Babymetal

BABYMETAL- the return

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After revisiting Babymetal (or BABYMETAL as the band scribes) since my initial encounter, I have begun to delve deeper into the origin of the band and have looked into their significance on the global music scene. So far I’ve learnt that the group has come together in the same fashion as other ‘idol’ bands such as One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer, and similarly to these young, vibrant, formulated pop groups, Babymetal has reached immense success not only in their home country of Japan, but appealing to both metal and non-metal fans worldwide. The band defines its style of music as an original genre known as “kawaii metal”, “kawaii” meaning cute in Japanese, and cute (as mentioned in my previous blog) is definitely an accurate description of this band. It is the creative mash up of J-Pop and heavy metal that creates this unique sound. I also found it really funny to learn that the girls in this band barely knew what metal was prior to the formation of this band- but hey, in the media these days when does anyone let the truth get in the way of a good story?

It is an obvious challenge to conduct rigorous autoethnogrpahic research about a culture from the opposite side of the world, however due to the ever-growing (and somewhat terrifying) realms of the World Wide Web, I have been able to grasp a deeper understanding of how Babymetal have evolved and why they are so popular. There are thousands upon thousands of posts on Reddit regarding Babymetal, and while there is immense support from Japanese fans, it appears that their fandom is equally as extensive with fans from the US and UK. There are fan clubs devoted to the band left, right, and centre, and the fan-base is collectively known as “The One”. The fan-base is a mixture of ‘metal heads’ who love the musical aspect of the band, and J-Pop lovers who are crazy about their costumes and style. I found it really interesting to find many pages on Reddit dedicated solely to Babymetal ‘memes’ which transcend both Japanese and Western culture. In my previous post I also noted the humour behind the song “Gimme Chocolate,” however I’ve learned thus far that the lyrical themes found in many of Babymetal’s songs reflect real-world issues, particularly aimed towards young girls. Ideas such as encouraging young teens to accept and stand up for themselves, as well as rejecting the idea that the “ideal women” has to be thin (hence the song about eating chocolate), allows this band to be a role model for young Japanese girls. No wonder they are so popular with the Japanese youth.b1b781c1e80256f61b16a25034dc5038

I also looked at how Japanese fans access music, and while Babymetal are popular on American music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, I found that Spotify is not used in Japan and Apple Music and still very new there, instead, Japanese music streaming app Line Music is the most popular media used to listen to Babymetal. Youtube also remains to be a very popular tool used to consume the work of Babymetal as the costuming and theatrics are a leading part of the band’s success.

In order to conduct further autoethnographic research and begin to make sense of Babymetal, it is important that I look back at my initial encounter with the band and determine what the defining factors were which allowed me to make sense of the music I was listening to. In my previous blog, I noted that it took me a while to even realise that the song I was listening to was not in English. I believe this may have been the case because as I have mentioned, I am not a fan of heavy metal, so upon hearing the loud, heavy sounds of the drums and electric guitar, it is likely that I simply tuned out as normally this is not the kind of music I pay attention to or enjoy. Also, the fact that what I heard was on an Australian national radio station contributed to the element of surprise as I was certainly not expecting to hear a Japanese metal band in the early hours of a Wednesday night. The rarity of hearing a Japanese song on the radio added to my interest

The culture and context of my initial autoethnographic experience significantly impacted my understanding of the band and the music at hand. I inevitably viewed Babymetal through an Australian/Western cultural lens, therefore my way of understanding the music I was listening to was by comparing it to other metal music that I was aware of. I compared Babymetal to Australian ‘metalcore’ band Amity Affliction as I could draw similarities between the two bands as I find that while the music of Amity Affliction is considered metal, I don’t consider it as heavy as other bands in that genre and find that some of their songs have catchy choruses and hooks. I feel like this is the kind of metal that gets more airplay on the radio, therefore I could relate to Babymetal in this way.

