Many of you might know me as a music enthusiast. From Heavy Metal to Japanese Pop, I love (am obsessed with) a large variety of music. But what if we took those two spectrums and combined them?
I give you the most unholy of unholy combinations: Kawaii Metal (actual name, I didn't make this up), a term coined to describe the band Babymetal. What is it, exactly? Kawaii Metal mixes western heavy metal instrumentals with the vocals of Japanese pop idols. Not convinced that this is a great idea? Watch the video below:
The beginning of Kawaii Metal goes back to 2010 and a Japanese talent agency known as Amuse. It recruited several talented girls for a Japanese idol group called Sakura Gakuin (literally Cherry Blossom Academy). Sakura Gakuin consisted and continues to consist of junior high age female performers who sing and dance complicated routines for the amusement of Japanese audiences at live performances (for those that do not know, this is a very common practice in Japan, and is referred to as idol culture).
In order to drive sales, agents decided to experiment with the girls in Sakura Gakuin by creating a sub-group that produced a much different style of music. They took three girls (Suzuka Nakamoto, Yui Mizuno, and Moa Kikuchi) and created Babymetal, which was the first instance of the Metal and J-Pop fusion now called Kawaii Metal. Of course, the intent was to create multiple popular idol groups with the talent pool they already had access to, but little did the agents know, their crazy idea was an absolute goldmine.
When did they get popular? Well, in 2013 the band released their first single published under a major record label, 'Ijime, Dame, Zettai' which was a relatively major hit in Japan, and continued releasing singles over the course of the year before finally having a major album debut self-titled 'Babymetal'. The album was a huge success, and even was sold in other nations. You can buy it and their singles on the U.S. iTunes right now. The second half of 2014, Babymetal toured around the world, from the U.K. to Canada to the United States, even opening for Lady Gaga in New York.
One of the biggest problems in the beginning year of Babymetal was, truthfully, a lack of overall understanding of the essence of Heavy Metal. In the beginning, one misunderstanding was the classic Heavy Metal horns (as pictured) and the original symbol the performers made placed the thumb under the third and fourth finger instead of on top. The result? A fox sign. The staff, however, decided to roll with it and made the 'kitsune' (fox, in English) the official Babymetal sign. This misunderstanding was later used to its maximum potential. Take a look at the fan translation of the lyrics from the song in the first video, which is called 'Megitsune', or 'female foxes'. Rewatch that video with the meaning attached, and you will see the symbolism.
Most of the staff and performers had literally zero knowledge (it is even said that when Suzuka Nakamoto was told about the concept behind the band, she replied, "What the ?!") but there were two elements on their side: the potential of the idea and the flexibility of younger performers' expertise. Over time, the writers began to get into a groove on the proper mixing of the two genres, but at first they attempted to basically switch in and out, and struggled to capture the emotions most metal fans desire in their genre. The three girls, who initially were aged 12, 10, and 10 at the start, grew into their new sound much as the writers did, and the above video is the perfect example of this. Really, I am curious whether one must pursue Metal on their own to fully understand it, or if being raised performing it shall give the greatest understanding and feeling to the performance. Only time will tell.
Kawaii Metal is still in very early stages, and has much to prove. While other artists such as Passcode have attempted to imitate Babymetal, none have reached their level of popularity (or quality level, if we're being honest). Kawaii Metal has also sometimes come to be referred to as Japanese Heavy Metal with a high-pitched female singer (as opposed to younger idol performers), and as such some previously existing artists (i.e. Yousei Teikoku, who performed to opening theme for the anime Future Diary) have come to be recognized under its umbrella. It's hard to say how enduring Kawaii Metal will be, but you can be damn well sure that it has already gained popularity and continues to grow. Now I really need to stop obsessively listening to it.
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