As published earlier (Check details here), FAKKER! Magazine from Czech Republic released a "Japan Style Special" with their new issue #9 September 2016. The Japan Style Special features in depth information about Japanese Culture and Music with BABYMETAL as center of the attention. Read below the full article translated!
BABYMETAL featured on FAKKER Magazine Japan Style Special "Resistance Is Futile"
This won’t be an easy read. Blood, sweat and tears await us. Dry music theory, forgotten Japanese Pop, talent shows and sausages. And BABYMETAL. And metal, baby. Our beloved genre will never be the same again.
Everything you never wanted to know about J-Pop
In 1957, a 16-year old dude named John Lennon founded a band in Liverpool with his friends, resulting in the unique and absolutely irreplacable The Beatles. A few year earlied, in 1953, Elvis Presley visited the Sun Records label to pay for a few minutes in a recording studio. Where’s the connection to BABYMETAL? Patient you must be, young padawan. We’ll come to BABYMETAL in a few pages. Let’s head back to the US and the UK first. And to the rest of Europe and to Asia as well, because the Lennon- and Presley-mania enthralled the entire world. Including Japan, where Lennon, Presley and co. gave a whirl to the local music scene.
Obviously, the Japanese had pop music before Lennon and Presley. With a bit of blues and jazz, with a bit of temperamental Spanish guitars, ordinary orchestra and song names such as “Koi wa Umibe de” (translated as “Love on the beach”) or “Sake wa Namida ka Tameike ka” (“What is sake? Tears or Sighs?”). Just pop. But a but different for our western ears. Unusual.
It originated from the pentatonic scale, probably the oldest musical scale, which is familiar to everyone who used to bash on the xylophone during childhood. Pentatonic scale is based on five tones, which is enough not only for the traditional Japanese music, but also for the already mentioned modern jazz and blues. Songs such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles or “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley showed a different approach to the Japanese musicians.
And so the rockabilly mania started (charmingly renamed to ‘rokabiri’ by the Japanese) and people started to use the 7-tone diatonic scale, previously rarely used in Japan. Japan’s popular music split into two main streams, resulting in the Enka genre (Japanese kind of Schlager music), influenced by traditions and using pentatonic scale on one side, and J-Pop (insanely oversweetened kitsch) on the other side, inspired by the West and the diatonic scale. And with that we have made the first step on our road towards BABYMETAL.
Okay, let’s do one more step sideways, to clarify that this cultural exchange wasn’t one way only. Yes, J-Pop probably wouldn’t appear without the initial spark by The Beatles and Elvis Presley and other western bands, but already in 1963 the US charts were being rolled over by Kyu Sakamoto (big fan of Elvis Presley) with his catchy song “Ue wo Muite Arukou” (translated as “I look up as I walk”). You may know this bittersweet ballad about a man who looks up and whistles while walking so that his tears won’t fall, under the name “Sukiyaki”.
Yes, sukiyaki. The amazing beef stew. No, it really doesn’t fit to the lyrics of the song, inspired by unsuccessful protests of Japanese students against US military bases on Japanese soil. But in contrast to “Ue wo Muite Arukou” and the protests, the West knew what sukiyaki was. In fact, it was an ingenious move by Sakamoto, allowing him to propagate both the national music and the cuisine. If, for example, the Hungarian OMEGA had similar marketing skills, they could have conquered US in 1970 as well with their song "Gyöngyhajú lány" (known as “The girl with pearly hair”), just by renaming it to “Goulash”.
After this short culinary break, let’s head back to Japan in the 50s and 60s, where the music industry was emerging and thriving, the labels were growing and concert promoters were learning to pay the artists on time. That happened after the Yakuza stepped into the chaotic situation, where even the biggest stars were at risk of not being payed, because of lousy organizers.
Kazuo Taoka was an organizational mastermind. Not only he reshaped the Yamaguchi-gumi into the world’s largest crime organization, but also as an art impresario he was paying the royalties on time. The fact that he was called “The Bear” because of clawing his opponent’s eyes during fights, it not relevant to J-Pop at all, but it would be a shame not to mention it.
