Babymetal’s hook lies, unabashedly and quite obviously, in their merging of modern heavy metal with the excessively sweet and addictive qualities of Japanese pop music. Fronted by a vocal trio of barely-teenaged girls who “graduated” from a previous Idol group, Babymetal is rounded out by musicians with a legitimate background in heavy metal music. The result is an entirely unique sound, the band’s name also a descriptor of a new genre in its infancy.
In short, if Slipknot mated with manga, the resulting spawn might look and sound an awful lot like Babymetal.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But to some western critics, Babymetal is little more than a gimmick, a mashup of two musical styles that could not be more different, with a manufactured sound and image that seeks to appeal to the outliers of both audiences.
Manufactured is the key word here, the one that seems to ruffle the feathers of many an ardent music lover. We hear the word and think of boy bands that spend as much time feathering their hair as they do working on their vocal chops. We think of English all-girl groups that are mega-stars today and struggling solo artists tomorrow. We think of groups born and bred on reality TV shows, groups doomed to playing half-empty arenas before canceling their tours altogether because they got off at the wrong stop and the hype train moved on without them.
We don’t think of rock music because much of rock’s appeal comes from its spontaneity, its recklessness. We don’t know what’s going to happen next, and we love it all the more when it feels like the band itself doesn’t know what’s going to happen next.
That’s rock n’ roll, baby. It’s dangerous. It’s unpredictable.
But nothing about Babymetal is dangerous. The group is excessively manufactured, every stage move and interview response preconceived to perpetuate the image. To many critics in the western hemisphere, this dreaded, capitalist opposite of organic and spontaneous is often shrugged off as a gimmick or, worse, fake.
“In Japan,” as Robert E. Carter wrote in Encounter with Enlightenment: A Study of Japanese Ethics, “spontaneity comes at the end of discipline, not before it,” which is to say that even spontaneity is, in a sense, manufactured. The concept of manufactured art, then, does not have an inherently negative connotation. It is the cultural heritage of viewer, the listener, the critic that shapes those connotations.
Given the history of J-Pop and Idol music, the chances are slim that Babymetal will enjoy a long and illustrious career. But they’re fun, and their music is undeniably catchy. They’re cherishing the moment for what it is, and I suspect that when this moment ends, they will – true to their cultural tendencies – embrace the next just as enthusiastically.
Babymetal’s self-titled album is out now.