity towards something mainstream, is it?