Japan’s got talent
What is relevant for us though, is the development in the 70s – the golden era of the Japanese pop introduced a lot of novelties. Nippon TV started broadcasting the talent show “Star Tanjou” (translated as “A star is born”), people could witness the birth of pop stars from their living room and talent agencies got their hands full. Fortunately they had experienced musicians at their disposal, seasoned by performing countless concerts while working hard to get their share of fame.
The concert tours suddenly were no longer the only way to success. Now there was television. And with it came the idols. Let’s say the agency finds a suitable group of young girls of boys (between 2 and 50 individuals,, the options are limitless) and tries to shape them into stars. Talent for singing is not important. They should be cute. Really cute. Utterly adorable! Catchy pop melodies and energetic dance choreography will do the rest. Being an idol is not easy. If you really want to achieve something in music or theater, you’ve got to work twice as hard as an idol. And should you be satisfied with the life of a cute idol? Well, except the hard vocal and dance training and attendance at various promo events, fans are expecting a flawless image and reputation. No relationship, no sex, forget about booze and drugs – the management will keep an eye on that. And if you’re “unlucky” enough, meaning your group is really really popular, there is no way it will disband.
As an example – ask SMAP about it. A few months ago they indicated they might leave the agency who has been representing them for the last 28 years. It would mean an end to a very popular… music unit. When all the members are around their 40s, they can’t really be called a boyband anymore, right? Maybe we should call them manband? Enough of the nit-picking, the Japanese public was so shattered by the news that the only thing SMAP could do was apologizing publicly and reassuring everyone, that they’re not going anywhere. Hallelujah! Let’s keep the fingers crossed for the guys, as they have announced disbanding again. Gambatte ne!
In numbers there is strength
Obviously, searching for a superstar can be done in a different way, as shown by the next important milestone on our way to BABYMETAL, the girls band ONYANKO GIRLS. Their manager, Yasushi Akimoto, came up with an ingenious idea. Hide the lack of voice talent with numbers. Akimoto didn’t bother with searching for a few talented singers, he filled the stage with a group of 11 girls where a false note gets lost easily. Especially when the girls debuted with with an exciting song “Sērāfuku o Nugasanai de”, meaning “Don't Make Me Take Off My Sailor Suit”. Yes, we’ve said that sexual innocence is most important with idols, but sometimes it’s okay to tease playfully. Unless it’s revealed that you’re a smoker, as it was the case with six out of eleven original members of Onyanko Club the same month they debuted on stage. All six sinners promptly left the group and were replaced by new, more exemplary ones. Despite the initial hiccup, Akimoto’s bet on quantity worked, Onyanko Club became a complete success and the group grew to an unbelievable number of 52. That’s when Akimoto’s genius showed once again. Onyanko Club got overwhelmed by offers from composers and lyricists and Akimoto “milked” all he could out of this opportunity by splitting his “Mini Alexandrov Ensemble” into multiple one-off or longlasting smaller groups. Each of these groups had their own name, members and especially singles. If any member proved exceptionally talented or popular, she “graduated” from the group and was able to focus on her solo career, while another new face joined the Onyanko Club. Absolutely worth it!
A number of modern J-Pop groups took over this model, for example Morning Musume with their 12 “rotating” members (each members has her own color, so that the fans won’t get confused by the numbers), the largest contemporary group AKB48 (with 48 singers), or Sakura Gakuin.
The “Cherry Blossom Academy” was founded in 2010 and stylized the member rotation system as graduation of the members from the junior high school. The talent agency Amuse even scheduled the graduation to match the end of the real Japanese school year. The mini-groups changed to “school clubs”. Cooking club, Tennis club, Pro-Wrestling Fan Club, Science club, even a Go Home Club. Amuse covered everything – even a club for metal lovers (Heavy Music club). Are we there yet? Yes, we are!
Hello (Kawaii) Kitty
Let’s revamp our vocabulary. Or just one word. Kawaii. When Murasaki Shikibu, a Imperial court lady, wrote her novel “Genji monogatari” / “The Tale of Genji” in the 11th century, along with all the other elegant words she used one particular word, designating all that is pitiable. With one difference – our Czech meaning of this doesn’t cover all the aspects of this word. Pitiableness, vulnerability and embarrassment of kawaii induced love in people. Just like puppies, kittens, toddlers, big round eyes, rounded handwriting, ribbons, Victorian petticoats, buckle boots.
