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.

My Problem With the Anisong Industry: An Overwrought Analysis

PREFACE: Yes, I know that I’m complaining about not liking something, when two of those very somethings- nano and MYTH & ROID- are my 1st and 4th (respectively) favorite Japanese music artists of all time as of 12/31/2019. I’ll get to justifying that in the body of this post, so please be patient.


The original topic of this post was going to be: “Top Five Japanese Music Artists I Stopped Liking,” as my J-pop tastes have changed wildly over the course of the few years I’ve been seriously into the genre. However, I noticed a bit of a consistency in most of the people I’ve abandoned… that they’re all a specific type of singer called an “anisong” singer. Based on what I understand, these artists exist mainly to be commissioned to perform the OPs and EDs of any anime that might come into existence. Like with many, these people are the ones who got me into Japanese music as a whole, and yet… I’m not exactly sure they can survive on my playlist after I’ve expanded my horizons. 

If you’ve watched anime, you know of certain songs and artists. The word “anisong” immediately brings particular thoughts to mind: Guren no Yumiya by Linked Horizon, Re:Do by Konomi Suzuki, Sign by FLOW, Crossing Field by LiSA, Error by GARNiDELiA, Hacking to the Gate by Ito Kanako, and more. For years, watching illegal full YouTube uploads of these tracks (or the occasional official full music video) was my only gateway into Japanese music. I always wanted to listen to more of these, but due to the expensiveness of international buying, it was not easy when I didn’t have a job. Konomi Suzuki’s Life of Dash, and MYTH & ROID’s eye’s were all I could manage. But then… I got Apple Music. That was all it took to suck me into a rabbit hole, full of Japanese music artists who don’t do anime. I found BAND-MAID, Crossfaith, Memai Siren, Hysteric Panic, Mili, Queen Bee, and an unhealthy amount more. 

Not only that, but I could also listen to the full discographies of those anisong artists I mentioned before. But… it wasn’t exactly a fun experience. Konomi Suzuki’s 2019 album Shake Up!… I only liked three songs on it. Asaka’s debut album Heart Touch… I only remember two songs on it at all. As for Ito Kanako, the freaking Hacking to the Gate lady, I only like six other songs by her… across two whole studio albums. Compared to the other bands that have been growing on me like parasites, something felt empty about these, even in the best case scenario.

“Well, don’t listen to anything besides the hits, ya idiot,” you tell me. I’m sorry, but that’s not how I roll. For me to consider myself a devout fan of a music artist, I must go through at least 50% of their whole discography; all (or most of their) albums, cover-to-cover. When it comes to the “normie” bands that I’m a fan of, I always end up liking AT LEAST half of every track per album, and that’s just the worst case scenario. For example, I have all but two tracks of Crossfaith’s 2013 album, Apocalyze, in my favorite Crossfaith songs playlist, and that’s just that album alone. This is why I’ve been having a hard time juggling the different people I like, but them’s the brakes. I’ve been working on a Top Fifteen Favorite Music Artists of All Time post, and it’s not going to be ready for at least a year, because I have to catch up with a lot of bands in order to satisfy the condition of “at least 50% of their discography”. So, basically, because I can’t find myself liking more than “the hits” of the anisong artists, I can’t like them, period.

But I’m not going to throw shade. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s their fault. I don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain, but I can use my intuition to infer what my issues with them could be. One thing is that the artist- the pretty face you see- doesn’t necessarily songwrite (I know nano does, but like I said in the preface, we’ll get to that). It’s definitely something that can happen. One example is an article on Anime News Network I read back when Infinite Dendrogram’s anime was being produced. It said that a certain individual (forgot their name) was going to compose the OP for the show, but Aoi Yuuki was going to perform it. So, I’m not crazy, circumstances like this can happen; there’s proof on the Internet. This is definitely one explanation for why the quality of their stuff varies so wildly. 

Another reason that comes to mind is that the medium is too creatively restrictive. They generally need to conform to a catchy beat, with an intro, first verse, and first chorus able to last exactly ninety seconds, as well as lyrics to fit actual story themes of the show. That’s a lot of stipulation. I remember reading a couple of interviews from nano, and IIRC, she said something to the effect of the songs made for anime specifically- with Kemurikusa in particular- being among the hardest for her to compose (don’t quote me on that, though).

