Japanese pop-metal group Babymetal have toured with Lady Gaga and attracted monster crowds in America and Europe with their sugar-coated hard rock, but the schoolgirl trio have even bigger plans — to conquer the world.
Dressed in ‘Lolita-style’ frilly red skirts and their hair in pigtails, the teenagers told AFP in a recent interview at Tokyo’s Summer Sonic music festival that the band’s whirlwind success has fuelled their appetite to dominate the heavy metal scene.
“Our goal is not to be number one,” 16-year-old lead singer ‘Su-metal’ said before a high-octane performance in front of 20,000 head-banging fans. “Our aim is to be the only one.”
Babymetal shot to fame in 2011 when the single “Doki-Doki Morning” went viral on YouTube, their fusion of J-Pop and thrash metal forging a new genre they call ‘kawaii (cute) metal’ and earning them slots at festivals alongside giants such as Metallica, Iron Maiden and Anthrax.
A phone call from Lady Gaga followed and they opened a handful of shows for the “Born this Way” singer earlier this month.
“When we heard we would be supporting her we couldn’t believe it,” beamed Su-Metal, sitting on a sofa backstage. “She told us to keep working hard to be the best we can be. She’s amazing, the power she has.”
Their overseas shows went down a storm with metal fans unfamiliar with Japanese pop culture and its conveyor belt of bubblegum teen idols.
“When people saw us for the first time they were just open-mouthed,” added Su-metal. “Then they really got into it and started wearing Babymetal T-shirts. We’ve taken Japan’s ‘idol’ music genre of pretty girls singing and dancing and added ‘kawaii metal’, which is totally new.”
Babymetal had no idea what heavy metal was before forming four years ago.
“We had no clue what heavy metal was,” said Yuimetal, 15. “We were like ‘What’s that?’ At first we had a scary image of metal and it was hard to approach other artists. I’m not sure we understand metal perfectly yet but we’ve met lots of bands and they’ve all been really sweet to us.”
Last month, Babymetal rocked a crowd of 50,000 at Britain’s Sonisphere festival, headlined by Iron Maiden, The Prodigy and Metallica.
“Last year, we met Metallica for the first time at Summer Sonic,” said Yuimetal. “They were so kind to us it felt like they were uncles of ours. Then we heard them play, they were pure heavy metal — they were so cool.”
Babymetal’s theatrical live show is punctuated by cutesy dance moves, pouting and fluttering eyelashes, and is powered by a ghoulish zombie band including a guitarist in a long white dress and lank hair with a striking resemblance to the ghost in the Japanese horror movie “Ring”.
Security began lifting fans crushed against the barrier to safety as soon as they tore into their second song, the hit single “Gimme Chocolate.”
The pint-sized trio, who stand on boxes for much of their show, merrily chirped “Please give me chocolate quickly, chocolate quickly!” as middle-aged heavy metal fans in Motorhead T-shirts moshed sweatily alongside teenage girls dressed up as their idols.
“We do still get nervous but once we get up there, the metal gods protect us so it’s fine,” giggled 15-year-old Moametal, referring to the name the girls use to describe their backing group.
“The European tour was a dream come true. We played in front of 50,000 (at Knebworth Park) but we couldn’t hear much until we took our ear-monitors out. Then we could hear all this screaming — they were going crazy, which was a relief.”
Despite their astonishing rise to stardom, the bubbly threesome claim they are still regular schoolgirls.
“Right now we’re Babymetal,” smiled Yuimetal. “But usually we’re just normal junior high school and high school students. We do our best to combine our two lives.”
At an age when most mums worry about their daughters doing their homework, Su-metal insisted that parental support had played a big part in the band’s success.
“My mum wasn’t the sort of person who would ordinarily listen to heavy metal,” she said with a grin. “But she thinks Babymetal’s songs are cool. She’s a big fan.”
Moametal summed up the trio’s exuberance, just before going on stage.
“It’s such a thrill seeing fans wearing our T-shirts,” she said. “It’s brilliant being in Babymetal.”