Babymetal (stylized as BABYMETAL) is a Japanese metal idol band. Their line-up consists of Suzuka Nakamoto as “Su-metal”, Yui Mizuno as “Yuimetal”, and Moa Kikuchi as “Moametal”. The concept of the group is a fusion of the metal and idol genres. The three teenage girls and their band are managed by the Amuse talent agency. They released their debut album of the same name in February 2014.
2010: Origins and formation
The group was initially formed in 2010 as a subunit of the female idol group Sakura Gakuin, aiming to realize a “fusion of metal and idol [music]”. J-pop, Kobametal (Babymetal’s producer) says that he had been envisioning the creation of a group around Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-metal)’s lead vocals ever since 2009, since the time when Suzuka’s group Karen Girl’s disbanded. Kobametal looked around for more members and finally decided that because of Suzuka’s unique stage presence, the other members should contrast her. “What if other children were dancing around her like angels?”,he thought, and so asked Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal) and Moa Kikuchi (Moametal) (both were just 10 years old at the time) to participate. None of the three members knew what metal music was before the inception of the band. Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-metal) once said in an interview to MTV 81, “The first time we heard the idea for Babymetal, we were like ‘What the?!'”.
According to Kobametal, Babymetal’s name came to him by revelation (as a “divine message”). It is a play on the words “heavy metal”, as, in Japanese, the word “baby” (ベビー bebī?) rhymes with “heavy” (ヘビー hebī?). “Baby” may indicate cuteness, “metal” – intensity. Also, he has come to like interpreting it as “newborn metal”. In an interview for Razor TV while in Singapore in late 2013, the band members also used the latter interpretation. They stated their brand of metal was a newborn genre, and that was what “baby” in “Babymetal” stood for.
2010–2012: Indie releases
Babymetal’s first live appearance was on November 28, 2010 at the first Sakura Gakuin’s solo concert. Their first song, “Doki Doki Morning”, was originally released in April 2011 on the Sakura Gakuin album Sakura Gakuin 2010nendo: Message. Later the band shot a music video for the song and in October 2011 released it as a DVD single intended for limited (live-venues-only) distribution. Having been uploaded to YouTube in the same October, initially the video attracted only some Japanese fans of idols, but in about a month was noticed overseas and confused and shocked people worldwide. By December 16 it was watched 380 thousand times with most views coming, apart from Japan, from North America, Russia, Sweden and Finland. Most of the 1,300 comments were in English. In a year, by the end of 2012 the video would total over 1 million views. Also, in July 2011 at a Sakura Gakuin concert Babymetal premiered a second song, “Ijime, Dame, Zettai” (“No More Bullying”, with sensational lyrics against bullying), but it would only be released as a single much later, in 2013.
Babymetal’s first CD single was a collaboration with a band called Kiba of Akiba and was titled “Babymetal × Kiba of Akiba”. Released on an indie sublabel of Toy’s Factory (Jūonbu Records, same sublabel as “Doki Doki Morning” and later “Head Bangya!!”) in March 2012, it ranked 3rd on the Oricon weekly indie chart and number one in the Tower Records Shibuya weekly indie ranking.
In July 2012, Babymetal released a single titled “Head Bangya!!”. The music video for the title track, directed by Hidenobu Tanabe, who would be named Best Director of that year (2012) at the Space Shower Music Video Awards, narrated a story of a 15-year-old girl who found a legendary neck corset in a mysterious box that fell upon her from above. All of a sudden, the corset jumps out of her hands, wraps around her neck and turns her into “Headbangya!!”. The limited version of the CD actually came in a box that included a neck corset for headbanging training.
In August 2012, Babymetal debuted at one of the biggest rock festivals in Japan, Summer Sonic. With the average age of 12, the band became the youngest act ever to perform there.
2013–present: Growth in popularity, viral success and debut album
In January 2013, the band debuted on a major record label with the single “Ijime, Dame, Zettai”. It sold 19,000 copies in its first week and debuted at number 6 in the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart.
In the spring of 2013, Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-metal) graduated from junior high school and therefore had to “graduate” from the group Sakura Gakuin (that consists of girls of up to junior high). However, their management decided that Babymetal would not dissolve and would continue its activities as a band. The group released its next single, titled “Megitsune” on Wednesday, June 19. On November 20, 2013, Babymetal released its first live DVD/Blu-ray Disc. The disc contained three different concerts. The Blu-ray Disc version debuted at seventh place in the weekly Oricon Blu-ray Disc charts (and at the second place among music Blu-ray Discs).
On August 10 and 11, 2013, Babymetal again took part in the Summer Sonic Festival, performing both in Tokyo and Osaka. Reportedly, Metallica members came to watch their show. Later, in October 2013, Babymetal also became the youngest act ever to perform at the heavy metal music festival Loud Park. In November 2013, Babymetal released a promo video for the Japanese premiere of Metallica’s movie Through the Never.
On February 26, 2014, Babymetal released its first, self-titled album. It contained 13 tracks and was also available in a limited edition that included a DVD with music videos and live footage. The album was very well received by music critics as well as the public, selling over 37,000 copies in Japan on its first week, debuting at number 4 in Oricon and number 2 in Billboard Japan. It also topped iTunes Metal charts in the US, UK and Germany and on March 22 reached number 187 on the US Billboard 200 chart, something (entering the chart) that very few Japanese artists have achieved. Their album also made it into the Heatseekers chart at number 4.
On March 1 and 2, 2014, the band gave two concerts at Budokan. With the average age of 14.7, they became youngest-ever female act to give a show there. The two concerts were attended by 20,000 people. At the March 2 concert, a European tour, to take place in the summer, was announced.
