To the unsuspecting, a first encounter with the wild confluence of idol pop and speed metal that comprises much of Babymetal’s oeuvre can be warmly jarring or abrasively reassuring. Cute vogue poses and cupcake vocals to a soundtrack that could sonically describe several toes jamming at once is an objectively bizarre combo uniting two extremes, further complicated by the space epic mythology informing the band’s image. But oddly, Babymetal’s playful syfy-dosed self-mythologizing, fueled by thrash-and-grind sensory overload, doesn’t transport a viewer or listener to a delirious and harrowing pastiche of the clumsy space opera tropes the group (’s management) embraces, so much as it reflects an audience inward to parse the weird interstices that live along the line that divides the naive and the nihilistic. It is camp so campy that it transcends itself. Babymetal’s recent show at the Forum exemplified the alchemy of this ungodly–and godly–mixture.
The DJ set that preceded Babymetal–which wasn’t DJ-ing so much as a couple of dudes behind some turntables drinking bottles water under a spotlight as the steadily filling Forum was taken on a trip down metal memory lane. Late-90s/early-00s radio metal were at the forefront: Korn, Rob Zombie, even The Prodigy made appearances. In retrospect it was a fitting setup for what was to come. One of the last tracks they spun, System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” earned cheers from an audience already prepared for the spastic collisions Babymetal would bring. But the DJ’s playlist was also a reminder that twenty years ago, metal’s evolution was in full swing, although Babymetal doesn’t represent an evolutionary transition so much as a quantum leap into a sideways dimension.
The set began with a cinematic journey through starfields on the enormous screen above the stage. Nebulae, roving planets and suns, accompanied by soothing words encouraging feeing over thinking, flash over the dark stage. An octahedronal spacecraft, reminiscent of the “Tet” in 2013’s Oblivion, appeared, the POV getting closer until the interior is revealed. In three upstanding vessels surrounded by alien technology, particles and energy congealed into calves, legs, and then bodies. Finally the stage was illuminated, but in brief flashes. The trio of girls, led by Su-metal, now in physical form on stage, displayed a new pose and position with every flash. The four-piece band behind them–two guitars, bass, and drums–who would remain mostly in the shadows for the duration of the show, wore identical face masks that looked like a cross between gray aliens and that worn by the satin-caped patriarch of an Eyes Wide Shut party.
With the arena going crazy now, Babymetal, led by Su-metal on vocals and flanked by dancers Moametal and Third Avenger, backed by the Kami band–a ridiculously tight four piece–dove into the set in earnest, springboarding into the dance-metal assault of “DA DA DANCE” from this year’s Metal Galaxy, released worldwide that very night. A startling array of lighting and projection flooded the arena as an octagonal center stage carried the girls into the crowd on a track, every surface of which was a relentlessly animated, glitchy screen. This first song set the tone for the rest of the show, and it was a total sensory overload. The advice given on the screen before their first song, Don’t think, feel, was almost entirely unnecessary. With the amount of sonic and visual information bombarding every square centimeter of The Forum, not to mention an array of spark and fireball-launching pyrotechnics that could be felt in the upper seats, thought was not even an option.
Over the course of the set, the monolithic screen displayed an encyclopedia of visual effects, both pre-edited and reacting to live feeds in real time. After performing the infectiously (hate-to-say-it-but-it’s-true) uplifting “Elevator Girl”, which took the octagon and the girls upward, “Shanti Shanti Shanti” put the girls on the screen in a hypercube motif, interspersed with shots of the audience filmed by several cameras planted throughout the arena, two of which were at the end of robotic cranes capable of reaching midway up to look fans directly in the eye. Video effects ran the gamut: mandalas, glitch, blurs, and energy bursts. The pyrotechnics ranged from ritualistic fire bowls to billowing fireballs to streams of upward sparks during the fittingly amphetimous “Pa Pa Ya”. The roving pin spot lighting, at times so blinding it was safer to avoid look away, unified the entire house, which was often bathed in red, blue, purple, and teal.
It goes without saying that for most fans, Babymetal’s performance of 2014’s “Give Me Chocolate!!” was a highlight. As soon as the words GIVE ME appeared onscreen the crowd went wild in anticipation to the song that put them on the international stage after their 2016 performance on Stephen Colbert. The dancing throughout the show, often stilted and marionette-like, took on a narrative role during “Karate”. Starting the song on the ground and then rising to their feet, fighting, falling, helping each other up only to fall back into the dream, the band created the most theatrical part of the show.
The set ended with “Road to Resistance”, a call-to-action resulting in a cathartic highnote sustained by every band member, lighting instrument, and screen as Su-metal repeated again and again, inviting the audience to join her: “We! Are! Babymetal! We! Are! Babymetal!” emphasizing the T. It could have gone on for fifteen minutes without exhausting itself. The joy and release of the entire arena was palpable. Coming back for “Shine” and “Arkadia”, the show came to a close, bookended by the octahedron spacecraft appearing again on the screen along with more mythology, and a listing of all the dates and places coming up on the world tour.
Without a doubt, there is nothing like Babymetal. It has all that it takes to divide an audience, and although it is rife with tropes of its constituent elements, compulsively mashing them together, the mixture results in an alchemical creation of pure feeling. To overly-critique the music or the mythology would take the fun out of it. And if Babymetal is pure anything, it is fun.
DA DA DANCE
Shanti Shanti Shanti
PA PA YA!!
Road of Resistance
All Photos by Ekaterina Gorbacheva