To be sure they held our attention, Babymetal utilized three key aspects of musical showmanship: a plot, nonstop visuals and most importantly, choreography.
The Forum, Inglewood, CA
(Photo: Amuse Inc.)
If one thing happened for certain in the 2010s music scene, genre became much less structured. Gen Z, who grew up with the world at their touchscreens, understand and care little for the boundaries of categories. They load playlists with Kate Bush, Missy Elliott and Ryuichi Sakamoto without batting an eyelash about whether or not they sonically mesh. Naturally, as such barriers crumble, artists begin to bridge the gaps between them like never before.
Japanese kawaii metal group Babymetal encapsulate this phenomenon in both their music and their performances. A run through their catalog gives you tastes of J-Pop, symphonic metal and even drum and bass. If that seems busy, it certainly is, yet this crowded sound not only matches people’s current tastes but also their attention spans. Timelines move quickly in 2019, and Babymetal cracked the code on how to use it to their advantage. To be sure they held our attention, they utilized three key aspects of musical showmanship: a plot, nonstop visuals and most importantly, choreography.
Outer space, which was rendered here as often resembling the final level of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, provided the backdrop and setting for much of the show, where the “battle between light forces and dark forces” unfolded before star systems and vibrant nebulas. “Don’t think about it, feel” the narration further commanded, giving the audience no time to prepare for the onslaught of “DA DA Dance.” Dressed in gothic, chromed versions of Irish step uniforms, the Babymetal triumvirate—they are now a duo, but they present as a trio by using a backup dancer to replace Yuimetal, who left the band last year—looked prepared to fight for the future and enter a dance battle.
The juxtaposition between Perfume-esque melodies and Nightwish-worthy compositions all played into the subversive message behind Babymetal. A song such as “Megitsune” details women who carry mischievous animal spirits within themselves, playing on the band’s cutesy “fox” hand signal while simultaneously referencing the legend of the wise and powerful kitsune. What came across like mishmash actually conveyed a kaleidoscope of interpretations and meanings once you look past the shiny outfits and cute faces. The ensuing “Elevator Girl” charged in on a Pendulum intro, turned into a DragonForce track and used a simple metaphor to illustrate a dramatic shift in a girl’s priorities. It short, it was more complicated than you think, or could put onto paper.
By the fourth song, “Shanti Shanti Shanti,” where Middle Eastern percussion and strings are introduced, it felt like anything could happen this evening. Admittedly, this sometimes meant that focus on one aspect of the show came with difficulty—one was just left to inhale a laser light show before pyrotechnics rose out of the floor and, wait, were those three different mosh pits in GA? Yet all of these seemingly random factors were integral to experiencing Babymetal, more than just a band of girls but a kaleidoscope of elements channeled into a benevolent maelstrom. Again, this sounds like a lot, but it is no different than a typical metal performance or a high-value pop production; in fact, when screamo rapper F.Hero came roaring in on “PA PA YA!!,” it felt like an actual death metal scenario.
One would be remiss not to acknowledge the masked instrumentalists, who held just as integral roles in Babymetal as the main troika. Introducing “Kagerou,” each player received their chance to riff their strings or slam their pedals. Their tenacity behind the scenes allowed the three vocalists to deliver their portion of the entertainment, lively choreography and more than a few belting moments. Lead vocalist Su-Metal soared especially high for the finale of “Karate” while holding a disco-stick of a mic stand.
Just as it seemed they’d finished to go quietly into the evening, they pulled a KLF moment and set off a brief but earsplitting firecracker display. It jolted the crowd to attention for the actual finale, an encore of the final tracks on 2019’s Metal Galaxy. These two tracks signified Babymetal’s shift towards transcendence for different reasons. Instead of leading with dramatic symphonic sounds or pounding drums, “Shine” entered on a singer-songwriter guitar, a stark but altogether pleasant detour from the otherwise tempestuous songs. “Arkadia” took things back to the driving kawaii metal we know and love, finishing off amid a heavenly chorus. That night, in Inglewood, California, based on the audience reaction and their own showmanship, Babymetal’s mission was a success.
Unlike other shows where the curtain simply falls, the band concluded on a credits reel of previous dates from their Metal Galaxy World Tour. Similar to many aspects of the evening, this enhanced the cinematic feel of what we’d just witnessed. Babymetal already accomplished so many of their missions around the globe, but they still couldn’t say their goal was finished. Not until the entire world, no, universe, gets on their frequency will Babymetal finally complete the mission they’ve set out to achieve: breaking down barriers one city, one genre, at a time.