How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Babymetal
A sit down interview with the three teenage girls behind the Japanese pop-metal phenomenon known as Babymetal.
Once you step into Babymetal’s world, you realize how surreal it all is. Su-metal, Moametal, and Yuimetal sat across from me, their metallic silver and black stagewear shining and their bright, curious eyes lined with kohl. Their small frames were perched on the edge of a big red couch, with hands folded primly and blood-red tu-tus bunched elegantly around them. After introductions were made and their translator was settled, I started down my list of approved questions. I’d been required to send them in beforehand, ostensibly to make the translator’s job easier (though I was told that I’d need to cut a couple background questions; Babymetal does not break character, ever). Normally I’d never do such a thing, but the language barrier made this a special case, and I was so curious about how the interview itself would go that I was willing to make some concessions. As we spoke, the girls were sweet, earnest, and very attentive; three little faces focused intently on mine as I asked each question, and once they’d decided amongst themselves which one would tackle it, an answer would be formulated and delivered via their translator.
All the while, a half dozen adults—managers, makeup artists, and the band’s producer, Kobametal, who occasionally gives interviews but to whom I was not allowed to speak this time—buzzed unobtrusively in the background, never intruding, but very much there. The girls seems completely unfazed by all the activity around them, though, and focused intently on the task at hand. This was their normal, all part and parcel of the big machine they found themselves ensconced within the day they agreed—at the Fox God’s behest, according to their mythology—to be a part of the Babymetal project. From my brief encounter with them, they seemed happy; their eyes sparkled, they paused to giggle amongst themselves, and their rapport with the translator was clearly affectionate and comfortable. They charmed the hell out of me, to be honest; I’d come in expecting an awkward, canned encounter, and even though I could tell that they’d gone over some of the answers they gave a thousand times before, they still managed to make it seem like they meant them. By the end, I was firmly on their side—not quite a part of the #BabymetalHive, but invested enough to defend them on Twitter, which, in 2016, speaks volumes.
Interviewing the three precocious teenage girls behind Japanese pop-metal phenomenon Babymetal was one of the single strangest experiences of my decade-plus career. For one thing, they’re astonishingly popular, unlike the kinds of bands I usually focus on (despite its steadily rising profile, extreme metal still ain’t that big). Not only are they huge in Japan, they’ve conquered the United States as well, selling out the majority of the dates on their recent North American tour and decimating the Billboard charts with their latest album, Metal Resistance. They’re worshipped by millions of fans who dedicate themselves to spreading the gospel of Babymetal far and wide, and whose fervent love for the girls and their backing band rivals the #Beyhive in terms of mass adoration. I got a taste of that level of fandom when I tweeted a photo of myself with the Babymetal girls almost a month ago; to this day, it continues to rack up retweets and faves from Babymetal fan accounts, some of whom remember my less-than-stoked review after I saw them play for the first time, and who are either still mad at me, or glad that I’ve softened my views on the band.
The intensity with which Babymetal fans love their idols is surprising, sometimes even disconcerting, until one takes into account the fact just how much Babymetal’s manic J-pop-meets-thrashy nu-metal hybrid has done to pry open metal’s iron gates. That’s also why they’re so hated. I couldn’t stand them the first time I heard their music; their breakout single, “Gimme Chocolate!!!” grated hard on ears more accustomed to blastbeats and blues-based riffs, and the immediate fawning reaction from the media— as publications came galloping in to exoticize them—turned me off even more. Once I saw them live, though, I gained a new respect for their skills; I couldn’t deny the bombast and spectacle of their live show, of course—no one with functioning eyeballs could—but it took meeting the band themselves to really understand their appeal.
It also doesn’t hurt that Babymetal—three young, hard-working, talented women of color—are out there packing stadiums and selling boatloads of merchandise in a male-dominated industry that seems rattled by their very existence, as if their detractors are wholly unaware of metal’s long history of experimentation and genre mashing. Suffice it to say, I’ve come around; at this point, even if I’m not sitting here listening to Babymetal’s albums, I’m still cheering for them from the sidelines.
We spoke through a translator, as mentioned, so the following Q&A has a little bit of an uncanny valley vibe going on, but I am still delighted that I got them to break character a few times and show themselves for what they really are: three young girls on a grand adventure studded with stadiums, sparkles, and an effervescent, instantly relatable love for Iron Maiden. As I wrote after the first time I encountered them, you do you, Babymetal. You do you.
Noisey: How did you first get involved in Babymetal? What about the idea behind the band interested you? What made you think, 'I want to be part of this?'
