If any of you have been following me on Twitter or Nerdgeists Instagram you will know that last week I journeyed to Cardiff to go see Babymetal live. I am a fan and have been a fan since their early days, so yes I will this article is going to be a little biased. I will also admit that their earlier material is weak sauce, it was very much a gimmick, that gimmick being hey look at these adorable cute girls dancing to metal music and singing about chocolate. Though the band have really evolved since then and come into their own.
So why am I talking about this?
Well the Times did a piece on their latest tour that is woefully out of touch and I just had to bite back. If you want to read the article click here, or you can read on and i will do my best to critique this garbage piece.
I really do not like doing these sorts of things but right off the bat I will say this the writer, Will Hodgkinson, clearly does not know much about the band. He is downright hostile from the start. Within the first line of his article it becomes painfully obvious that he does not know much about the band. Will refers to the girls as teenagers, like that is an insult, the girls are currently both in their 20’s so ye they are not teens. He would go on to then praise them saying this is the kind of show would kill at festivals and yes they where very well received at Summer Rocks in Osaka and Glastonbury this year, yet he thinks their charm wears thin when they are alone. I assure you if you are down in that crowd it does not. Su, the lead singer has quite a commanding presence on stage, one well honed and one that grows with each performance.
After this spectacular intro our good chum Will would go on to creep on the ladies fashion describing it as “Xena, Warrior Princess and the Sugar Plum Fairy”. It is neither of these things and is actually closer to Lolita fashion, or more specifically Gothic Lolita but with a twist. Lolita fashion is huge in Japan and has now spread to other countries too. Personally I think the style is fresh and adds something to the theatrics of the show. Now back when they first started the Sugar Plum Fairy comment made sense but these days that is a hard no !
Also the choice to criticize their clothing is ridiculous because every musical act ends up having a specific style that they need to stick too. Goth bands tend to wear all black, metal try and look as rough as possible, rock bands tend to try and have the every-man look, girl groups for some reason always up the sex appeal in their shows and for some reason Babymetal and the conservative choice of clothing is the one that crosses the line? (Will if you knew anything about Japanese pop groups such as AKB48 you would understand that these outfits are very common.)
Also who the hell references Xena anymore?
Will then talks about the backing musicians. Right this is another common misconception. The band are known as the Kami Band and they are musicians in their own right and quite talented. This is brave hero of a writer goes on to say that the band was not inviting anyone to take this too seriously, he was correct in this observation because they where too busy encouraging people to have a good time.
Next up Willy dumps on the song Oh! Majinai by saying this:
“For one song, the Russian-themed Oh! Majinai, an accompanying film showed a muscular robot man dancing about in a Terminator-like fashion, his totalitarian authority diminished somewhat by his mohican having a bald patch in the middle.”
This Robot Man is Joakim Broden lead singer of Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton. These guys have been going for 21 years and being from Sweden you know they know a thing or two about Heavy Metal. (In a nice note during Oh! Majinal the girls even do a variant on Hambo a traditional form of Swedish folk dancing)
In the final paragraph he speaks about “the three members worshiping at the altar of the fox god pandered to metal’s phantasmagoric tendencies.” This is the Kitsune and ties in with the bands own mythology, for instance instead of doing the classic Sign of the Horns the fans of Babymetal do the Sign of the Fox. This was because initially, the band members were shown photos of the sign of the horns, but mistook it for the head of a fox. Rather than correct the error, the management accepted the Kitsune sign as the band’s sign. Ever since then they use it as a sign of inspiration. I wont go into the Fox worship because that involves talking about the comic that is linked to Babymetal, but as you can see the Kitsunes link to the band is quite extensive.
At face value the whole concept of Babymetal is rather ridiculous but once you get into it, well it becomes something wonderful and beautiful. The girls now sing about things that actually matter, like their change from girls to women, body issues and the state of the world. But they do this in a loud, heavy and fun way. They have teamed up with Thai rappers, Swedish Metal Gods and American Power Metal Masters, the band is adored and respected everywhere they go. Not only that but they have inspired other bands like Doll$Boxx and Deadlift Lolita. Beyond this they where the first Japanese band to chart in the Billboard Top 40 in over 50 years. At their concerts you have a healthy mix of young and old.
One might dislike how commercial this act is, but when it comes down to it, from the moment Metallica released their first music video Metal has been in the mainstream and not some freak show side act like how the Times would have you think it is. And the moment Metal went mainstream Babymetal was inevitable. To cross Metal with J-Pop is no different that both Billy Ray Cyrus and Halsey being played on country stations, or Gwen Stefani going pop or Lady Gaga kicking out a Jazz track. Music is alive and ever evolving not only that but music is art and art is subjective. Just like my mediocre writing there is always an audience out there for something.
But when it comes down to it looking through Will’s articles he seems to have a passionate dislike for Asian acts slating both Babymetal and BTS. Maybe he just hates music that is not “Western” and maybe he should not be reviewing things he does not get, because if he cannot switch off and approach something from an open and objective standpoint then why bother?
I’ve not read The Times review as it is behind a paywall here in three UK, but searching through the UK tour reviews the headline alone jarred and didn’t fit with the rest of the tour reviews which were pretty much overwhelmingly positive. I first saw them at the Sonisphere Festival in 2014 and to me they fit perfectly with Metal’s sense of the absurd. From Alice Cooper to Rammstein there had always been a strong sense of theatre in Metal. It has always been about escapism, Babymetal are the latest in a long line to understand that. By their standards this was a small tour, their first ever in the UK, and was restricted by that. I saw them at Wembley Arena in 2016 so have seen what they can do. The Live in Tokyo DVD of the same tour is quite remarkable in it’s scale, and that was four years ago!
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The times review was by a self important “journalist”. I went through their previous work and from what I can tell for a music writer they had a very limited taste. Sending them to Babymetal was pointless. But if you are a fan of their live shows I think they stuck a bunch on youtube so people can stay in and enjoy them while staying safe.
Good rebuttal. Except I take exception to your initial comment: “I will also admit that their earlier material is weak sauce, it was very much a gimmick, that gimmick being hey look at these adorable cute girls dancing to metal music and singing about chocolate.”
It sounds like you only listened to Gimme Chocolate. I know you said you were a fan, and that’s great. Just that I feel a lot of their best stuff were from their first album like Onedari Daisakusen, Catch Me If You Can, Megitsune, IDZ, Headbanger, Rondo of Nightmare.
I agree them being young cutsey girls was part of the gimmick to attract attention, but once that drew you in, you see they were a lot more substance to them.
Otherwise, your article is 100% better and more accurate than The Times crap.
First off I am a huge fan of Megitsune it was the song that introduced me to them just I found that the first album is the weaker of the 3. But I do respect your opinion. Now at live shows anything off the first album is great just I’m not a fan of it all, does that make sense lol?
And I’m glad they have outgrown the gimmick the girls are talented in their own right as is the band.
One more thing I will add is I always liked how the girls where never sexualised and are treated with respect.
So in summary 2 songs always stand out from the 1st album though there are others I like I just really like the 2nd and 3rd more. Hope you understand.
Cheers for the support and also fuck the times lol