A new musical group from Japan is making waves that are starting to reach the shores of America, and it’s like nothing anybody’s seen before. “Idol music” is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, a combination of female pop music and celebrity. An ever-rotating group of young women lend their faces to manufactured pop music churned out at a rate that would make Motown jealous. Most idol music tends towards an electropop feel, synthesizers and drum machines on top of catchy melodies.
Babymetal fuses the celebrity and melodies of idol music with one of the truly great forces on the planet: metal. While wildly popular in Japan and among Japanophile Americans, metalheads everywhere are screaming in agony. Babymetal is without a doubt polarizing. People either love them or hate them – there’s no in-between when cutesy schoolgirls and metal come together. While many high-energy things complement metal, idol music is generally not considered one of them. Metal is known for its cathartic aggressiveness and occasional sense of humor, while idol music is the epitome of pop music – catchy yet saccharine sweet, and the dissonance grates most on metal purists.
Some of the songs on Babymetal’s self-titled debut album directly incorporate metal sounds into the song, while others switch between two songs – one idol and one metal, separated by jarring transitions. All, however, are high energy, and the pop feel and sound pervade the entire album. Babymetal’s live performances are visually elaborate, consisting of the three members in schoolgirl-esque costumes dancing choreographed to the metal played by a backup band dressed in black-and-white skeleton suits and masks. Suspiciously, the live performances sound exactly the same as the studio versions of the tracks, and none of the backup band’s instruments appear to be plugged in. Regardless of how idol performances are run in Japan, they are garnering a huge fanbase across the world.
While the anime-loving fans of everything Japanese are cooing over something new and different, many metalheads will find themselves sorely disappointed if looking for something to scratch that unique itch that only proper death or thrash metal can provide. On the bright side, here’s hoping that a new generation of young people exposed to metal will have their curiosity piqued and decide to explore the genre.