It probably doesn't really answer your question the way that you would like it to, but Moametal says that they were chosen to be Babymetal by the Fox God. The Fox God is who governs Babymetal and the one who gives them all the revelations of what they do. And so they were the special chosen ones, and their role is to make everything that the Fox God tells them or dictates should actually happen.
OK, fair enough. So, since you are in Babymetal now, and you've been in the metal world for a few years... what has been the most interesting thing you've learned about metalheads and the metal world?
Yuimetal says that when she was first introduced to metal, everything was super new for her, but the biggest thing that she's learned from metal is that through music you can connect to a whole bunch of different people from a whole bunch of different places and it's borderless. It's expansive. The outreach is so far. But because of that, she wants to continue to learn more about metal because she feels that through metal she was given the opportunity to discover so many things that she never thought she would have any relation to, but now she's exposed to so many new things. She also hopes that with what they're doing as Babymetal, they can also give this opportunity to other people just like them to discover things that they never thought they would be interested in. From metal, they learned that.
I think a lot of us feel like that. So one thing about your new album that found interesting is that, for the first time, you have a song in English, "The One." What was it like to sing in this new language?
So Su-metal says that the one of the reasons behind why they wanted to sing a song in English is because they wanted to really reach out to fans across the world, because the lyrics of "The One" is all about uniting everyone, bringing everybody together through their music. The other thing is also that they always want to try and challenge themselves with something new. She says the recording for this was very difficult; it was very hard to really get all of the pronunciations spot on so it wasn't easy. But every time she thinks back to the fact that the fans abroad, outside of Japan, they come to their shows and they're singing along in Japanese. Which means everybody's studying it. So when she thinks about that, it gives her the motivation to really try hard, to make sure she can really execute the English song. Looking at the response right now, it looks like it's not so bad.
So what's it like when you're in the studio? Are you there for the whole time, giving lots of input, or do you mostly decide to focus on your vocals and the lyrics?
They actually found out they were releasing a new album after their concert at Yokohama Arena at the end of last year, December. That was when it was revealed unto them that a new album was coming out, at the end of their show. So that was the first time they found out at all, like, "Wow, will we have time? It's gonna be released on April 1, that's not a lot of time for an album." So they were a bit nervous, they didn't know what to expect. But then they listened to the new songs and they were brought in to work on the album together, to get the melodies done and when they listened to it, Yuimetal thought that the songs are really great, so people would be able to really have fun with this music. The thing that she took from it all the most was how we have more Babymetal songs to put out there. So it was a very fun experience for them to record this new album.
What was the toughest song to record? I know you said "The One" was vocally challenging, but were there any other ones that were really tough to nail?
So for Su-metal , she says the most difficult song to record must have been "Tales of the Destinies," because the tempo is not a fixed four beat, eight beat, it's like a half or quarter beat. So there's no fixed tempo throughout the song. So it was really hard, even though you have the click to rely on, there's no right or wrong. It's all about just trying to grasp the feeling of the song, so recording it was really tough, but she was really worried or thinking about "How are we going to do this live?" Looking forward to doing it one day, but it's not going to be an easy task for them.
Did you learn anything new in the studio this time around?
For Su-metal, what she realized through the recording process is that the song is kind of a living thing, because it's always constantly evolving or changing. Today you'd go in and sing it this way, and then suddenly tomorrow you realize it's better this way. It feels almost like it's all very organic. So it's not just technical and that's what she learned from the recording process, that it's a very organic type of process where things are constantly moving or changing dependent on the day, dependent on how the song is growing as they are singing it.
You mentioned before that with "The One,” you wanted to be able to sing along with your American fans, and I'm wondering what are the biggest differences you've seen between your fans here and fans back home in Japan?
Moametal says that it's really weird, sometimes, when they come over here. All the fans, although they are singing mainly in Japanese, are singing along. You're singing along with Su-metal which doesn't happen in Japan. In Japan, the fans are singing along to Yuimetal and Moametal for their parts. So that's a big difference that they notice. But regardless of that, it doesn't matter where they are, the concerts are always fun because the crowd is always amazing. Every experience is just amazing and wonderful for them.
Well, Americans are used to focusing on one lead singer, as opposed to the whole group—which seems to be more common in Japanese pop. Do you think that's why we focus more on Su-metal?
They don't know about this difference in culture over here! But yeah, it might be a possibility. [The girls, wide-eyed, chatter amongst themselves, looking amazed by this idea].
