SDP Noticias from Mexico did a very interesting report about Metal music in Japan and the evolution from the 80s and 90s with X Japan to BABYMETAL, going through Marty Friedman's project Death Panda with AKB48. Read the report translated below.
The evolution of the genre took a curious path in Japan.. From X Japan to BABYMETAL
Japan is a land rich in traditions, culture and generating entertainment of various types; the craziest ideas that you can imagine can have their fulfillment in the Japanese land. Perhaps that's why it's not surprising that it's where it has emerged a new branch of Metal, the Kawaii Metal; a combination of J-Pop Idols, with chord melodies of a genre that is "cursed" in the eyes of many people in the world. How did this come up? How a series of cute asian teenagers one day started to dance and sing "heavy" songs as if they were pop tunes?
First thing is first. As Sam Dum reveled in his documentary "Global Metal", the Japanese are not characterized as rocker or metalhead, hence its tradition in these genres is not as wide as in other parts of the world (like United States, England, Germany, even Latin America); however, they've come to develop their own identity around these, being the Visual Kei and X-Japan one of the first contributions.
X Japan - Kurenai Live 1989
What is the Visual Kei? A genre that musically looks like the traditional heavy metal, but where the performers have a very overloaded aesthetics: heavy makeups and outrageous
costumes. As mentioned, the most representative is the band X-Japan, which marked a milestone in the 80s and early 90s; with great melodies as Kurenai, X, Rose Of Pain, and the
multi-celebrated Art Of Life. Since then came a revolution that brought as consecuence the birth of several groups like Dir En Grey, L'Arc En Ciel and Onmyouza,
among many others.
While we note some differences between each group, to some
point, they followed the traditional line of Metal or Rock. Where does Pop come in? Well, unlike the Western Pop, Japanese Pop tend to integrate elements from other genres without any concern; if
you remember some of your favorite Anime songs, a great part of them are J-Pop with some arragements close to Rock or Metal, including heavy sounds and instrumental solos (usually
That caught the attention of a young guitarist named Marty Friedman, who, bored with the gray Thrash Metal of Megadeth, decided to try luck in Japanese lands where he would experiment a new musical tone never before seen by him. And so, ladies and gentlemen, the Death Panda project was born and the first indication of the combination of Pop Metal. Why? Because it was about a couple of videos with Friedman's music with voices of the Idol group AKB48.
We can say that this was the seed of all this movement. Marty didn't stay in this initiative; he began to collaborate with as many Idols and Groups crossed his path (Like Momoiro Clover Z), at the same time expanding the Metal exposure in Japan thanks to his program Rock Fujiyama, where he even had Kerry King of Slayer as guest once. Something to mention is that, at those moments, Visual Kei and J-Rock had fallen off the grace of the general population, remaining within a niche audience, while J-Pop was at its highest point of exposure. Not only in his native country, also in other parts of the world thanks to the globalization of the contemporary Japanese culture industry.
Well, Friedman continued his way into the Japanese music while an evolution occurred in the Idol System, now you had no longer a single singer of group, rather a kind of brands that were renewed every certain time. That is, we have a group of several girls, when one had to leave, either by an external problem or age (a Japanese Idol usually runs from 13-14 years old to 18 at most), she is quickly replaced by other, without affecting the group and without any trouble for the fans, they accept it as if it were the natural course of things.
From one of these groups came Suzuka Nakamoto, who sang in Sakura Gakuin; but had to "graduate" from the group in 2013. However, she was part of a Amuse Inc. side project, the company that manages Sakura Gakuin, due to the success of this parallel initiative, they decided to follow up as an autonomous group. The name of this group: BABYMETAL.
And so, Kawaii Metal was born oficially. If we analyze BABYMETAL songs, the lyrics are simple, somewhat silly, like
Marty Friedman - Death Panda
BABYMETAL - Gimme Chocolate!!
J-Pop songs; but wrapped with heavy melodies (shredding guitars and flashing drums some would say). Although it seems that this is a perversion of the genre, not an evolution, metal legends
love them; even mentioning that this is an interesting contribution to this style which seemed to have gotten stuck. We can name Lars Ulrich of Metalllica, Tom
Araya of Slayer and Rob Halford of Judas Priest as those who gave their full support to the project and this branch of the genre; so it
is not unusual to see Su-Metal, Yuimetal and Moametal sharing the stage with the bands mentioned.
And, as X-Japan did with J-Rock and Metal; Death Panda with the genre combination, BABYMETAL opened a big door for those who want to experiment with this curious variation. The most recent phenomenon is LadyBaby, a group of two young girls and an Australian former wrestler, better known as Lady Beard; who sing similar to Su-Metal's band, but with a great variation, they have a large, two meter tall man dressed as a lady making gutturals.
So, for better or worse, we are on the threshold of a new understanding of Metal; not as something dark or rebellious, but as something sweet, tender and cute. Is it good, is it bad? Depends of the opinion of each; it might be one of those things from Japan that we are unable to rationalize through purely Western values.
Translation by: Maik Gianino.