Every so often, something rolls across the cyberdesk which is indescribable. Usually, I try my best to avoid such things: last year we had “The Fox,” previously there was “Gangnam Style,” many years prior there was William Hung singing “She Bangs,” which is in and of itself a stupid song, even in its original form. None of this is really worth seeing (I still have never seen the original Gangnam, though it’s almost impossible to avoid its echoes through what passes for culture). Every now and then, however, the temptation is impossible to look away from. It’ll be a singular blip on the social media circuit, not a full blown assault (at least not yet). It will come from someone who doesn’t seem easily led down frightening fandom paths. This, well… I’m not sure where this falls.
For today’s song, we go to Japan, which is simply a hotbed of crazy on the best of days. Sometimes this leads to insanity such as the original Iron Chef, or the gloriously odd children’s show Gimme Gimme Octopus, two things I would buy on DVD in a heartbeat if only the media gods allowed it. Other times, it’s a Hello Kitty world of shiny desu, the most disposable of all disposable art. Somewhere in the middle falls Babymetal. Babymetal is a group composed of three Japanese schoolgirls and a bunch of masked musicians playing hard rock behind them. The whole package is orchestrated as only Japanese pop culture can be; the three girls, former members of what seems to be a pre-teen Japanese female Menudo, had never even heard of metal before they plopped down into a band with that as the implicit goal. This is sort of apparent when you watch them perform: choreographed dancing, J-pop hooks, and all that SMILING… this is almost insulting to be called metal. It’s times like these when one wonders, does Japan simply refuse to understand Western culture?
The truth may be, however, that they grasp it even better than we do.
America’s art culture these days is all about marketing. We have a public which ignorantly think that a musician needs to dance. We’ve long had a history of groups cobbled together for their passable voices and passable looks, all to sell an image wrapped in nothing-special songs. When Japan finds a brainless marketing phenomenon (Pokemon, anyone?) they are simply tapping into the most American of livelihoods: snake-oil sales. And yet, while an over-slick production like Babymetal reaffirms the worst of consumerism and the worst of marketing, it also manages to take risks. It’s almost an art: by combining two things that should never cross over, Babymetal somehow successfully creates a bridge from Shonen Knife to Nightwish. They’re not just creating manipulative, over-crafted music to feed a rabid consumer base; they’re also creating an inspired amalgam of things what should not be. Whoever created this unholy union, it cannot be said they don’t understand either of the genres they’re cross-breeding.
To really appreciate Babymetal, it’s probably best not to go into their more metallic work, but to start at what may be the apex of lunacy: “Gimme Chocolate!!” (also known as “Gimme Choco!!” or “Gimi Choco!!” depending on where you look, which is the beauty of translating from not only a different language, but a different alphabet). The article which introduced me to this life changing experience gives what appears to be a rough translation of the core precepts of this sacred document:
Check-it-out chocolate. Can I have a bit of chocolate?
But my weight worries me a bit these days.
However, chocolate. Can I have a bit of chocolate?
But wait a while! Wait a while! Wait! Wait! Wait!
Ah yes, the most heralded of all female topics: “Bitches be Lovin’ Chocolate” right up beside “Eating Chocolate will Automatically Make Me Fat.” Condensing the female mind down to a lust for cacao and a self-shame for giving in to it. And yet, through the magic of language barriers and the sheer naivete and rigorous artificiality of the end product, what comes out is simply mindless entertainment. Still, there is that attention to detail in this crafting that sets it apart from the ’90s boy-band experiments here in America, or the Idol/Xfactor style star machine. Reality groups like Danity Kane and Rock Star Supernova fizzled and sputtered out because they were a tepid approximation of a popular trend, whereas Babymetal tries to reach something a bit different than what has come before; in the bouncy tones of this lament and praise for that sweetest of desires, what we see most is the metal genre being turned on its head. Nothing about the backing track would be out of place in another metal band. Nothing about the vocal track would be out of place in the poppiest of J-pop. Somehow, the two meld seamlessly, in the same way the lolita dancers and full-body costumed skullmen in the band don’t seem to contradict in the way they would if they were separated. Which, incidentally, I could go on about the whole lolita fashion being in and of itself a huge (probably intentional) misunderstanding of what the term means, but that’s for another rant. Today, I just want to enjoy the absurd, somehow non-self-conscious, mutant beast created here. When you’re creating precision pop purely for consumer tastes, your time is always ticking. These gals have already been at it for a few years. Best to simply revel in the crazy now, in case we’re deprived of it soon after.
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