Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2014: Babymetal

By | Published on Wednesday 17 December 2014

Every weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we’ll be revealing another of our ten favourite artists of the year. See the full list of artists announced so far here. Next up is Babymetal…


When the music of 2014 is boiled down to three and a half minutes of reminiscence delivered by six rent-a-talking-heads in 20 years time, it would be a major oversight to miss out a mention of Babymetal. Their emergence into the world, and into the unlikely embrace of the metal community, may well be one of the most 2014 things to happen in 2014.

When I attended the Tokyo International Music Market conference earlier this year – the band having already played Sonisphere by that point and with a Brixton Academy headline show then looming – by far the most common question I was asked was: ‘Why do you think Babymetal have become so popular overseas?’ Initially it might seem like an easy question to answer, but there are variables on both the Eastern and Western sides that complicate matters.

For one thing, though a jarring novelty in the UK, mixing extremes of music isn’t quite so uncommon in Japan. There’s a whole side of J-pop ‘idol’ culture that allows for wild, experimental creativity within a manufactured pop system.

The CMU Approved, for example, make pop music played at hardcore punk speeds; Momoiro Clover Z worked with ex-Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, amongst others, on their second album ‘5th Dimension’; and BiS (whose weird, failed gimmick was to attempt to destroy the idol system from within) went to number seven in the Japanese charts this year with digital hardcore track, ‘Stupig’.

More recently, new act Necronomidol have launched themselves as an occult-influenced idol act – having been forced to rethink their original black metal schtick when it became apparent that the atmosphere-sucking metal sub-genre was not entirely suited to pop shows.

For the most part though, J-pop acts don’t pick up much attention in the West beyond a fairly niche audience. So you can see how Babymetal’s sudden popularity over here might be slightly perplexing.

Which is not to say that Babymetal don’t stand out in Japan too – they do – but their combination of pop and metal was perhaps less unexpected there, making all the interest their genre-clash has caused in the West a surprise. Certainly when the video for the first single from the band’s debut album, ‘Gimme Chocolate!!’, first hit the internet, the reaction to it was bigger than most people probably expected, sending the YouTube post viral and sparking vast amounts of debate.

Still, when their first UK live booking at this year’s Sonisphere festival was announced, it looked like things were about to come crashing down. The path to stardom is littered with acts who took the comedy booking slot at a big rock festival and died under a shower of piss-filled bottles.

But that isn’t what happened. People seemed genuinely into the idea of a metal pop group. OK, not everyone, but enough people for the Sonisphere show to go well and another show at the Electric Ballroom in Camden two days later to sell out, followed by that other show at the Brixton Academy last month.

“The reaction was so different than in Japan”, singer Suzuka ‘Su-metal’ Nakamoto told MTV Iggy earlier this year. “At first I was nervous, because I wasn’t sure whether anyone would turn up. And yet, some fans came in ‘cosplay’ or knew all the dance moves. Some of our lyrics use quite difficult Japanese words, but I think the crowd in England sang along even more than our fans at home”.

Part of their success, I think, can be attributed to their name – it explains quickly and simply what they do. And then there’s the tendency for metal fans to have a bit of a sense of humour about their genre of choice.

Giving his view on it all, the group’s producer and founder Key ‘Kobametal’ Kobayashi told The Guardian recently: “Rock music hasn’t changed much over its history. When a group from the other side of the world suddenly appears playing something so weird, it captures your attention”.

“I think the reason people like us is because we make ‘kawaii [cute] metal’, and no one else does that”, pondered Su-metal to MTV Iggy. “The three of us started out with no personal interest in metal; we all just thought the music seemed like fun. And that means that even people who aren’t usually interested in metal might be interested in our music in a similar way”.

Doing something different almost certainly did help the band get their start, but their continued success throughout 2014 really comes down to the fact that Babymetal are really, really good at what they do.

Conceived and formed by Kobametal in 2010, initially as a spin-off of more traditional girl group Sakura Gakuin (which translates as Cherry Blossom Academy), since then the producer has worked hard to ensure that both the pop and metal sides of the group are as strong as each other. So it’s not just a case of a few riffs being chucked into the mix to make a quick buck off the gimmick. The three frontwomen – Su-metal, plus Yui ‘Yuimetal’ Mizuno and Moa ‘Moametal’ Kikuchi – are impressive and engaging performers, while the group backing them is made up of seasoned and very talented metal musicians.

And that’s what really does it. You might not like what they do, but you can’t argue with the fact that the realisation of Babymetal has been done very well. And it appears all the more amazing if your first experience of the group came this year, meaning you missed the more than two years of them working it all out. They just turned up in February and were amazing.

Of course, they aren’t without their critics. Many are troubled by the fact that a group of teenagers, aged between fourteen and sixteen, have been placed at the front of a band who play a style of music they admit they’d not heard of before they were asked to join the outfit. Although that argument does ignore the fact that very few manufactured pop acts get to perform music they actually like (or at least would choose to make given complete artistic freedom).

Sure, this is an extreme case, but there’s no sign that they’re not enjoying it now. They may still be slightly perplexed by their audience (“I’ve never been in a moshpit”, said Yuimetal to The Guardian. “I think I’d get smashed to bits”), and there are certainly some general criticisms that could (and should) be levelled at sections of Japan’s pop music industry, but Babymetal actually seem to be one of the better treated and happier acts out there.

Su-metal described meeting Slayer at Sonisphere to MTV Iggy as a “really special experience”, though that viewpoint emerged after she’d see them play live; having met them before their set, her original thoughts were that they seemed like “really nice old guys”.

Speaking to The Guardian, Moametal admitted that it was supporting Lady Gaga in the US that made her friends “quite envious”. Though she added that those friends also “sing Babymetal songs whenever we go to karaoke”.

Who knows if they’ll continue to be popular in 2015 and beyond, but I hope they do. Their particular brand of genre mashing feels like the kind of thing we’ve always been promised as the internet blurs the boundaries of people’s tastes. There aren’t many acts that could say they’ve comfortably shared bills with Slayer and Lady Gaga.

And here’s the Gimme Chocolate!!’ video that got them there: