Japanese pop culture is one of extreme collisions – the weird, colourful and ridiculous crashing into the dark, disturbing and strange. For every TV show where grimacing contestants sit on giant blocks of ice, freezing their genitals off in the name of entertainment and cash, there is a beautifully rendered, provocative anime that draws global admiration. Japan's music landscape is no different. Idols, such as a gargantuan girl group AKB48, Momoiro Clover Z or J-Pop queens Perfume, nestle alongside the country's always popular hard rock and metal scene, currently helmed by anti-girlband BABYMETAL.
When the brains behind idol group Sakura Gakuin took three members – Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-metal), Moa Kikuchi (Moametal) and Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal) – and fused their high pitched melodies with thrash, audiences and critics alike were divided over their genre-clashing sound. Nearly three years later, the three-piece boast international sold-out shows, including recent dates at London's Electric Ballroom and The Forum, where the venues were rammed with tattooed and sweaty dudes head-banging with abandon alongside the teenage attendees. Next up, they will replace K-pop pixies Crayon Pop as the opening act on Lady Gaga's ARTRAVE tour, starting from July 30 in Phoenix.
The real challenge? To rise above the gimmick tag given to them by critics who liken them to the freak success of PSY. Yet for hardcore fans, BABYMETAL have far more to offer than the average lolita idol. Basically, you’re more liable to get an accidental punch in the face at a show than be hit by a flying Hello Kitty! It's kawaii, but not as you know it.
When BABYMETAL began none of you knew anything about metal music in any of its forms. Have you become more familiar with the scene in Japan and internationally? Do you listen to other bands, and which ones do you like?
BABYMETAL: We have participated in many festivals as BABYMETAL and had many chances to perform with many bands. On those occasions, we were honoured to perform together with Metallica in Summer Sonic and Trivium in Loud Park. We've also became more familiar with many other bands.
You have your 'fox sign', which is close to the devil horns, and on stage you use a pentacle with a fox in the centre and fox masks. Even the lyrics of “Megitsune” talk about women as vixens. Can you explain the symbolism of the fox and about the Fox God?
BABYMETAL: The fox is known as a symbol of guardian in Japanese Mythology from ancient times. At first, we thought that the devil horns were a shadowgraph of a fox and that led to the birth of the fox sign. Since then, we chose to use the fox sign as our symbol.
Which is your favourite BABYMETAL song?
BABYMETAL: Our favourite song is “Gimme Chocolate!!” because the lyrics and choreography are so cute. The concert always becomes really lively when we play it because of the fan reactions.
And which song do you think your fans love the most?
BABYMETAL: We think the fans love “Ijime, Dame, Zettai” the most. This song is always performed at the end of a concert and even the fans who watched it for the first time at the festivals did the “Dame Jump” dance move during it.
Your costumes are based around a Gothic Lolita style – which of them has been most fun to wear?
BABYMETAL: The Gothic costume used in the “BABYMETAL” Limited Edition CD album because we like the matureness of it.
Your performances are so energetic but which song is the hardest to perform?
BABYMETAL: “Megitsune” is the hardest to perform. We have incorporated a singing method that we do not usually use called Enka (Japanese ballad) into the song and the choreography is dynamic.
The mixing of idol music and metal was always going to be hard for some to understand. Why do you think BABYMETAL have become so loved?
BABYMETAL: We believe that it's because we are one of a kind. BABYMETAL has the originality that no other metal bands could manage to imitate. Besides, the performance of the backing band is great so we believe that metal fans could enjoy it.
What do your friends think of your music and do they come to any live shows?
BABYMETAL: Our friends came to watch us at our concert in Tokyo. They also sing and dance to the songs of BABYMETAL in their daily lives so we believe they like our songs.
BABYMETAL were laughed at during some of the first shows, and Su previously mentioned a sign that said なんじゃこりゃ？！– which translates as 'what the fuck?!' How did you deal with that adversity?
BABYMETAL: When we were performing as idols in the past we felt embarrassed when being laughed at. However, when we were performing as BABYMETAL, we felt that we'd done a good job when the audience were surprised and laughed. We believe that it was the time when SU-METAL was born. We didn't know about mosh pits and things like that at first, so we were surprised when we saw people crowd-surfing. But now we feel very happy about how energetic the fans get, and that we can respond to their energy.
Lady Gaga has been choosing Japanese and Korean artists to support her on the ArtRave tour, and you guys are going to be a part of it. What are your thoughts about opening up her show?
BABYMETAL: We were very surprised when we first heard that we were being invited to perform on the tour. We could not believe this. We will perform very hard so that even people who first watch BABYMETAL would be interested in our performance.
You played Sonisphere but also two sold out London shows. Did you realise you have such a passionate fanbase here? Which is more exciting - playing your own shows or playing a huge festival?
BABYMETAL: We didn't realise the size of the fanbase here in London so we were very surprised to hear that the two shows sold out. We enjoy watching how the show becomes more and more excited from the first song to the last song in a festival, but we also feel very happy when the fans sing with us in our own shows.
And what were you wanting to do while you're visiting the UK?
BABYMETAL: We wanted to visit Buckingham Palace and the clock tower of “Peter Pan” (Big Ben).
What is the future for BABYMETAL? What would you like to achieve in the next 1 - 2 years?
BABYMETAL: Eventually, we would like to create a one of a kind genre called “BABYMETAL” which is the fusion of Kawaii and Metal.
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