It’s not very often that there’s absolute justification in referring to a band as a musical marvel. But, Babymetal is, without a doubt, a genuine cross-genre musical phenomenon.
Blending J-pop, kawaii and thrash metal, the Japanese group consists of three teenage girls, Suzuka Nakamoto “Su-metal”, Yui Mizuno “Yuimetal”, and Moa Kikuchi “Moametal” – backed by the ‘Kami Band’, featuring the prolific and incredible guitarist Takayoshi Ohmura.
Reading ‘J-pop blended with metal’ on paper sounds like it shouldn’t work, and in theory it shouldn’t. J-Pop is fun, catchy, cute and quirky. Metal, whether it's black, thrash or death is usually pretty serious. But they’ve proved that it can, and does work, and resistance to the Babymetal phenomenon is futile.
It’s genre-defying,” says Jonathan Green, UK MD of EarMusic, the band’s label, which has a license deal for Europe with production company Amuse Inc. and Babymetal’s Japanese label Toy’s Factory Inc. The band was signed by Max Vaccaro, who runs EarMusic globally.
“They live in a genre, which only themselves inhabit,” adds Green. “We’ve been very lucky that there’s been some very open-minded people, and the internet has allowed the UK public to connect directly with them without the usual media gatekeepers and found they really love the band.”
In around three years, the group have broken at least three UK records. They achieved the highest charting album by a Japanese band in Official Charts Company’s history. They also became the first Japanese band to headline Wembley Arena, breaking the venue’s merchandise sales record on that night, selling everything at their merch stand.
The catalyst for the band’s UK live explosion was their single Gimme Chocolate!!, taken from their debut, self-titled album released in Japan in February, 2014. The video for the song went viral and within a few months their first UK performance was booked.
“I was the first person to book them in Europe.,” explains Kilimanjaro promoter Alan Day. “I was booking Sonisphere festival in around February and March 2014, the year the video went viral for the song Gimme Chocolate!! I saw it online and a lot of people were laughing about it and going, What the hell is this? And I was like, Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before.
“Metal is normally just four or five blokes playing guitar, but this is different. This is great. I Googled it, then found another song which was even better, which is called Megitsun. I found more stuff and thought, Right, this is amazing, I need this at the festival.
“A friend of mine is Ross Warnock, an agent at United Talent Agency. We spoke and I said I wanted them at Sonisphere. I did a deal with [Warnock] for them to come in to play,” he adds.
“Their unique take on metal has breathed new life into the genre,” says Warnock. There is a real demand for the band all over the UK. The show is phenomenal and that word is spreading.”
Day tells Music Week that the reaction received when the band was booked ranged from, “You can’t be serious,” to “This is going to be amazing.” Babymetal were originally booked to perform in the tent at Sonisphere, but the reaction was so big that they were moved to the main stage. We had one of the biggest crowd reactions we’ve ever seen at 1pm in the afternoon,” says Day.
“The reason I think they’re so popular is just that rock and metal is always looking for something different,” he adds. “When Slipknot exploded it was the masks, and the image. They obviously had the amazing songs to go with it, but it was the story, and the same with Rammstein. I mean what a story, and it’s one from a country that hasn’t really spawned a successful metal band before.”
Following the performance at Sonisphere in summer 2014, Babymetal were booked to play The Forum in Kentish Town. The show sold out in less than a week. “We were like, Wow, something’s really happening here,” says Day. “From The Forum show, we could see that it wasn’t just Japanese people, or people from London coming to the show, it was a completely mixed rock audience.
“There were some people who traveled, some from all over the country and some from Europe. It was just a standard rock show. People who would go and see System Of A Down, or Slipknot, or Marilyn Manson were coming to see them.”
The larger Brixton Academy show was up next in November 2014, which also sold out, and then Babymetal headlined the SSE Arena, Wembley earlier this year, becoming the first Japanese band to do so. And, as previously mentioned, that night also saw them break the venue’s record for the most merch sold in one day.
“Babymetal have a wide and eclectic fanbase that want to feel part of this movement. Their fans they are very loyal and appreciate the magnificent show that Babymetal put on,” says Gary Pettet, sales director at the band’s merch company - Merchandising For Life. “The artwork and imagery connected with the band’s unique visual aesthetic makes it easy for us to provide fans a range of product they want to purchase and treasure,“ he adds.
Gimme Chocolate!! was released digitally in the UK in May 2015 ahead of the debut album release via EarMusic. The album, which peaked at No.2 in Japan, only made it to No.103 in the UK Album Chart, but their live shows, radio play and positive attention from the rock press began to win the band a lot of UK fans. Babymetal has since sold 14,208 copies to date.
“We were lucky enough the band had already done a phenomenal performance at Sonisphere, which created incredible interest,” explains EarMusic’s Green. “They had also already done shows at The Forum and Brixton Academy and we got involved in basically planning the release of the debut album and working with our PR team to create a massive impact on an artist which basically works in the school holidays.
“The band have come at the right time, when some forward thinking people in the rock media were looking for something new, so we had a very proactive agent, a very proactive promoter and a very good PR, who connected with people in the rock media who could see that this isn’t the usual metal thing and that’s why we like it.”
Adam Sagir from The Noise Cartel, which now handles the band’s PR as well as press for Sonisphere, tells Music Week that Babymetal weren’t planning to do any interviews when they came to the UK for their first show in 2014. “They were not planning on doing any press, despite pretty much every media at the festival asking for time,” he says.
“I asked if they’d consider doing just one interview with Metal Hammer magazine, explaining that I thought it was important they establish credibility in the metal press, as ultimately the core fanbase, at least in my view, was initially going to be metalheads.
“They did, and I think the early support from Metal Hammer has really paid dividends and caused the wider music scene and media to take them much more seriously - if the leading metal title is championing them, then there is no doubting their authenticity.
“It’s very satisfying to see, just under two years on, how far this has come, especially given how many naysayers there were saying this would be a flash in the pan and refusing to take them seriously. Many of those people have since come around, especially after the strength of Metal Resistance, which in my humble opinion is a pop metal masterpiece.”
Metal Resistance was released by EarMusic in the UK on April 1 and has sold 10,470 copies (6,630 physical copies) to peak at No.15, securing the highest charting album by any Japanese band in the Official Chart Company’s history. On Friday, June 10, the band will perform on the main stage at Download festival.
“They did Leeds, Reading and Download last year. But Download was an unannounced appearance as special guests of Dragonforce. The tent was packed with 10,000 people and [the audience] went wild,” says Green.
“If somebody told us when we signed the band that this would become the biggest Japanese act of all time, it would have been quite a stretch to imagine that,” he adds.
“Over the last 18 months, the band have just grown and grown and I think we’re still seeing the potential to grow much more. Because of the limited availability of the band, I think once they can return to play more shows, the fan base is just going to grow and grow.”