Once Upon a Time, Babymetal's Members Admit They Were 'Afraid' of Metal
Few bands shook up the metal scene like Babymetal did when its self-titled album was released in the United States in 2014 and the track “Gimme Chocolate!!” became a YouTube smash with a view tally that now exceeds 48 million. The Japanese act caused a stir — not because three teen girls were fronting the group, but due to the unabashed pop influence and polish that permeates Babymetal’s aesthetic. From the identical red-and-and-black outfits worn by singers Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal to their carefully orchestrated choreography to their candid admission that they weren’t metal fans before receiving the calling from the Fox God (the divine entity that created the band, wink, wink) to join the act, Babymetal guilelessly trampled all over metal’s sacred-cow mentality that music must never appear to be a commercially influenced endeavor.
One reason the trio (which is backed by a great live outfit called the Kami Band) is getting away with it is due to headbangers appreciating that three girls who didn’t initially listen to metal were still willing to embrace the genre and introduce something fresh to its sound. The act is also bringing the music some welcome mainstream attention: Lady Gaga had Babymetal open several shows for her while she was touring in 2014, and the band performed on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on April 5 to promote its second album, Metal Resistance, which arrived April 1 in the states on RED Associated Labels. The album was the first Japanese set to chart in the top 40 of the Billboard 200 (it debuted at No. 39 with 12,000 copies sold) in 53 years. It has produced the video hit “Karate,” which currently exceeds 10 million YouTube views, and the group’s first song in English, “The One,” whose video exclusively premiered on Billboard.com.
Babymetal begins a world tour tonight with a sold-out show at New York’s Playstation Theater tonight (May 4) and will play of mix of headlining dates and festivals throughout the summer, including June’s Download event in Paris and a return date to the Tokyo Dome in September. Chatting through an interpreter, Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal sat down with Billboard at RED’s New York offices to discuss Metal Resistance, what they think of the opinion that they aren’t a real metal band, and the type of fans who attend their shows.
What is the biggest difference between this album and your self-titled debut in terms of the music and the lyrics?
Yuimetal says that compared to the first album and definitely the second album they challenged themselves to a lot of new, different types of genres of music, even more than before, so that’s really exciting for them. The other thing is the lyrics are more positive than before. There’s a lot of messages that they want to put out across to fans, and another interesting thing was they tried to do a full English song. And because of the wide variation of music and content that’s in this new album, Yuimetal feels that more people should be able to pick up and get into their music, as compared to before.
Where did the album title Metal Resistance come from?
Su-metal says “metal resistance” is a word that is not new to them. It has been around for a while. They’ve been using this word a lot in their past tours, and it expresses what they do as Babymetal. It’s about them exploring new, different aspects of what they can do. Another thing is that they always try to get everybody to come together as one, so that’s also their metal resistance. That’s why they decided to take those words for their second metal album, because it represents where they are right now.
Was there a particular message the Fox God asked you to spread for this album?
Su-metal says it’s not anything she heard directly from the Fox God; they’ve never met the Fox God. What she feels is the message they want to put across with this album is to get everyone to come together as one. They just performed at Wembley Arena in London [on April 2], and Su-metal thinks they managed to do that because there were a lot of people there and everybody really did come together at the very end. They were all united together as one, so she feels that probably the Fox God wants them to continue to do this, spread their music all over the world to get everybody to come together and to reach out to people who are still unaware of who they are.
Explain the concept behind the video for “Karate.”
Moametal says that karate is obviously a form of martial arts that originated from Japan, so it’s something that she’s very proud of that they are now representing this culture that came from Japan through their music, and it’s a way for more people outside of Japan also to learn what karate is all about. As for what the song is about, in the music video, for example, they implement a lot of karate moves into the choreography, and on top of that, the lyrics are about never giving up and always moving forward, no matter what difficulties you have to endure.
Does the choreography express part of what the lyrics are saying? Babymetal does very coordinated moves, and it’s something very new to metal.
Yuimetal says yes, of course it’s important for them to be able to express the messages that they want to put across through the music with their dance moves, just because most of their lyrics are in Japanese. It’s also one of the ways to kind of break the language barrier. At the same time, it’s also fun to include dance moves to make it more appealing and more Babymetal, because that’s what Babymetal is all about.
There are some people who don’t think what you’re doing is legitimate metal because you have brought pop into it. What do you think of that opinion?
Su-metal says obviously they’re aware of … people who don’t agree with what Babymetal do, but you know, they’re in a position where they’re happy doing what they do. Suimetal says the other thing is it’s good that they have this type of feedback, people who don’t agree to what they do, because she understands the fact that metal is metal, there’s like the purists out there who believe metal should be a certain way. But that is also good feedback for them, good input for them to also take into consideration in what they do as Babymetal. At the same time she feels it’s important for them to [stay] true to themselves because they always want to be the only one doing what they do. They enjoy what they do, they know there are people out there who enjoy what they do, and the fact that there are people out there who enjoy what they do, that’s enough for them.
What made the three of you want to become part of this band?
Moametal says that’s it’s not exactly why they wanted to become members of Babymetal. Babymetal were chosen by the Fox God. [The girls laugh].
I’m sure they were.
And because they were chosen by the Fox God to do this, they have a very specific role that they need to stick to and their aim right now is to spread their metal resistance, for one, and to spread what they do as Babymetal, so they were lucky to have been the chosen ones.
What ages of people do you see at your shows? Is it more male or female, or an even split?
Yuimetal says that their fans consist of a really large array of people … really young kids, a lot of older people, teenagers, girls, boys. There’s no one specific fan base or one specific demographic. Any of the people who are into metal music, you see them; they look like metalheads. At the same time you see people come up dressed like them, cosplaying them, and people are into pop music … Yuimetal says she hopes to be able to continue to reach out to all different types of people.
With females coming to your shows and emulating your look and choreography, that puts in the position of being a role model, per se. How does it feel to be a role model to fans?
Moametal says that first of all, they are happy to hear that they are being seen as role models for their fans or for other girls like them. But one thing that is very important is that they want to reach out to people who are younger than them. The thing is that before they became Babymetal, they themselves didn’t know much about metal. In fact, they were afraid of metal. But through being in Babymetal and the experiences they’ve gained as Babymetal, they’ve learned to love something new to them, and that’s why they hope that people who were never exposed to metal before or the type of music that they do would also be now inclined to listen to their music and have them be that stepping stone for them to get into this type of music they are doing, especially people their age and kids their age and kids younger than them, so they are very honored to be role models.