So you guys are a pretty controversial band, in that a lot of people really love you ,and some just don't get it. Are you more worried about winning over the people that don't like Babymetal, or are you more interested in focusing on the fans that already support you and love what you're doing?
For Su-metal, she feels that people are free to think whatever they think. So yes, they are very aware that there are people that do not agree with what they do or do not think that what they do is metal, but she says that it's fine, they can think whatever they want to think because she also has the freedom to think what she wants to think. But at the same time, she feels it's very important to have these people around because it's also a learning process, it also tells them that there are these people and they have this perception of your music and that's also important. You don't need to have everybody love what you do. So you're definitely not looking out, trying to convert everyone into a Babymetal fan or supporter because for them, every one person who is interested in Babymetal's music is enough. There's no need to force someone to listen to their music.
Why do you think some metalheads are so afraid of you?
Su-metal says that this is the exact same reaction that they had towards metal. For them, when they first heard metal they were likem "Oh my God, what is this?" It was scary, dark, loud, just something that was alien to them. And that's probably the same perception that metal fans have towards Babymetal: it is alien to them. No metal band is dancing on stage to metal music, no metal band is wearing what they wear on stage, no metal band is making music like Babymetal. So it's the exact same effect that they have because they're just something new and something so different that, yeah, it's unique. It's like how metal was to them when they had no idea what metal was. It's just a normal reaction.
Speaking of how you dress, how important is that visual aspect to what you're doing?
It's very important. Yuimetal says that they have a very specific look, a very specific theme behind their visual presentation. Also with their costumes, as you can see, the black and the red represent what they are which is a fusion of cute and pretty with something that's heavy and hard like metal. So black is that and red is the representation of something that's more feminine which expresses who they are as a group. So visual is as important for them for sending out their messages as Babymetal.
It's a very heavy metal warrior-meets-Gothic Lolita kind of look. Do you have a lot of input in what you wear?
So yes, they definitely do talk among themselves about what type of costumes they would like to wear in the future. As for this time, their costumes are more black now than red because it's a representation of them maturing, going into adulthood or getting there, I guess, because there's still a bit more. So that's also part of Babymetal that they want people to look at how they've grown from the past album, from the past two years, they were touring and they learned so much. And they've grown in so many different aspects, including the visual presentation of Babymetal.
So you have toured and met a million cool people over the last few years: Lady Gaga, Metallica... who do you really want to meet next?
[Girls, together] Iron Maiden!
I just saw them.
Madison Square Garden.
[Girls, together]: AHHHHHHHHHH! [They lose their shit.] Oh no, we missed them!
They're on tour for a long time, you might catch them somewhere else!
Yeah, they're going to Japan so maybe they'll see them in Japan. So going back to Yuimetal's answer, she said that they met so many people from Metallica to Lady Gaga, as you mentioned. They get to speak with them, take pictures with them, hang out with them backstage. So that was all amazing. But she has to say her best moment was when she met Ariana Grande. She's been a fan of Ariana Grande forever and to meet her in the flesh, not through a TV screen, not through her computer screen, it was just amazing. She says that she was so shocked when she found out that Ariana Grande knew of the existence of Babymetal. She says she'll never ever forget that moment. As for who they want to meet, they just said yeah, Iron Maiden.
That's a perfect mix. So speaking of how you love Ariana so much and how you look up to her, do you see yourselves as role models for girls and for younger people that want to get into metal?
So Moametal says that right now when they are performing, they see a lot of younger kids coming to their show, people who are younger than them, and that's really really great. Moametal says that when they were first introduced to metal, they didn't know anything about metal. But now they're in this scene along with a lot of other metal bands, being recognized, being able to learn, being exposed to so many different types of music thanks to that first introduction to metal. They do hope, definitely, to introduce younger people or people their age to metal because they know how fun it can be. So definitely it's something that's important for them, to be in this position, to be able to influence some kids to learn about metal.
Was it weird for you as young women to come into this culture which is still a very male-dominated space? Was that a strange thing to get used to?
The first time they played at a festival was at Sonisphere in the UK, and that was the first time they were standing in front of 60,000 people and, of course, the crowd was a majority of them... a majority of festival goers are still male. As you say, it's a male dominated demographic. So at first it's like, "These people, what will they do when we get on stage." So it was pretty nerve-wracking at that time because they didn't know what to expect. But at the same time, she's like, yeah, but there's not a lot of bands with three girls on stage, dancing and singing. So people are going to remember us. So at the same time, she feels like they're blessed to be Babymetal in this scene right now because it's hard to forget them, whether you like them or not.