Very frequently I see people on the internet arguing that Babymetal is not ‘metal’ or on the other side people saying Babymetal is not ‘J-Pop’, the latter one grabbing most of my attention because of its more than often later statement that goes along the lines of ‘not real J-Pop’.
It is clear that our perception of what Babymetal produces may differ from others’ definition of what that genre actually is. Let me tell you right off the bat, yes Babymetal is J-Rock. It is not J-Pop. This is a bold statement for me to make but I believe there is more accuracy on it than most of the terms widely used in public media when they cover anything Babymetal-related, with these terms being most of the times reduced to ‘J-Pop’.
BABYMETAL’s concept, idols and rock is one of a kind and a well produced success
What is Babymetal per se? Is it a band? No, not really, except from a rare performace at the AP awards where Moa and Yui play guitar and bass they don’t play any instruments, the Kami Band (their backing band) does. Is Babymetal a group? Yes, a girl group technically, just like Perfume, AKB48, 2NE1 etc. What about the music itself, the sound of it, is it J-Pop, J-Rock or metal? In this case it is a bit of each but mostly and I think we can all agree on this one, their sound is purely J-Rock.
The girls’ vocals are a different story though. Their high-pitched voices are those typical of a J-Pop girl group and by definition Su-metal, Yui-metal and Moa-metal are regular idols. Suzuka however also possesses a very powerful voice, this is what makes Bebymetal’s rock sound work out. If you were to put any other idol on the center of Babymetal instead of Suzuka, the result wouldn’t work out as well as it does with her. Her voice is astonishingly suited for Babymetal going from powerful and consistent to cheesy and high-pitched and to top it off Moa and Yui (though with very average vocals) fit Suzuka just right.
So in a few words what you have is idols with a rock sound, making them essentially what I’d like to call ‘J-Rock idols’. As a music product Babymetal is one of its own, the first and probably the only ones of its class to be able to pull off what they do. You have to give props to Amuse for producing such a well crafted unique product.
The Versatility Of J-Rock
Surely if you turned out to be a J-Rock fan, then you might ask me, well if the Babymetal girls are idols, in what category do SCANDAL or Band-Maid fall?
They are still rock artists. And they also sometimes fall under the category of J-Pop. But why? Because their sound is more mainstream and pop like occasionally. SCANDAL is a J-Rock band but if they feel like it, they can also release material with a more upbeat poppy sound to it, good enough to be categorized under J-Pop and the thing is that, ultimately J-Rock bands are completely independent and free to make any genre they want. Best example I can offer in this instance is SEKAI NO OWARI. SEKAOWA started with a very alternative rock sound. There was a bit of electro on their sound but it was mostly J-Rock. Currently though, SEKAOWA is making collaborations with Owl City and Nicky Romero and their music is straight down EDM, pop. Their transition from one genre to another has being a success so far, in fact they haven’t completely ditched their rock roots but rather implement them in their discography to grasp a wider audience.
Hoshino Gen has a discography that features indie, jazz, folk and alternative pop
Making music that appeals to pop fans is a very strategical move many bands are doing nowadays, Alexandros, Sakanaction, Suiyobi no Campanella and Hoshino Gen all have delivered alternative music that essentially sells with the mainstream audience. Most of these artists’ features come down to really catchy hooks and simple quirky instrumentals that are easy to digest for the popular audience.
In this case J-Pop acts lose to J-Rock artists because they don’t have the musical talent and experience with instruments the former bands do have and pop acts are at the end of the day puppets to whatever their labels decide to do with them. J-Rock artists instead have more freedom to develop their own creativity and shape their career along the way, this ultimately builds up their image and charisma which also sells a lot to the audience.
The choice is clear for the public, you can choose to go with the same gimmick boyband that has been around for the last 10 years hoping for a change to be made in their career or you can hop in the band boom bandwagon and rediscover another music genre you thought you understood but didn’t while still being part of the pop music scene.
Western Stereotypes And Misuse
As I said before Babymetal is a very unique product and there aren’t any other groups like them. And no, do not even think about bringing Ladybaby in here. That was nothing more than a gimmick, if they relayed a core message or broke any stereotypes and whatnot, cool with me but the lifetime of it was no longer than the Golden Week and the actual impact it may have had on the music scene is rather non-existent so I’m sorry but those gimmicks are long gone and irrelevant now.