The aesthetic of cuteness came to the spotlight in the 70s, when more and more female Japanese manga artists presented their new vision of cuteness to their readers. Japanese girls were “devouring” adventure stories of tender kawaii heroines with big eyes and fluffy skirts.
Cuteness in all forms was selling big time. Designer company Sanrio took the opportunity and introduced the iconic white Hello Kitty to the market. Schools were fighting with a new handwriting style – instead of elegant vertical columns of handwritten text the girl students started writing using from left to right using a rounded, infantile script decorated by little hearts and animals. Because it was more kawaii.
And the pop stars had to become more kawaii, too. Seiko Matsuda with her lovely “hind eyes” and an aura of innocence was so adorable, even mature women wanted to be like her. At that moment, when along teenagers even the adults became a target group for kawaii, there was no way back anymore. Cuteness became a more and more accepted part of the Japanese culture. And thank God for that. Would you like to live in a world without the depressed egg Gudetama, or without the energetic Pikachu? It’s merely a rhetoric question. What’s important for us to remember, is the fact that cuteness is a normal part of the Japanese culture (which isn’t alone in the world, after all, let’s take a look at Korea). You don’t have to give up cuteness just because you grew up. It’s simply another legitimate aesthetic choice that you can manifest with soft toys, kawaii cellphone pendants, make-up or even food. Yes, even a sausage can be cute. You could stylize it into a smiling friendly octopus. Worlds apart from our “hot dog”
BABYMETAL on stage!
Where were we… Yes! BABYMETAL! Originally one of the school clubs of Sakura Gakuin, that first performed during the first SG performance, with the optimistic wake-up song “Doki Doki Morning”. No kidding, “doki doki” is the onomatopoeia for heart thumping, so that Doki Doki Morning is a morning that will raise your heartbeat frequency. At the moment without a live band – that became part of BABYMETAL only in 2012. Suzuka Nakamoto, Yui Mizuno and Moa Kikuchi, stylized as Su-Metal, Yuimetal and Moametal, were accompanied by playback and a group of miming skeletons, pretending to play their instruments. You can also guess the name of their producer, who’s responsible for all this. Kobametal. We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves now, but among the composers and lyricists of the debut album BABYMETAL we can also see Nakametal, Cubometal or Edometal. The extremely talented live band is called Kami Band. Translated – God band. Only the Fox God looking down at BABYMETAL’s successes knows, if this metal-mania was a token of sincere enthusiasm, or just a silly joke.
Fans of metal music might get disgusted by this, but in the beginning, BABYMETAL was a plain pop project with three promising idols and a bit of metal seasoning. None of the members knew what metal was. But the first fans didn’t mind – partly because of the funny choreography, where the girls synchronously fall to the ground, pretending they’re sleeping.
And what have you achieved?
Until 2013, BABYMETAL managed to shoot their first MV (“Doki Doki Morning”), release a successful protest-single against bullying “Ijime, Dame, Zettai” that jumped on position 6 of the Oricon charts in the first week, and release another single – “Headbanger!!” . Why are we particularly mentioning the year 2013? The reason is, it was the year when Suzuka Nakamoto graduated from Sakura Gakuin and BABYMETAL would have to continue without the lead singer (if not disband). The Amuse management made a fateful decision – BABYMETAL would continue with Su-Metal.
The decision paid off. In the same year, BABYMETAL released the next single “Megitsune”, which along speed metal and disco also flirted with genuine grindcore pig squeeling and Su-Metal, Yuimetal and Moametal became the youngest female performers at the Japanese metal festival Loud Park. The next key moment happened in the following year. The self-titled album BABYMETAL was plowing through the Japanese charts, iTunes allowed access to the album for listeners from Germany or the US, critics were squealing with excitement and BABYMETAL performed twice in the legendary Budokan. And they were not even a Youtube sensation at that time.