This is only the beginning of my autoethnographic research into this unique group, however it has been fascinating to learn of the band’s popularity due to their individuality, and their role as a model for young women. I’m really excited to learn more and construct my independent research project.

 

Baby who?

For my individual autoethnographic research project, the focus of my investigation will be on the adorable Japanese metal band, Babymetal. The genre of music is a cross between Japanese Pop (J-Pop) and metal, and the effeminate voices of the three girls which make up Babymetal bring a refreshing change to the rock/metal genre.
I was first introduced to the band around six months ago. I love music and have been a fan of alternate styles of music for as long as I can remember, (however I must admit heavy metal has never been a preference of mine). One day as I was listening to Triple J on my apprehensive drive to work, I came across a song that I was unfamiliar with, a song that was both funky, yet heavy to a certain degree. I found myself really enjoying it even though metal is not my thing at all, and it was extremely evident that the music wasn’t stereotypical metal, more a combination of a few different genres.

I was so focused on the instrumentals of this track that, admittedly, it took me around two minutes to realise that the song I was listening to wasn’t actually in English, and that’s what intrigued me the most. Triple J considers itself a radio station for ‘alternate’ music, but in reality the music played is very westernised and it’s rare to hear a song in a different language or from a different cultural background. When the song finished the presenter announced that the artist was a Japanese metal band named Babymetal and that this ‘new’ group was taking the world by storm. I legitimately could not think of another Japanese artist that I know of or have heard on the radio, so I was quick to look up a bit about the band and what they were about. It was from this day, when I heard a Japanese metal band amongst the acoustic sounds of Chet Faker and the electronic vibes of Tame Impala, that I discovered a new found liking towards metal, and a new found respect for Triple J for exposing this diverse sound to Australian audiences.

DIGC330 is allowing me to revisit my affinity towards this band, and learn more about the style of music and culture in both an analytical and emotional way. Through autoethnographic practices such as ‘discerning patterns of cultural experience evidenced by field notes and/or artifacts, and then describing these patterns using facets of storytelling’ (Ellis, 2011) , I will obtain a deeper understanding of the band and their global reception, and aim to answer the question- what is Baybymetal?
I’ve only had a few brief encounters with Babymetal since I was first introduced to the band and I still know very little of their origin and style, so I am eager to begin my autoethnographic research. As if have not yet conducted research into the history of the band and their relevance in Japan (and the rest of the world) I decided to watch a couple of video clips produced by the band and note my observations prior to my research:

Video 1: KARATE- BABYMETAL | 20,522,673 views

• The song that I heard and seemingly the only song that gets played on Australian radio
• Eerie costumes- gothic skull like, yet feminine in the sense that they’re white and glowing
• Use of karate movements and poses as form of dance
• Powerful/thrilling graphics – gothic
• Costuming a significant part of the video – represents different sides to the narrative
• Although the music is ‘hardcore’, their voices remain feminine
• Catchy chorus
• Genre is metal but not as hardcore as traditional metal
• Even though they’re dressed in scary/gothic clothing and accompanied by loud drumbs and electric guitar, I can’t help but think how cute they are
• Use of Japanese tradition – catching fly with hand
• Style of music reminds me of Amity Affliction – heavy but still mainstream
• Refreshing to hear a female voice in this genre
• Don’t usually like this genre but actually really enjoy this song

Video 2: BABYMETAL – ギミチョコ!!- Gimme chocolate!! (OFFICIAL) 59,191,425 views


• Haven’t heard this song before but chose to watch this one because it had the most views
• Costumes significant- gothic yet feminine
• Drums heavy and loud
• Live performance video
• Dancing is succinct and a huge part of the performance
• Cute playful dancing
• Pitch remains high
• Don’t understand the lyrics but appear playful and ironic- “gimme chocolate” innocent and childlike juxtaposed to the heavy music and gothic costumes
• Red and black tutu with leather jacket- irony
• Clearly don’t take themselves too seriously- often seen giggling throughout the performance
• Some sing about loss and heart break, these girls sing about chocolate
• Remain to have cheeky smiles on their face
• VERY big crowd watching

Once I utilise sites such as Reddit and YouTube as field sites for my autoethnographic research, along with other means of research online, my next blog will revisit my initial observations and decipher what was significant to me and why. The use of epiphanies through my research will build the basis of my digital artifact and contribute to my understanding of the significance of Babymetal.