Ladybaby: a short-lived competition to BABYMETAL and much of a gimmick
However this is still an issue that remains to be faced not from the inside but from the outside. When you type down J-Pop one of the results that still come up is Ladybaby. You see I have no problem with Ladybaby, I admittedly didn’t like their music in the least but I certainly didn’t attack them for what they were doing while they were around. Yet this type of acts like Ladybaby (and I felt really tempted to add Kyary as well) are not really something you can call J-Pop. Kyary gets a pass because her producer is Yasutaka Nakata and some of her discography is actually well produced and very very pop like.
But the media outside Japan pretty much likes to tag any musical act coming from Japan as J-Pop, and if they are weird even better. Keep in mind Babymetal is still referred to as a J-Pop group. A very similar issue takes place in the Korean music world. Most hip-hop artists are tagged as K-Pop artists just for the mere fact of them being Korean.
The wrong appropriation of genres needs to be stopped, we all know that Ladybaby and Babymetal are not J-Pop groups, as a matter of fact Babymetal were first promoted as ‘kawaii metal’ in the very beginning. Then some writer on the western media decided to use the term ‘J-Pop’ and hell broke loose from that point on, because is no secret that for the western media J-Pop equals weird cute stuff, this being a very misunderstood stereotype.
On the other hand you have Ladybaby claiming to be J-Pop when they clearly weren’t, what they really were is electronicore/metalcore (This would fall under the category of J-Rock if anything). In this case what you have is also the same stereotype this time being used by the guy behind Ladybaby formation’s Ladybeard (Richard Magarey). Down below I will quote how Ladybaby came to be:
“Wrestler Richard Magarey, originally from Adelaide, moved to China in 2006 to kickstart his martial arts stunt career in films, later becoming a hit in Hong Kong as a cross-dressing pro wrestler, and in October 2013 he moved to Tokyo in Japan to attempt a similar career there. He later formed the band with singers Rie Kaneko and Rei Kuromiya and released their first track and music video titled ‘Nippon Manju’ (‘Japanese Bun’, in English) which is a song that covers all the things they love about Japan.”
So in another words we have a guy who also stereotyped J-Pop as weird and saw an opportunity to exploit his career further and his cross dressing concept and tag it under the umbrella of J-Pop since well, J-Pop is weird so it’s okay for me to further adapt the stereotype to slide in my product without even knowing anything about the industry nor caring about the misuse of genres (
by the way if this Richard guy is reading this right now, let me tell you sir, you’re as culturally ignorant as one can get, go get some education). In a sense I pitifully understand him though, and it was rather convenient for him to do this in Japan since the country is already seen as weird and quirky in a way, would he have tried to make Ladybaby a thing in any other country and it wouldn’t have received the least of attention that it did receive in reality.
The Artist’s Imagery
Long story short we have two sides on the stereotype stigma, the outside media that pretty much generalizes and misuses the term of ‘J-Pop’ and the people inside, the artists themselves not being aware of where they stand in their music aspects and also misusing the terms of their product.
Nonetheless for this there is a very straight forward solution, that is for the artists themselves to speak out and state where they really belong to. This is part of their ‘artistry’ and what helps the audience really identify the music genre that they are a part of.
Artists and groups that have openly spoken about their music include; SEKAI NO OWARI’s Fukase, Greeeen’s Hide and Ryuichi Sakamoto. On Fukase’s words: [the band] is “-not to be thrown into any particular box..”, then proceeding to state they have a very diverse sound. Hide in the other end says: “I also love rock, hip hop and breakbeats, but my field is consistently J-pop…”. Sakamoto as part of YMO has always talked about the genres he experimented with and the work they aimed to portray being this electropop, experimental noise or classic music.
Point is, whether the artists want to state they belong to a specific genre or on the contrary not categorize themselves, it is still important for them to speak out about their music and let people know about their music expertise and how it influences their work. This comes as a must for novelty groups that are hard to recognize in popular media such as Babymetal. Otherwise these specific acts, are left to the media to be categorized and hopefully end up in the right place where they want to be seen at. Needless to say the artists first need to know what music genre they stand on and what tells them apart from the other genres.