By DARREN YAMASHITA
Special to The Rafu
There’s a new genre forming in the heavy metal music scene and it’s being led by a most unlikely group.
Last Sunday night, the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood hosted Babymetal, a Japanese group consisting of three teenage girls: 16-year old Suzuka Nakamoto, known as Su-metal, and 15-year olds Moa Kikuchi (Moametal) and Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal).
The group fuses schoolgirl Japanese pop/idol lyrics and choreography with a full-scale heavy-metal sound, self-defined as “kawaii (cute) metal.” The performance was the group’s debut in North America after completing a short tour of Europe.
While the mixing of these two disparate genres screams “gimmick,” try telling that to the fans that flooded the online ticket office, selling out the 1,350-person capacity venue in minutes.
The band’s self-titled debut album reached number one on the iTunes metal or rock charts in six countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. Babymetal also appeared on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart, becoming one of the few Japanese artists to achieve that feat.
The concert opened with a short video introduction of Babymetal’s mythological story, done with “Star Wars”-style scrolling text. The crowd was then teased with silhouettes of the girls shown through the stage curtain as their introduction-style song, “Babymetal Death,” began. The decibel level in the venue reached its apex when the curtain fell to the ground, revealing the three pony-tailed girls dressed in red and black gothic/Lolita dresses, complete with knee socks and metal-studded bracelets.
By the time the second song, “Iine,” broke into a hip-hop rap (reggae, dubstep, and other genres are integrated into other songs), the crowd was fully involved in the performance, with synchronized arm waving and jumping, all the way to the back of the venue.
First-time observers as well as non-Japanese speakers may conclude that these teenagers have delved into the stereotypical negative connotations attached to the heavy-metal scene. While the sound and look is that of a metal band, the lyrics and choreography are filled with J-pop sweetness. Song topics cover the problems of waking up in the morning, chocolate, and the number 4, which sound more like an episode of “Sesame Street” than a heavy- metal song.
Dance moves can mostly be described as playful and “full of kawaii,” complete with smiles and waves to the crowd. Even the metal-based “devil horns” hand sign has been replaced with the innocent “fox” sign, to signify the mythological fox god that guides their path.
Lead singer Su-metal displayed considerable talent belying her age, belting out strong and soaring lyrics throughout the approximately 75-minute show, most notably during her two solo songs, “Akatsuki” and “Rondo of Nightmare.” Moametal and Yuimetal provided backing vocals and exhausting dance moves (their official title is “Scream and Dance”), as well as sharing the spotlight for “Onedari Daisakusen” and “Song 4.”
Any doubts about the backing band’s talent were put to rest when each of them performed solos on par with any mainstream metal band. The “Kami” band, dressed in white robes with white face paint reminiscent of “The Ring,” is composed of accomplished artists from the Japanese heavy-metal scene, resulting in their authentic metal sound. Regardless of what you think about the mixture of genres, the entire group displays considerable talent and effort to put on an entertaining show.
There probably aren’t many concerts where you’ll see a wider variety of musical tastes being represented by the audience. Japanese idol fans and Iron Maiden T-shirt-wearing metal fans started lining up over 13 hours before the concert, some of them making the trek to Hollywood from Japan, Canada and Mexico. This provided a unique mix of glow-stick wavers surrounding an active mosh pit on the main floor.
Babymetal ended their set with “Gimme Chocolate,” the song whose music video catapulted the group into international recognition, garnering over 12 million views on YouTube as of this writing. They returned to perform “Head Bangya!” and “Ijime, Dame, Zettai” for their encore. At the end, Moametal and Yuimetal draped themselves in Babymetal-style American flags, followed by individual thank-you statements from each of the girls in English, a synchronized “See you!” and strut off stage.
The mixture of J-pop and heavy metal shouldn’t work. However, the sight of face-painted death metal fans singing along to “Gimme Chocolate” standing alongside head-banging cosplayers points in the exact opposite direction. All of this adds to the overall craziness of this concept. Babymetal isn’t metal and it isn’t J-pop, which is exactly what they’re aiming for… a new genre. Time will tell whether “kawaii-metal” reaches the mainstream, but if you’re looking for a fun show, Babymetal has already achieved top billing status.
Next up for Babymetal is a five-stop tour in Phoenix, Las Vegas, South Lake Tahoe, Salt Lake City and Denver, opening for pop icon Lady Gaga. They complete their North American tour in Montreal, Canada, with an appearance at the heavy metal festival Heavy Montreal.