For the beginning of their world tour, Babymetal performed shows in Paris and Cologne, which also served as the 15th birthday celebrations for Yuimetal and Moametal respectively. Babymetal made their debut appearance in the United Kingdom at the Sonisphere Festival 2014. They performed on the main Apollo stage alongside bands such as Deftones, Carcass and Iron Maiden on July 5. They made their debut appearance in the US on July 27 with a headlining show at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. They played Heavy Montréal 2014 in Canada on August 9 alongside the likes of Metallica, Slayer, and teenage metal band Unlocking the Truth, and also performed at Summer Sonic 2014 in Japan on the Mountain Stage with bands such as Avenged Sevenfold and Megadeth. Babymetal was also the opening act to five of Lady Gaga’s concerts in her “ArtRave: The Artpop Ball” 2014 tour in August along the western United States.
In August it was announced that the band would be returning to England to play another show at London’s O2 Academy Brixton on November 8, their final European show of the year as part of the group’s “Babymetal Apocalypse” phase. It was later announced that the band would also be returning to New York City, which they had visited earlier in the year without giving an actual performance, Performing in the Hammerstein Ballroom on November 4. In September the band announced their second live album titled Legend 1999 & 1997 Apocalypse, released October 29 on Blu-ray and DVD, featuring their live performances at both the NHK Hall and at Makuhari Event Hall.
At their Brixton performance, the band debuted a new song titled “Road of Resistance.” It was later revealed to be a collaboration with Sam Totman and Herman Li of prominent power metal band DragonForce. The song, featuring Li and Totman on guitars, was subsequently released as a bonus track available with the “Red Night” edition of their “Live at Budokan” album on 7 January 2015, and as part of the exclusive Fan Club “THE ONE” edition. Li later revealed via Twitter and Facebook posts that he and Totman had been working on the song’s guitar parts since 2013. Shortly after the joint release with Live at Budokan – Red Night, it was released as a single on the iTunes store.
Musical style and lyrics
The band defines its style as a new genre called “kawaii metal” (“kawaii” meaning “cute”) and clarifies that it is “a mix of J-pop idol [music] and heavy metal” (because of their cute Japanese teen pop style fused together with various heavy metal styles). In the music press, the group is most commonly associated with the genres death metal, heavy metal and J-pop, but some of their songs has been classified as symphonic death metal (“Babymetal Death”) and melodic speed metal (“ijime, Dame, Zettai”), and their edgy sound have been likened to electronicore (“Ii ne!”). Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman has also described the band as sounding “like Meshuggah with J-pop on top.”
Before the trio formed, they previously had no experience of the metal genre. Yuimetal admitted that beforehand the concept of heavy metal actually scared her, but later stated that “It’s fun and I see why people enjoy it so much! I still don’t completely understand it, but I’m interested.” Kobametal, the band’s producer, aimed to create a fusion of heavy metal genres and mix them with Japanese idol music, quoting “At Amuse, we have this group called Perfume and I really like them. But I thought, if I’m gonna make a group, how would I do it? I really like metal, so I figured I’d try mixing metal and idol music.”
Patrick St. Michel from MTV 81 praises the “pure, headbang-inducing energy” of the group’s live performances and describes their style as a mixture of “…seemingly disparate sounds of heavy metal and idol pop, creating music anchored both by throat-mauling screeches and cuddly choruses.” The magazine Metal Hammer described their act using the formula “Short skirts, school girl charm and squeaky voices — just like in the manga comics. But they mix the whole thing with Metal.”.
Lyrical themes found in Babymetal’s music focus on real-world issues and also typical idol-pop topics such as encouraging young teens to accept and stand up for themselves, the pressure put on teenage girls to remain thin and also bullying while they also sing about what it’s like going to your first concert, the concept of an “ideal woman” and chocolate, subjects critics say are a step away from typical lyrical styles used by most metal bands.
As well as dancing, the trio all perform vocals. Su-metal is the main vocalist, credited on Babymetal’s official site with vocals and dancing, while Moametal and Yuimetal are credited with scream and dance.
Babymetal’s costumes take a variety of cues from the popular Japanese Gothic and Punk Lolita styles, with an emphasis on red and black. Since 2014, the trio has usually worn a variation of their now trademark costumes, first introduced in their Ijime, Dame, Zettai music video. They occasionally break from this for specific events (for example, white hooded cloaks in their Legend 1997 concert; matching kimonos for the Megitsune music video.)
With the 2015 release of new promotional artwork, a dramatically different, Samurai-inspired costume design was introduced, seemingly inspired by the armour of historical Japanese figure Gamo Ujisato.
Su-metal, the tallest of the three, is typically choreographed in the center, with the other two members positioned either side. In addition, Yuimetal and Moametal make up a sub-group called “Black Babymetal” (stylized as BLACK BABYMETAL). The dancing is choreographed by the trio’s dance teacher Mikiko Mizuno, owner of the dance company ‘Eleven Play’ and known for her choreography with various groups including the Japanese band Perfume.
Instead of the sign of the horns, the band uses the hand gesture of the fox (or more accurately the kitsune) to symbolise the band’s divine inspiration. When asked about this divinity (the ‘Fox God’) they replied, “We’ve actually never met the Fox God, but because of his blessing, we were able to become Babymetal.”
In their concerts, Babymetal are accompanied by a backing band. Originally, a pretend band called “Babybone”, dressed in black-and-white skeleton outfits, mimed playing instruments to playback. From mid-2012, a live band called Full Metal Band (also known as the “Gods of Metal” or “Kami Band”) progressively took over accompaniment duties and now perform all music live at every concert.
The members of the Kami Band include, but are not limited to, Hideki Aoyama, BOH, Takayoshi Ohmura and Leda – all of whom are famous respected musicians active with other Japanese metal groups. Occasionally, other musicians substitute for a Kami Band member if they are unavailable, but the lineup is considered roughly fixed.