The metal world — or at least the metal blogosphere — has been pretty shaken up lately by Japan’s latest metal eruption, Babymetal.
A mishmash of metal and schoolgirl pop, Babymetal is one of the those crazy ideas that could only have originated in Japan. Now, Japanese metal has long been strange, as anyone who has seen or heard X Japan can attest, but Babymetal takes the weird to new heights.
Fronted by three teen girls who range in age from 14 to 16 (and look much younger), Babymetal combines Slipknot style instrumental brutality with a pop sweetness and wholesomeness that causes some metal fans to rip out their beards. Instead of blood, fire and death, Babymetal’s three singers/dancers sing about bullying, being happy and, yes, chocolate.
The band has sold out the few shows they’ve played in the U.S., have been praised by Lady GaGa and have been treated like royalty at major metal fests by bands like Slayer, Metallica and Anthrax. But for every fan of the band, there’s another foe on the metal webs, ready to accuse Babymetal fans of being poseurs or pedophiles.
Just how bizarre is Babymetal? Maybe you just have to see it for yourself.
So, is Babymetal bad for metal? Is it “true metal,” or is it a bad parody at best, or a abomination and practical joke at metal’s expense at worst?
Frankly, Babymetal is probably the best thing that’s happened to metal this century, at least in terms of breaking boundaries and growing metal’s audience.
Despite protestations to the contrary, metal is a boy’s club. Sure, there are women in metal bands, and women who are metal fans, but the culture that still rules the scene is sexist and full of macho bullsh*t.
You don’t have to look hard to find examples, but here are a couple just off-hand. Exhibit A: “Porn Star Dancing,” by My Darkest Days. Let’s put aside the fact that the song is musically terrible (how much did Zach Wilde drink before cashing his check and widdling his way through that “guest” solo?) and look at what the song is about. That’s right, it’s about a douchebag who can’t understand why girls don’t like him (hint: he’s a douchebag), so he spends his days at the strip bar. “I know a place where there’s always a show/the dollars decide how far you can go,” the singer, whoever he is, warblers in all his epic douchebaggery. So, essentially, we have a song that objectifies woman and portrays them as prostitutes. Well, that’s what I want my daughter listening to, don’t you?
Exhibit B: The Pretty Reckless. Musically, this is a band where the sum never adds up to the musical parts. It seems everyone in the band is talented, but the end result is always less-than interesting. But again, let’s put the music aside and look at how the band’s lead singer, Taylor Momsen, is portrayed.
As you might expect from a former teen model and “Gossip Girl” star, TPR’s videos are full of shot’s of Momsen wearing scanty clothes and posing seductively for the camera. Sex sells CDs as much as it sells beer and everything else, but I’m not sure there’s much in TPR’s image for teen girls. “Look pretty and the boys will like you” is a message girls get from every other aspect of pop culture. Force-feeding it to them yet again in metal (which is allegedly an escape from pop culture) seems demeaning.
Enter Babymetal, who are both musically adept and not-at-all sexualized. Even Babymetal haters have to agree the band is musically first-rate — and anyone who says lead singer Suzuka Nakamoto (aka Su-Metal) can’t sing are simply being dismissive for hate’s sake. There’s some real talent here — and I’d argue a genre that invented death metal can’t really complain about a singer’s vocals (disclaimer: I also love death metal).
While Babymetal may seem like “metal for kids” or, perhaps “metal for teen girls,” neither of those things are at all bad. Metal needs new fans, and more women fans, if the genre is going to avoid stagnation. The generation of kids gravitating to Babymetal today will be taking that influence making their own brand of metal tomorrow. If you want metal to stay exactly the same, you’re just like a classical music fan who hates modern classical and only listens to Mozart.
Also, the sexist attitudes of metal (foisted upon us, perhaps, by the hair metal bands in the 1980s before the stereotypes took on lives of their own) are outdated and degrading to everyone involved. Metal isn’t a boy’s club anymore, and needs to start accepting that women at shows are not just groupies or girls dragged there by their boyfriends.
There need to be strong women in metal, especially for young girls, who are hypersexualized and bombarded with negative images pretty much from puberty on. Babymetal, by putting absolutely no emphasis on sex, gives girls a cool, tough and yet sweet set of metal icons.
We, the metal community, needed Babymetal. Thank god they finally arrived. May others — equally fearless, empowering and innovative — follow in their wake.