Ahead of their debut show in these parts, Betti Hunter speaks to the Japanese rock phenomenon and pioneers of so-called kawaii metal to find out just what their deal is.
The metal scene is unforgiving of the uninitiated. In such a hyper-macho subculture, you’d think that three teenage girls with pop idol pedigree singing about chocolate would be eaten alive and spat out in bits. Japanese phenomenon Babymetal shouldn’t have broken through, but they did.
“When we first formed, many people said, ‘this isn’t metal, this music is wrong,’” recalls backing singer and dancer Moametal. “But we believed in our music and kept doing what we do.”
Now even diehard metalheads are going wild for this experimental new shit – Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford went so far as to describe them as “the future of metal.” When they launched in 2010 their schtick was unique: a technically flawless band of heavy-as-death musicians paired with three adorable, talented graduates from the Japanese pop factory with no prior interest in the genre. Together, they set out to spearhead an entirely new movement, ‘kawaii metal’. Their self-titled debut, released in 2014 when singer-dancers Su-Metal, Moametal and Yuimetal were between 14 and 16 years old, was an instant hit at home. Pretty soon, Western audiences were simultaneously baffled, amused and impressed by the fusion of brutal musicianship and peppy dance moves.
Perhaps this unprecedented success is in part attributable to the influence of the mythical Fox God, part of the legend the band has woven around themselves to explain their rise as so-called leaders of the ‘metal resistance’. But whether their sustained popularity is the result of divine intervention or next-level music biz savvy, seven years on Babymetal has evolved into a juggernaut that stands out among the line-ups of some of the world’s biggest festivals. Their videos have hundreds of millions of views and they’ve amassed a diverse and dedicated global fanbase. Following Yuimetal’s departure in 2018, Su and Moa continue to lead the band to defy all expectations – not least their own.
“Through Babymetal, I’ve learned about metal and so much more,” said lead singer Su. “I used to say that it was our dream to create one music genre called Babymetal, but it’s not a dream anymore. It’s a goal that is not too far to achieve.”
New album Metal Galaxy certainly showcases this progression in the band’s scope. While remaining true to Babymetal’s thrashing sound, it explores jazz, Indian and Latin elements and features guest appearances from members of Sabaton and Arch Enemy. “This album combines the knowledge and experiences we’ve gained while touring the world for almost an entire decade,” said Moa. “What we take from encountering new types of music and people has widened the variety of our new material.”
Babymetal is undoubtedly the biggest Japanese breakthrough act of the 21st century. But bigger audiences and international notoriety means that the band has more to prove than ever. “Our first ever metal festival was Sonisphere,” explains Su. “At the time, I felt that there was no expectation of us. I think our staff and support bands were more nervous than us! I am happy that many people know about Babymetal now but at the same time, we have to do a performance that goes beyond expectations, so it’s more pressure.”
“We prepare a lot to bring our best performance,” adds Moa. “Training is hard, but it is all for our fans. We have learned the importance of believing in ourselves.” Following a frenzied set at Download Festival in 2018, Babymetal return to the UK this year for a sold-out string of shows before hitting the festival circuit once again. “We call the UK our second home,” said Su. “Sometimes at shows it feels like we are back in Japan. Every moment in the UK is a very important piece of Babymetal’s history and every time we visit I am excited to see what is to come.”
So, indeed, are Babymetal’s UK fans. As Su and Moa have come of age, the band’s shows have become increasingly polished, dramatic, and unpredictable. When asked what Cardiff can expect from this latest tour, Moa’s answer is enigmatic. “Only the Fox God knows!”
Babymetal, Great Hall, Cardiff University Student Union, Thurs 20 Feb. Tickets: £32.50 (sold out – check box office for returns). Info: 029 2078 1458 / www.cardiffstudents.com