7 Strange Aspects Of Japan's Pop Idol Metal Music Scene
Recently, Stephen Colbert introduced North American television audiences to Babymetal. For those who didn't see that episode or haven't run across them on the internet yet, Babymetal is Japan's premier idol metal band. Ha ha, I explained gibberish with more gibberish, and now you want me off your lawn so you can take a nap and cool down. But give me one more chance. Idol metal is a genre of music whereby pop idols, your Selena Gomezes and your Taylor Swifts, front a heavy metal band and sing heavy metal songs, though potentially still about pop music topics like kittens, chocolate, and fun. Or maybe karate and parasites, whatever. I found the whole thing fascinating and endeavored to learn more.
They Start 'Em Young
Babymetal appeared in 2014 when the band members were 14 and 16 years old. That's a pretty decent age to start singing demonic J-pop, but it's not particularly noteworthy. Death Rabbits was started with members who were 11, 12, and 13, a fact that is exponentially creepier when you consider their fans are probably a big bunch of headbanging single men with corrective lenses and bad skin who live in a country that invented schoolgirl-panty vending machines.
Is there a particular reason why they need to be so young? Probably no more reason than why your phone needs to be so thin, except for the darkly sexual side to everything we find off-putting about Japanese culture.
Not to suggest every fan of bands like Babymetal is a pedophile or anything, but apparently there is a hearty culture of weird shit in major cities like Tokyo, things like men paying for schoolgirl walking dates that are mostly fronts for child-sex rings. But hey, what do I know? This may have nothing to do with that and certainly isn't at the very least tangentially exploiting that marketplace. Probably. Which brings us to ...
It's Hard To Tell If It's Supposed To Be Sexual
Japan seems to get away with a lot of shit because we don't get it. If someone installed a panty vending machine outside of a Stuckey's in your neck of the woods, that shit would not go over well at all. Nor would an entire subculture of sexualized schoolgirls dressed as sailors, because nautical debauchery is still debauchery, and we want to keep our kids away from that. Unless it's in Japan and we can't tell if it's dirty or not. We think it is -- everyone is pretty convinced Japan is as perverted as all the dirty uncles in America combined into one PerVoltron -- but since we're not sure, we keep inviting them over for Christmas and just watching them with sidelong glances. A lot of 'em.
This video by New Idol Order is about 14 minutes long, so if you can sit through the whole thing, you're a trooper. They're not nearly as polished as Babymetal, and their music is less music and more rage-screaming in a mall food court, which seems to be where this was filmed. But I include it for illustrative purposes. Stroll through the video and stop on the crowd scenes, and see if you can count the number of people who seem to be extremely engaged in the show yet at the same time seem to be the sorts of people who maybe need to inform you when they move into the neighborhood. I'm saying maybe is all; I have no definitive answers. I just find it weird when I see balding and graying men headbanging to teenagers in a mall.
The Babymetal song "Gimme Chocolate," if the lyrics translations I found are to be believed, is legitimately about wanting to eat chocolate. How the fuck is that even possible?
I'm whatever the opposite of naive is. I do desperate things for money; we all know that. So when I see teen girls in skirts and fishnets bending over frequently and doing hip gyrations, I can read between the lines. There's some shit going on here beyond the desire for a Butterfinger. I'm on to you, Japan. I just don't understand how or why. But I'll get it one day.
It's Catchy As Hell
You may have noticed two things about "Gimme Chocolate." You have no idea what they're saying, and you'd totally listen to it again because it's more appealing than your average North American pop hit these days. This is some weirdly catchy music. How and why? Because Japan clearly perfected the pop machine years ago. They're so good at Bieber-style pop music they don't even need to make it the same genre anymore. They give it to death metal bands and let teen girls sing it, because who cares? It's like a millionaire lighting a cigar with a $20 bill -- who gives a shit?
Here's another single from Babymetal that's even more catchy than the last song.
What the fuck is that song about? It's called "Karate," and it seems to be about fighting Swarovski skeletons and a black guy who's trying out for Cirque Du Soleil. I don't need more of a plot than that in a movie, let alone a music video, so this is OK.
