In Defense of BABYMETAL (not that they need it)

So Wednesday night, BABYMETAL took the stage of Stephen Colbert’s Late Show to promote their new album, “Metal Resistance.”

“I’m not sure what I’m about to see,” host Colbert said, “But I’m pretty excited about it.”

What he saw was a full metal band, fronted by three teenage J-Pop idols — Suzuka Nakamoto, Yui Mizuno and Moa Kikuchi, AKA SU-METAL, YUIMETAL and MOAMETAL — playing something that sounded alternately like it belonged in an anime opening credits scene and on a mixtape next to a Slayer song.

This is BABYMETAL. It’s completely incomprehensible. It shouldn’t work. But it does. And it’s glorious.

I’m not, nor have I ever been, a “fan” of metal. I like some metal bands; Converge sort of immediately came to mind when I wrote that. Some of the music I listen to regularly might be considered metal. But for the most part, I’ve planted my flag squarely in punk rock and hardcore territory. That being said, there’s a lot of similarity between punk and metal when it comes to the strict, sometimes restrictive ethos of the genres. Namely, a lot of your “rank and file” punks and metalheads share similar disdain for major labels, sometimes calling out acts that have crossed over to the majors for being sellouts. This, of course, while they celebrate the “classics” of their genres, who were usually signed to major labels from the beginning of their careers and never downgraded to independent labels. But I digress.

This prohibitive gatekeeping behavior — forget it, let’s call it what it is, elitism — may work out well some of the time, but when a band comes along that actively messes with your average punk or metalhead’s conception of what can constitute “true” iterations of the genre(s), the policy falls apart.

BABYMETAL is exactly that kind of band. Billed by their agents as “kawaii metal,” the band is one hundred percent contrived. Its three vocalists came out of one of the top idol groups in Japan, Sakura Gakuin; before they were in BABYMETAL, none of the singers had ever heard metal before. A cynic would look at the music they’re putting out, at the very concept of the thing, and flat out deny that it could ever work; there’s just no way to infuse J-Pop with metal and have it coming out sounding remotely listenable.

And yet. And yet.

Listen, man. I don’t care if you come to my house to take my punk card away from me. I like this stuff.

It’s the time! It’s the time!
 We are alive together.
It’s the time! It’s the time!
 I’m gonna sing for you tomorrow.
Now the time has come!
Go for resistance! Resistance!
 Resistance! Resistance!

(Though, to be honest, when they sing “Go for resistance,” it sounds to me like “Global resistance.” I’m gonna keep my translation.)

For whatever BABYMETAL might be five, ten or even twenty years from now, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that its effect on heavy music is positive. And I’ll defend it forever.

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