Babymetal: The Secret Superheroes of Scholastic Shredding

When Babymetal first came to the attention of Western metal fans in 2014, they were incredibly divisive. Some fans loved their dizzying combination of heavy metal with Japanese teen pop sensibilities, but many more were outraged at what they saw as a heavily manufactured and commercial product that, in the words of some commenters, represented nothing less than an attempt to destroy the heavy metal community. Happily, many of those same fans now take the opposite view, and these Secret Superheroes are now lauded as genuine metal heroes who have helped to revitalize the genre, rather than destroy it.  

Babymetal performing at Glastonbury in 2019

THE BIRTH OF THE NEW METAL

There are two versions of Babymetal’s origin story, and the official one is more fun. According to Babymetal, the band’s members were created as agents of the Fox God, sent to fight the “power idols” who ruled the Earth and suppressed all music except their own, with metal music being seen as especially harmful. The band members went undercover in an “idol group” to prepare for the upcoming Metal Resistance, while “metalheads everywhere were praying for metal to return”. When their prayers reached the Fox God, he summoned the band and gave them their new name - Babymetal - meaning “the birth of the new metal”, and sent them into the world to begin the Metal Resistance.

Babymetal: The Secret Superheroes of Scholastic Shredding

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When Babymetal first came to the attention of Western metal fans in 2014, they were incredibly divisive. Some fans loved their dizzying combination of heavy metal with Japanese teen pop sensibilities, but many more were outraged at what they saw as a heavily manufactured and commercial product that, in the words of some commenters, represented nothing less than an attempt to destroy the heavy metal community. Happily, many of those same fans now take the opposite view, and these Secret Superheroes are now lauded as genuine metal heroes who have helped to revitalize the genre, rather than destroy it.  

Babymetal performing at Glastonbury in 2019

THE BIRTH OF THE NEW METAL

There are two versions of Babymetal’s origin story, and the official one is more fun. According to Babymetal, the band’s members were created as agents of the Fox God, sent to fight the “power idols” who ruled the Earth and suppressed all music except their own, with metal music being seen as especially harmful. The band members went undercover in an “idol group” to prepare for the upcoming Metal Resistance, while “metalheads everywhere were praying for metal to return”. When their prayers reached the Fox God, he summoned the band and gave them their new name - Babymetal - meaning “the birth of the new metal”, and sent them into the world to begin the Metal Resistance.

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The reality is only slightly less outlandish. The band’s three original members - Su-metal (Susuka Nakamoto), Moametal (Moa Kikuchi) and Yuimetal (Yui Mizuno) - were brought together in 2010 by Japan’s Amuse talent agency, as a spin off from Sakura Gakuin, an “idol group” of schoolgirl pop stars aged between 10 and 15. The many members of Sakura Gakuin each had spin off bands that were modeled on after-school clubs, and Babymetal was created as Su-metal’s spin off by Key Kobayashi (now known as Kobametal), an Amuse producer with a passion for heavy metal music. His young protegees were aged between 10 and 13 years old at the time, and none of them had heard of heavy metal when the band formed.  

ONLY THE FOX GOD KNOWS

Both origin stories converge in 2013, when Su-metal left Sakura Gakuin to focus on Babymetal. The band had released a handful of singles in Japan, but were very much a niche concern in the heavily regimented world of Japanese teen pop. Thanks to either a new major label contract, or the influence of the Fox God, their eponymously titled debut album had a much wider reach, and the band quickly went viral in the West thanks to the single Gimme Chocolate!!. The jarring combination of thrash metal instrumentation and saccharine J-pop choruses, coupled with the video showcasing the group’s heavily choreographed stage show, propelled Babymetal to the front row of viral music celebrity. It also put them in the sights of heavy metal fans, many of whom seemed ungrateful for the gift of New Metal that the Fox God had bestowed upon them.

Paying homage to the Fox God

Most reviewers found the album refreshing, and many raved over it, but specialist metal publications who praised Babymetal’s work soon found themselves inundated with abuse from appalled fans. The band themselves were peppered with racist and sexist abuse online, and metal forums, message boards and social media seethed with discord as traditionalists duked it out with converts. This was not an entirely surprising outcome as the monolithic heavy metal community is not famed for its love of crossover acts, but the degree of hatred that this group of schoolgirls provoked did take many by surprise. 

THE IRRESISTIBLE METAL RESISTANCE

To the community’s credit, the negative response that Babymetal received galvanized many fans to defend them. One famous incident took place at the 2016 Kerrang! Awards, where the British metal magazine honored the group with their Best Live Act award. It was presented to them on stage by the singer of a more traditional British metal band, who then proceeded to repeatedly interrupt Su-metal’s acceptance speech by shouting random phrases in a bad Japanese accent. To his surprise, he found himself being booed by the audience, and the backlash eventually forced him into a public apology. 

The band were also bolstered by the support of the bands they supported; they have toured with Metallica and opened for Korn and Guns ‘n Roses. Korn’s frontman, Jonathan Davis, is a particularly big fan who has repeatedly spoken out in the band’s defense: when asked if he agreed that Babymetal were “destroying metal”, he replied "It's just closed-minded people… if you dig it, you dig it. Who cares? It's not that big of a deal to like something like that. Calm down." Other big names in the scene such as Gary Holt of Exodus and Jeff Walker of Carcass have also leapt to the band’s defense, and these endorsements from major metal figures have gone a long way to tipping the scales of public opinion in the band’s favor. 

OPENING UP THE METAL GALAXY

Founding member Yuimetal sadly left the band in 2019, citing health problems after the launch of their second album, Metal Resistance. For the time being Babymetal continue as a duo, and an unusual thing has happened to the band. Their third album, Metal Galaxy, met with largely negative reviews from mainstream reviewers, but has proven far more popular with specialist metal publications, and almost all of Babymetal’s most positive coverage now comes from the metal community. Where once they were perceived as manufactured viral clickbait, they are now seen as true metal heroes, while the early adopters of the mainstream press have grown bored and moved on. For musicians who were forged “undercover” in the world of Japanese teen idol groups, this must be a hugely satisfying outcome. 

Babymetal in 2022: Su-metal (left) and Moametal (right)

The Fox God, meanwhile, must be equally pleased with the wider impact of his charges. Babymetal have opened Western doors to many other Asian metal acts; Mongolia’s viral folk-metal stars The HU are the most notable example, but similar acts such as the Japanese all-female metal outfit Mary’s Blood have also benefited from second-hand exposure in Babymetal’s wake. The band have also certainly helped to bring in a new generation of young fans into a genre that was in grave danger of becoming stale, and these Secret Superheroes can be confident that they are fulfilling the prophecies of the Fox God.

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