The final reason- more so a nitpick- is that they seem to put out waaaaay less music than otherwise. “Quality over quantity, motherfu-” Hang on, I gotta cut you off there! Yes, I get that the quality is what matters the most. But the “normie” bands I mentioned don’t just put out higher quantity releases, but higher QUALITY releases as well. It’s uncanny. For example, nano… man, I love her music to death, but eight years in the industry, and we only get three studio albums and a best-of album? BAND-MAID put out double that in six years; do the math. I don’t know how it works- it’s definitely on a case-by-case basis- but the general idea is that they can only put out new singles when they’re doing an anime OP. That’s not much, honestly.

Of course, of course, there are definitely some exceptions. Obviously, I love nano and MYTH & ROID. These two are definitely much more experimental, and I like their albums (well, album in the latter’s case) much more consistently, even beyond the hits. As a fan, it makes me sad that they’re working under the stipulations of anisong that I mentioned before, and it makes me wonder what their music would be if they were free to work their full creative juices. I’m also fond of UVERworld (at least their newer stuff)… but it’s very hit or miss. I actually abandoned them until I Decided (haha, pun because that’s one of their songs) to try out Unser (which ended up meeting expectations). Two more artists technically fall into the exceptions category, and that’s two of the Bang! Dream bands, Roselia and RAISE A SUILEN. They only count as anisong because their singles get integrated into the Bang! Dream anime, but those two bands at least put some extra oomph into their stuff (even if RAISE A SUILEN is basically Roselia but with Crossfaith’s instrumentation). On a final note, here’s praying that Morfonica doesn’t suck when their first single comes out.

Another thing that I’m probably going to get called out on is the rare time that one of my so-called “normie” bands actually, on one occasion, do an anime OP. I don’t get how this happens sometimes… but I have a couple of things to say about it. First off, the aforementioned stipulations can make someone put out something vastly different from their established style, like with the 2nd OP of My Hero Academia, Peace Sign by Kenshi Yonzeu; he sounded like some unremarkable mainstream J-rock boy, and not the more eccentric style of his usual stuff.

Honestly- and I’m saying this out of jealousy- those “normie” bands don’t get the honor often enough. Well, I say that I’m saying this out of jealousy, but I’m also saying this from a thematic perspective. Listening to some of these guys makes me imagine their songs in anime OPs, and some of them suit certain anime thematically more than the actual person who did it (like I said, the lyrics are supposed to suit it thematically, but it’s not exactly something that a non-Japanese-speaking person can pick up on). Hysteric Panic’s dirty thrashy sound, along with the guttural growl of their backing vocals would’ve been perfect for Dorohedoro. Memai Siren’s melancholy dreariness would’ve suited Re:ZERO. And yeah, even though the song that YURiKA did for Land of the Lustrous was good thematically, Mili would’ve done an infinitely better job at the same thing.

It also doesn’t help that the bands I like can get the short end of the stick. It’s funny that Mili is an example again, for they apparently did the OP of Goblin Slayer, of all things. I haven’t heard Rightfully yet, but however good it might be, it was definitely overshadowed by the controversy of the show; a complete waste of talent. To make matters worse… they also did the EDs of Gleipnir (which will likely be criticized for being too edgy and fanservice), as well as Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 (which is going to be criticized a LOT for obvious visual-themed reasons). And who in God’s name decided to hire Wagakki Band- of all people- to do the first OP of Twin Star Exorcists (which was also highly criticized due to Studio Pierrot being themselves), when the show, historically, isn’t set in a time where their musical style would be thematically relevant? Sure, once in a blue moon, there will be a great combination, such as- once again- Kenshi Yonezu, but instead performing the ED for Children of the Sea (which I might never get to SEA thanks to the coronavirus). I heard the song at least, and since I already read the manga, I know that Yonezu’s out-there musical style fits Children of the Sea PERFECTLY. I hope Mili does the Otherside Picnic OP… that would be really nice.

In conclusion, I don’t hate these anisong artists; after all, they made me who I am now. But after my horizons have been expanded, they are sorely lacking in the almost everything department. Sure, I still play Re:Do and Hacking to the Gate sometimes, but I can definitely live without those songs. Well, if I ended up expanding your horizons with this post, then you’re welcome. If you don’t agree with my post, then leave some feedback as to why (or maybe explaining how this music industry works). I’m all ears!