A Research Week – Babymetal

I wanted to incorporate into my Prezi presentation some background research about each of the groups I am focussing on, with a particular focus on Babymetal, as I wanted to really try and understand how a group of three young Japanese girls could come together to build a career around performing full on metal music across the world, and why I, along with the rest of the world, found their style and music to be so interesting and attention capturing.

I am going to be incorporating a lot of my research into my Prezi presentation but I wanted to note down a few of the things I have learned about Babymetal so far;

Babymetal formed in 2010 as a subunit of the Japanese idol craze with the aim that it would try and channel fusion metal and idol-styled music in what would become a “newborn” genre of metal. It features three girls – Su-Metal (16) as the lead vocalist, and Yuimetal (15) and Moametal (15) as the two back up dancers and singers. In their short career, Babymetal have already played a number of huge metal festival, including being the youngest act ever to play at the metal festival Loud Park in Japan alongside Bring Me the Horizon and Trivium among others.

Metal has always been a genre renowned for being hard-hitting, fast, heavy and confronting, and a typically male dominated genre. So what does this say about the future of metal if three young Japanese girls have captured the attention of metal fans across the globe? Is the idea of metal changing and being moulded differently? Are Babymetal challenging the genre or encouraging a greater audience of people who typically would avoid metal? Do we find ‘electro-metal’ to be more exciting or modern in today’s musical society? These are the questions I hope to be able to explore within my Prezi presentation, and present why I have personally been drawn to Babymetal, as well as other Japanese metal groups.

I spoke about transitioning through genres in Japanese metal in my last post, and I wanted to leave you with this Babymetal music video that perfectly encapsulates trying to fit as many styles into a song as you possibly can.

Bringing the heavy to a slightly different audience

I am a big metal music fan and as a result, the concept of a Japanese band known as ‘Babymetal’, fronted by three teenage Japanese girls from a pop/”idol” background performing heavy metal and metalcore type music really intrigued me. I decided to explore their music through their music videos they have released on YouTube.

My first experiences with the band were quite mixed. Their songs are predominantly sung in Japanese, with a very small amount of English being used. While I don’t understand the Japanese language, and I was drawn in by the high-energy of the girls and how well they have adjusted to performing music with heavy guitars, drums and big synth sounds. I found that the music also blends tradition Asian instruments well with Western styles of guitar playing and drumming which appealed to me from a cultural position as I feel it’s something that isn’t really done in today’s heavy music.

The Babymetal video clips really encouraged me to think about issues of gender within both Japanese and metal culture. These three girls manage to retain the intensity of the heavy music genre, while opening it up to broader audiences with their J-pop influences, completely disregarding the typically male metal presence, which has even led to them being dubbed as “kawaii metal.”

It was easy for me to find information about Babymetal because of how popular they’ve grown over the last year, with their Youtube videos gaining millions of views worldwide. They have an official website, YouTube channel with over 230,000 subscribers, and a Facebook page with nearly half a million likes which all pop up on the first page of my search on Google.

Overall, their music really intrigued me to continue exploring heavy music in an Asian (particularly Japanese) cultural setting. I thought the choruses were big, catchy and exciting, and the blend of traditional Asian instruments and big guitars and drums only served to peak my curiosity. I will continue to delve deeper into this cultural phenomenon.

References:

1. BABYMETAL OFFICIAL WEB SITE. 2014. BABYMETAL OFFICIAL WEB SITE. [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.babymetal.jp/home/. [Accessed 12 August 2014].