My handy translation site tells me this song is about fighting. I know, right? The general thesis can be best summed up with this line: Let's fight on even if we get sad and unable to stand up. Japanese schoolgirl fights sound intense. So intense that you get sad and maybe can't get up. Cirque Du Soleil guy doesn't know what he's up against.
The weird part, or a weird part in addition to several other weird parts, is that as near as I can tell most of the lyrics don't translate at all. Which isn't to say "seiya soiya" is some kind of brilliant Japanese witticism that we can't quite shift to English; it's just literally Japan's version of "doo wah diddy diddy" or whatever the hell Rihanna is saying in "Work." Just a bunch of B.S. that fits the music.
Pay close attention here; shit gets real around 30 seconds in.
So everyone was inspired by Friday The 13th here but in a weird Muppet Babies kind of way. Why is there a Jason-themed toilet paper thrower? Was that from Friday The 13th Part 3: Jason Cheats At Tickle Fights?
The idea seems to be the merging of horror imagery and weirdly childish imagery. This is a thing in Japan that I can't explain, but it's definitely a big part of their entertainment industry. Anime and hentai are just lousy with this shit: your Sailor Moons and your Poking Mans and whatnot. Kids and monsters everywhere. Even the most popular Japanese horror movies that get remade for American audiences like The Grudge and The Ring rely heavily on children for the creep factor. My only conclusion is that the Japanese have an unfortunate relationship with and understanding of children.
For the ultimate in Japan's puerile horror, why not check out the ABCs Of Death and watch "F Is For Fart"? Or, better yet, just look here (NSFW):
It appears to be dubbed perhaps in Russian, but that shouldn't lessen or add to your confusion in any way. This movie is so awful you may start to second-guess yourself and wonder if it's avant-garde in a way you don't understand and is actually brilliant satire or something. It's not. It's some fart-fetishist wank joke contribution to an anthology horror series. But it does feature a schoolgirl dying in her teacher's toxic fart and then the two of them making out inside her ass afterward, which you almost never see on film these days.
This definitely plays into that creepy sexualization of schoolgirls again, but in a way no one wants. Unless this fart thing is big in Japan. Japanese fans, feel free to comment on that. Is there a booming fart sex industry in Tokyo? That shit needs to be worked on, if so. I'd judge my own country just as harshly, but that's wrong. Any sex based around the enjoyment of feces, be it the texture, flaming bags containing it, or the smell, is wrong, and I stand by that opinion.
It Has Inspired Imitators
Because anything Japan can do, Australia can do drunker, Ladybaby exists. Fronted by Ladybeard, who sometimes goes by the name Richard Magarey, a sometime-pro-wrestler with a penchant for wearing dresses and lady clothes, the band has a very similar vibe to Babymetal -- if you swap one teen girl for the devil's personal trainer.
Closer to Japan, Korea has PRITZ -- Pretty Rangers In The Terrible Zone. Aww, that's adorable. Oh wait, they dress like Nazis. Well, that's a fashion faux pas. At least the back-up band is adorable and looks like they walked out of Adventure Time.
There Are Adult Versions
If the "baby" aspect of Babymetal is too much for you, you can always settle in for the dulcet tones of something like Wagakki Band, which is Babymetal but 10 years from now. The sound is more mature yet still metal, with an anime-character lead singer and a bunch of Final Fantasy characters playing back up.
All this video needs is a Chocobo and overly ostentatious animation for when you cast Bahamut and it does only 6,000 damage, and that won't even kill a Marlboro, but you know the stupid plant is going to status effect your whole team right up the ass the next round.
It'll Never Catch On Here
In an ironic twist, no matter how catchy these songs are, they're not quite catchy enough for a North American audience to care. They're catchy in the way that something like goji berry and blueberry juice is tasty. You enjoyed it the one time you had it, but you're not about to replace your Sunny D with it. That would be ludicrous.
Idol metal is kind of like Gwar, or maybe even Slipknot:
It's very theatrical and loud, and it takes you out of your comfort zone in that way that makes you stare with an arched eyebrow and then forward it to a friend, and at the end of the week it made front page of Reddit but by next month you forgot it even existed.
Why pay attention to idol metal at all? Because it's one more thing to know. It's a fact, a wrinkle in your brain you can use to win a game of Trivial Pursuit one day. Because no one knows everything, but if you aspire to learn it all, this is just one more piece that you'll need.
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