A Guilty Pleasure

Back to music, as I promised last week. But not back to Arlo. Oh, no, not at all.

I listen to a fair amount of folk rock, even more classic rock, some classical, and a smattering of other genres. Most of it is, I’ll admit, on the light side. Every so often, though, I get the urge to listen to something loud, mindless, and nonsensical. And there’s one group that fills that niche admirably: Babymetal. Pardon me. That should be “BABYMETAL“. Judging by their official website, all-caps is apparently part of the branding.

To understand BABYMETAL and why I consider them a guilty pleasure, you first need to understand the phenomenon of the Japanese Idol Singer. The idol industry–and make no mistake, it is an industry–is an endless stream of CuteYoungThings who can sing (a little), dance (a little more), and (usually) be trusted not to get caught doing anything scandalous. The idol is carefully designed to provide only the best in quasi-musical* entertainment.

* By which I mean that the point of an idol is to pack the hall and whip the fans into a buying frenzy. That the show is nominally a concert is secondary.

Granted, that doesn’t sound very different than the American pop industry. The thing is, American pop artists expect to have a career and at least pay lip service to the notion of doing “serious” music. In the idol world, the idols are largely interchangeable. It’s rare for an idol to have a second CD; the labels that control their “career” would rather promote a new face who can sell the same merchandise again.

And, just as the performers are interchangeable, so too the music. It’s carefully written to appeal to the broadest possible audience (read that as “the lowest common denominator”) and not offend anyone. In the case of BABYMETAL, that took the form of choosing non-threatening performers–what could be less threatening than three girls between the ages of ten and twelve?

So, pious claims of developing a new musical style (“Cute Metal”) aside, BABYMETAL’s comes straight from the idol tradition. The artists–one singer and two “designated screamers”–were selected from an existing idol group and had no previous experience, or even exposure, to metal. The backing band was originally a group of dancers who mimed playing instruments (shades of The Monkees!)

Much to the surprise of everyone involved, the group’s first video, “Doki Doki Morning“, went viral. Tours were arranged. The backing band was replaced by an assortment of well-known musicians from Japan’s metal scene. Their 2014 world tour included dates on the same bill with metal bands known even to non-metal fans, including Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, giving them even wider exposure.

BABYMETAL’s popularity continues to climb, making them prime candidates to escape the obscurity that is normally the fate of the Japanese idol.

Ladies, gentlemen, and others, I give you my guilty pleasure, BABYMETAL. I hope they’ll be yours as well.