Japan’s BABYMETAL is celebrating 10 years in music this year, marking the milestone with a greatest hits album dropping Wednesday (Dec. 23).
When the girls — previously a trio — first appeared on the scene with their unprecedented fusion of heavy metal and dance, they were met with mixed reception. But at this point, that’s all in the past. Steadily building a loyal following through their ever-evolving live performances, they’ve drawn massive crowds at music festivals and arena concerts in their home country and abroad. They’ve released a string of hit albums, the most recent of which hit No. 13 on the Billboard 200. Having won respect from veterans in the metal community along the way, they’ve become a presence that denotes the future of the genre through the way it expands its boundaries.
The two current members of BABYMETAL — SU-METAL and MOAMETAL — looked back on their 10 years as “metal idols” and shared how they first got into heavy metal music in the early days, the turning point in their career, and some personally notable tracks on their upcoming greatest hits collection in a recent interview with Billboard Japan, conducted by journalist Kenta Terunuma.
First, let’s go back to the very beginning. It’s a pretty well known fact that you both weren’t familiar with the heavy metal genre when you initially formed BABYMETAL. Could you share some specific examples of when you understood its appeal?
SU-METAL: For me it was in 2013, when I had the chance to see Metallica perform live at the Summer Sonic music festival in Japan. Until then, I’d listened to heavy metal on CDs, but experiencing their live performance for the first time really drove the sound into my heart. It struck home that “metal is music that hits your heart, not your ears.” I was shocked to find out that such powerful music exists in this world and it was then that I realized how amazing heavy metal actually is.
MOAMETAL: My encounter with metal music was when I first heard the demo of “Doki Doki Morning.” From there, I started to tentatively explore the genre, but the music videos had scary-looking people with their faces painted white and the music itself basically sounded like a lot of unintelligible screaming to me, so for a while I really couldn’t understand the appeal of the genre.
But like SU-METAL, seeing Metallica live in 2013 was an eye-opening experience that made me realize how awesome metal is. It yanked me out of my shell and I now listen to metal whenever I feel like it.
What was the biggest difference between the live performance and the sound on CDs?
SU-METAL: Well, first of all, there’s that major difference in sound level, where the acoustic pressure feels like, “Is wind blowing here?” That experience of feeling music with your entire body was fun, and there was also the power of the audience. We’d never seen anything like it before …
MOAMETAL: Circle pits and diving! [Laughs]
SU-METAL: Exactly! [Laughs] All of that put together made it feel like the music was being made right on the spot. This can be said for BABYMETAL’s concerts too, but I think the great thing about heavy metal shows is how the artist and audience create that space together.
BABYMETAL has taken great strides since those early years and is now a one-and-only act that can neither be classified as the idol group that it started out as, nor as a genuine heavy metal band. During your journey, was there a particular moment that you felt that the group had entered a new phase?
MOAMETAL: I think for me, it was when the video for “Gimme Chocolate!!” was uploaded online. I felt something change within me. Before then, I knew in a vague way that people from outside of Japan were supporting us, but I saw comments on the “Gimme Chocolate!!” video written in languages from countries that I knew nothing about, and that really made it clear to me that we actually had a following abroad. That made me feel happy, but it also changed my attitude towards what it meant to be a member of BABYMETAL.
10 BABYMETAL YEARS is a greatest hits album that condenses your group’s 10-year history into 10 tracks. Which song was the biggest turning point for BABYMETAL’s career?
SU-METAL: My favorite song in this album is “Road of Resistance.” A lot of BABYMETAL’s songs evolve by being performed live, and there are some that I truly understood for the first time after I performed them onstage. “Road of Resistance” is one such song.
We went on our first world tour in 2014 and our last show was a solo headlining concert in the U.K. When we premiered this song for the first time onstage as the last song in the set, the crowd sang along with us. After performing a string of concerts outside of Japan, in an “away” environment, that last show of our tour really felt like home. I realized for the first time: “So this was the meaning of what we’ve been doing for the past year.”
That moment when everybody sang made the song sound like encouragement, and I was able to grasp its theme, which is “to keep going where there is no path.” I thought, “We’re going to break new ground with BABYMETAL abroad. We’re going where there is no path.” I’ve been greatly supported by this song in that sense, and even to this day, it sounds like encouragement to me whenever I sing it. I remember past concerts in various locations as the view from the stage during this song.
MOAMETAL: I would choose “Road of Resistance” as our turning point too, actually. Like SU-METAL said, it’s the song that forged the path that we should take, and is packed full of BABYMETAL’s identity, that we go where there is no path. It’s a number that can’t be left out when discussing our group.
But if I were to choose another song, it would be “Gimme Chocolate!!” because that really was a turning point for me.
One of the major themes of BABYMETAL since 2013 has been to usher in a renaissance of heavy metal music under the METAL RESISTANCE banner. You’ve announced that the 10-show Nippon Budokan solo-headlining engagement you have planned for 2021 will mark the “final chapter” of the METAL RESISTANCE era. Do you think the genre has enjoyed resurgence since you first embarked on this journey?
I honestly don’t know how metal is doing on a broader level. I imagine there are perhaps many people out there who still shy away from the genre. But I do feel that BABYMETAL has become a bridge between metal and various things including J-pop. Little kids come to our shows abroad, and at large venues in Japan, families come in cosplay, so I feel that our group has gradually made it easier for people to enjoy heavy metal music in a more casual way.
I was talking to members of Bring Me the Horizon the other day, and they said something like, “BABYMETAL is a group of girls who grew up on pop music doing metal, and it’s now about time metal bands got into pop.” So I get the sense that another form of “resistance” is emerging.
I’m pretty sure the breadth of heavy metal has expanded further during our ten years in music, so in that sense, I think we’re probably succeeding in our “resistance.”
MOAMETAL: I consider the Budokan shows as the period we properly display everything we’ve gained in our journey over the past 10 years, and our gratitude to everyone who encountered us along the way.