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:Concert Review: Babymetal

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Babymetal
Concert Date:  April 27, 2017
Venue:  Amalie Arena
Location:  Tampa, FL

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English and Chair of Humanities and General Education
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

Babymetal are a Japanese idol group. Idol groups are manufactured singers and performers cultivated more for their image than their skills.  Organized in 2010, the group consists of three members:  Su-metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal.  The three girls range in age from 17-19.  The sound is a cross of metal with J-pop (Japanese pop). 

There has been a lot of conversation about whether this is metal or not (if not, what do we call it?).  I would argue that there are only two genres of music:  what you like and what you don’t like.  All other categories are to some extent an arbitrary construction or reference point.  Some people don’t think it’s metal.  The argument as best I can tell boils down to the triad of ageism, sexism, and racism.  The members aren’t old enough, male enough, or American/British/European enough.  None of these isms passes muster, not just because no ism is valid but because metal—whatever we want to argue it is about—is not about an age, or a race, or a nationality.  Metal and metal fans should unite, not divide.

The show itself consists of distorted guitar riffs and fast drumming along with melodic singing.  Flanked by the other two, Su-metal handles most of the lead vocals.  Her vocals sound as good as most other modern metal vocalists.  I could hear the very occasional strain in her voice or slightly missed note, but this only proves that her singing is live and real.  The very tightly choreographed show ensures a dynamic and consistent performance but eliminates the possibility of spontaneity or any deviation from the six-song set list.  The girls do not play any instruments, leaving that up to the very capable Kami band.  The guitar work is heavy, while not groundbreaking.  The classic riffs of Slayer and Metallica come to mind and these touchstones are as good as any.

It will be interesting to see where Babymetal goes next.  Perhaps they will evolve into something else and the sound will develop.  Maybe Babymetal will experience a rotations of members—but not a change in style or sound—like groups such as Menudo, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Pussycat Dolls, and Kiss.  

Audience participation was very high.  How much higher would it have been if they had been allowed to use the screens that Jack Irons, who performed before them, and that the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who performed after them, both used?  The band’s aesthetic draws from visual kei, which places an emphasis on costumes, makeup, and hairstyles.  Some of that becomes lost in an arena show in which only those fans closest to the stage can see, for example, the group come out wearing kitsune (fox) masks.

Do they use a gimmick?  Sure, but so does every other band to some extent.  What’s the difference between a gimmick and identity?  Maybe the former is easier to see and understand than the latter.  Are they advancing the metal genre?  In terms purely of music, not really.  But they are breaking through barriers of age, gender, and class.  That alone doesn’t make them worth seeing, but Babymetal are entertaining and, all elements taken together, they are doing something new.  The next generation of metal has to come from somewhere and even if it’s not Babymetal, they might inspire that next generation.  Besides the next movement of bands, the next group of fans has to come from somewhere also, and Babymetal might provide that entry point. 

(In case you are wondering, headliners The Red Hot Chili Peppers gave a great show and opener former drummer Jack Irons put on a powerhouse drumming showcase backed by instrumental loops and trippy screen projections, musically and visually bringing to mind The Flaming Lips).

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