2. Japanese teen pop meets death metal in an explosion of awesome. 2014. Japanese teen pop meets death metal in an explosion of awesome. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dailydot.com/lol/babymetal-metal-japanese-pop/. [Accessed 12 August 2014].

3. BABYMETALofficial – YouTube. 2014. BABYMETALofficial – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/user/BABYMETALofficial/videos. [Accessed 12 August 2014].

BABYMETAL

“BABYMETAL” went viral at the beginning of this year and simply put is a band that has combined J-Pop and metal. When I first saw this video I thought it was amazing and was incredibly intrigued by it because to me it’s such a strange concept; the combination of J-Pop and metal. I think Western cultures have an automatic reaction to Japanese culture as being a bit kooky and weird but I also think this is a lack of understanding and knowledge of the culture. My automatic reaction to this video was along the lines of “why?” why was it necessary to combine these two genres but the more I watched it the more I loved it, it may not be everyone’s taste but I think most people would be able to see the genius of it.

After watching their video for “ギミチョコ!!- Gimme chocolate!!” I wanted to understand why and how BABYMETAL was created thus filling some of the “unexplainable holes in my general understanding”. I was already aware of the fact that in Japan a lot of music groups are “manufactured”, meaning talent agencies create the groups. This was exactly how BABYMETAL was formed, their producer wanted to mix Japanese teen pop with metal.

As with in the lecture where we discussed what the “J” in j-pop stands for; in the case of BABYMETAL the way they emulate Japanese culture is the way they dress (similar to manga and anime characters), their synchronized dance routines and their “kawaii” (or “cute”) vocals. If you were to watch their videos without any sound they would look like most other J-Pop Idol Groups but less preppy, with the sound switched on they’re in a league of their own.

The different sites I used when exploring BABYMETAL was the video itself, which went viral via YouTube, as well as other YouTube videos, which discussed and reacted to BABYMETAL. The second time I came across BABYMETAL was in another YouTube video as part of a series created by YouTubers The Fine Brothers called “YouTubers React to BABYMETAL”. As the name would suggest, in said video various YouTubers react to BABYMETAL for the first time. Watching that video adds a whole new layer to my experience in that it shows people who reacted exactly the same as me or completely differently highlighting a new perspective on the phenomenon that is BABYMETAL.

Pop, Metal, Japan and Me

About six months ago someone shared the YouTube clip below on Facebook with some accompanying confession of guilt over how catchy they found it. The thumbnail and description for the embedded video made it pretty obvious that this was a Japanese pop (J-pop) song and having already acquired a taste for J-pop some years ago I decided to check it out. I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting.

When I saw Babymetal for the first time I was struck with sudden shock and amusement. While the vocals and choreography are undeniably lifted straight from the J-pop handbook, it had been married with the somewhat unlikely partner “metal”. What was more unusual was that it worked despite the fact the heavy metal elements being likely to alienate many J-pop fans and vice versa. But as a fan of both genres I felt like I had found a valuable favourite in the vast music landscape. So I immediately sought out more.

The above song is the one that really won me over and it wasn’t until after a few listens that I realized why. I realized that the melody was an appropriation from a piece of traditional Japanese folk music called Sakura that I had actually been introduced to in my very early childhood by an episode of the Australian children’s program Playschool. Suddenly this simple pop-metal mashup struck another unlikely balance between personal nostalgia for a Caucasian Australian and the traditions of Japanese culture. I do not speak Japanese, so the lingual meanings of the song are completely lost on me. But through my own nostalgia and recollection that Sakura is “the cherry blossom song” I do get a strange sense of meaning from the song, although I am aware that this meaning could be largely unique to me.

But Babymetal taught me something else about modern Japanese music and my own hidden assumptions. I realized that up until this point I had viewed J-pop in relation to the American pop I had grown up with, as if J-pop was merely a flavour of something that America had created. I saw Japanese music as “doing what Westerners do, but better” without really considering that Japanese musicians are also drawing from their own culture and creating something of their own.