Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thoughts On Babymetal

Babymetal is a Japanese product that fuses metal with J-pop idol music. The group is fronted by three teenage girls dressed in goth-like dresses, who sing pop melodies and hooks, dance choreographed routines all while being backed by a metal band. When you first see a video of the group, "what the fuck is this?" is an appropriate first reaction, especially to anything that fuses two genres and styles from the exact opposite ends of the music spectrum. You only begin to decide whether you hate it or like it only after multiple views and listens.

Babymetal has begun to take the world by storm. They released their eponymous debut album in 2014 and, on April 1st (might be fitting), have released their second album Metal Resistance. The album debuted on the Billboard 200 at #39, making them the highest ranking Japanese artist since 1963. They made their U.S. television debut on April 5th, performing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to thunderous applause and excitement and are about to embark on a world tour.

I first learned of the group last year and ever since I'm still wondering what the hell its all about, which could be me overthinking it or it could be valid. All I know is that its simply not for me and that's fine. However, a few things have crossed my mind when it comes to considering Babymetal.

Upon first seeing them in videos, I was instantly reminded of the dominant pop acts of the late '90s: The Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, 'NSYNC, Christina Aguilera. These artists overtook the mainstream music scene from rock music that was slowly slipping into the background of everyone's minds, and rock fans were not happy about it. The biggest arguments against these kind of acts were "They don't write their own music!" and "They don't play any instruments!" They were called manufactured, pre-packaged and, to put it more bluntly, fake.

So fast forward almost 20 years later and looking at Babymetal, can't the same be said about them? Also, why aren't those same arguments being applied by rock fans? Babymetal don't write their own songs and the three teenage girls who front the band have admitted they've never even heard metal before being recruited into the group. Sure, there's a band who play instruments in Babymetal, but no one knows who they are. They are referred to as the Kami Band and that's it. You rarely see their faces in any of their videos and when they perform live they're covered in face paint. The attention is fixed squarely on the girls. Are metal fans okay with that kind of commercialized appeal? If so, for how long can they hold on to the band with that being the main draw?

I'm unsure of the make-up of the group's fan base, whether the majority leans more metal or pop. I find it hard to believe that a lot of pop fans would be drawn to the band given their metal instrumentation, but I really don't know. I'd be interested in learning that.

Being a music fan, I'm always interested in hearing new and different things, and Babymetal is certainly both of those. However, the problem with fusing two genres together is the limitations it can bring. Its reminiscent of how I felt about the whole rap-rock...thing, of the late '90s as well. It fused together two popular genres of music but you couldn't really do anything with it. It had its boundaries and limitations and, after being around for a few years, it inevitably became stale and boring. Limp Bizkit went down with the ship and Kid Rock switched to a more mainstream country/rock sound.

To say that Babymetal faces the same fate isn't an outrageous thought. Becoming boring and stale is the most common disease infecting regular everyday pop music. The genre is known for having a short shelf life. Also, metal is a genre that too often finds itself complacent and recycled, staying true to certain "norms" that end up preventing the style from growing and expanding. Sure, Babymetal can toy with time signatures and meters and that's all great, but the everyday music consumer isn't going to know the difference. They're going to be considering what they hear, and if what they hear continues to be the same kind of thing without any noticeable difference, then they're on to something else.

Now, with all that said, I do see benefits on the flip side of the Babymetal coin and it starts with the group's metal foundation. Again, metal is a genre that repeats itself into complacency and what better way to get out of the tried and true groove than to have something completely different and weird to consider? Babymetal is exactly that. It gives metal fans and other metal bands something else to look at musically. They are, metaphorically speaking, throwing a wrench into things, gumming up the works. In essence, they're giving metal a kick in the ass.

Babymetal is also making fans re-evaluate certain closely held beliefs or ideologies of metal. You can find comments on any of their YouTube videos that declare how "this isn't what metal is about" or "this isn't what metal is supposed to be." This group could be upending certain "truths" to the metal genre altogether by forcing people to ask themselves what it means to be "metal", similar to the generic question of what is to be "punk"? I've learned throughout the years of being a music fan that defining genres in those terms is horseshit and reduces the intelligence of a fan base rather than promoting the individuality of the people who are a part of it. If Babymetal can make people re-evaluate how they listen to music, whatever the genre, then music as a whole benefits.

Personally, I don't give a shit about who likes Babymetal and for what reason. You like what you like. Even though the group's music isn't for me, I'm interested to see the ripple effect of their success. If nothing else, I'm glad they have guitar solos. I miss guitar solos.

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