BABYMETAL have been working hard last year and this year. The group completed a World Tour in Europe and the US. The girls sang at festivals next to Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth. They recorded a single with Dragonforce. They released their 2nd album “Metal Resistance”. Su-Metal sang a “duet” with Rob Halford, where Yuimetal and Moametal played a Judas Priest classic on electric guitars.
We showed BABYMETAL to Youtubers and you won’t believe what happened next!
In 2014, the Youtube channel “Fine Bros” showed three BABYMETAL singles to a select group of youtubers, from videogame enthusiast Markiplier to the band Pentatonix. Frenetic genre changes, incomprehensible Japanese and three lively teenagers in airy tutus was exactly what the “react” format needed. The invited guests were hiding their heads in shame, incredulously staring at the videos, bursting out laughing, headbanging to the “Doki Doki Morning” rhythm; Pentatonix started considering a cover version of BABYMETAL and suddenly, a whole new audience was captivated by our favorite j-pop project.
This year, Fine Bros taped a new reaction video with BABYMETAL. This time they showed the original clip from 2014 to the girls and let them react to it. The girls were amazed by the fact, that Pentatonix considered a cover version of one of their songs. They were happy of every positive response. And understandable of the shocked reactions. They said they reacted in a very similar way when seeing their first metal clip. In one of the interviews, Yuimetal even mentioned that at first, she’d been afraid of the metal music introduced to her by Kobametal.
On the other hand, metal didn’t react to Yuimetal and her two colleagues much better either. Scare, disgust, astonishment, enjoyment and excitement – the reactions of the metal community were diverse. Part of it was unhappy about disgracing their favorite genre, the other part applauded the way, how BABYMETAL churned up the still waters of their beloved genre. Very few remained unconcerned. Face to face with these girls, it’s difficult not to have an opinion.
Gimme, gimme, gimme!
Let’s demostrate this using a live capture of “Gimme Chocolate!”, one of the songs used in the FineBros react video (not to be confused with reactionary). Sharp trashmetal pace, squealing keyboards, flashing light, band in skeleton outfits playing their instruments (observant reader already knows..) and three cute temptresses in black and red dresses, running wild on the stage and singing about how badly they need chocolate, because a proper diet can be cruel and keeping a sleek figure is a battle. From the projection screen, a huge Virgin Mary statue is looking down at the charismatic Su-Metal and sprightly Yuimetal and Moametal. Try to absorb all this without a single wince. Difficult, right?
For us non-Japanese, BABYMETAL represent a perfectly balanced combination of bizarre and familiar. Elementary, my dear Watson! Melodic metal that BABYMETAL are playing with most of the time, is familiar to us. Not even the statue of the saint will raise any eyebrows of the seasoned metalheads. But the presence of young vocalists – they couldn’t have been older than 16 in the “Gimme Choco” MV, professional choreography and fancy J-Pop, that’s new to metal. The fact that BABYMETAL came to life as a pop-group offspring as an idea from a producer’s head and that the vocalists had no idea about metal, might seem as blasphemy. In any case, the “Gimme Choco” music video already has scored more than 57 million views on Youtube. And the metal media have got a unique opportunity to start using attractive - although not really common in metal - verbiage such as “Japanese girls”, “school uniforms” and “chocolate” in article titles. Clickbait sent by the heavens. Or hell. Or the Fox God.
Let’s get to the point. BABYMETAL’s naysayers predicted that this hellish pop project will disappear just as fast as it emerged. It doesn’t have a chance for survival, the shallowness / superficiality will become boring. Well, BABYMETAL has been unstoppable since their birth in 2010. The group survived Su-Metal’s graduation from Sakura Gakuin, released two albums, caught up on metal knowledge and keeps leveling international festivals and taking adorable group pictures with metal icons (Abbath, Slayer, Rammstein, Deftones, Lamb of God or Rob Zombie – BABYMETAL caught them all). The other bands appreciate BABYMETAL’s huge energy at live shows, their uncommonness and the high musical level. It’s simply too late for dissolving into oblivion. BABYMETAL are here to stay. Resistance is futile!
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Translation by: Popcokmetal.