How did anyone -- let alone the Japanese, a people whose main pop cultural exports these last three decades have been cheap animation, saccharine pop music and videogames -- hit upon the insane idea to combine the cuddly-cute sensibilities of Idol Music with the pseudo-demonic posturing of heavy metal? And how on Earth did they know that it was going to be the biggest damn thing since sliced bread?
Alright, so that might be a small exaggeration (the jury will forever be out on what slice bread's successor is), but the fact is that Baby Metal really does have the kind of cross-platform, global draw that no genius could have calculated, the kind of capital promise only an idiot could have stumbled upon. I witnessed it for myself at the Manhattan Center on November 4th, when they landed for their first show in New York. I'd expected to find a medium-sized line comprised almost exclusively of weeaboos, Japanese girls and creeps; I had no clue that honest-to-god metal heads (among them one man who told me he'd seen Iron Maiden's first show ever) loved these girls, that parents would be willing to take their kids out on a school night just so they could stand with them in a mosh pit, that more than a few groups of after-school programs meant to expose disadvantaged youth to diverse cultures would take their charges out to this kind of thing. When I saw three pits in the absolutely jam-packed span of the concert floor form and then fill with men dressed as Pikachu, burly teamsters with arms hairier than my head, more than a few young women in frilly skirts and bonnets and men who were probably violating some state-laws by showing up for the show I had a sense that Baby Metal might, in fact, be the kind of music that would eventually unite the world.
Which is not actually that far from the band's stated mission: the concert opened and ended with videos that spat out (via a theatrical opening that paid tribute to the opening of Star Wars) some kind of nonsense about a "Metal Revolution" and "a Fox God" and the sacred mission of Baby Metal (which seems to consist entirely of eating chocolate and stopping bullying. I dont think the members of the band understood any better than I did). If you're going to demolish the walls of communication separating disparate peoples then I imagine you can gauge how successful you are by surveying the crowd you draw and the interaction between them.
Now if only I understood how
they managed this. For all of their reach, Baby Metal is actually rather dull. The three girls (Su-metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal for those not in the know) are undeniably adorable and the "Full Metal Band" that backs them up has chops but you wish there was more coherence to the stage show. This isn't really a mixture of two genres; it's like an equation with an equal sign, without the synthesis of the material. The metal doesn't mesh with the pop so much as it fills in the silences left by it while the pop honestly, ironically, overpowers the metal: it's a too-welcome reprieve when the band stops playing (they're sometimes too heavy) and lets the girls traipse through another transparently choreographed dance number. Not that these are the most enjoyable on-stage antics you'll ever witness, the theatrics are all so obvious and the dances so goofy that all of the charm comes from the singers' cartoonish clumsiness rather than any skill they have, but even the most militant of the metal heads seemed more animated when the girls took to the stage. It's obvious that this band would be dismissed as just another generic bunch of thrashead losers if it wasn't for the three "Metals" but the question is what do these girls bring to the table that makes Baby Metal a pack of barely pubescent messiahs?
I do not yet know. Much like that venerable internet sage of old, all I can do is continue to ask, "how is babby (metal) formed?"