Why nobody can stop Babymetal
Beyond novelty. More than a phenomenon. We hit Japan and find Babymetal's world takeover gathering pace
The framed tour posters lining the backstage corridors of the Yokohama Arena testify to its storied past. The 17,000-capacity concert hall may not have the same cultural cachet as Tokyo’s illustrious Budokan, but it has acquired its own place in the national consciousness: The Rolling Stones, The Who, AC/DC, Queen and Kiss have graced its stage, trailblazing Japanese metal icons X Japan have headlined the venue – modelled on New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden – on no fewer than nine occasions, and it was here, on August 26, 2001, that Pantera played their final show, co-headlining (alongside Slayer) Beast Feast, Japan’s inaugural all-day metal festival.
Sometime in 2013, Suzuka Nakamoto, Yui Mizuno and Moa Kikuchi, now better known to the world at large as Babymetal members Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal, were taken to the arena by their mentor Key ‘Kobametal’ Kobayashi for a J-Pop concert. One day, he promised the girls, their group would stand upon this stage, would see and hear thousands of dedicated fans singing their songs back to them. The three teenagers listened attentively to their producer as he outlined his vision for the future, each secretly wondering how such a seemingly impossible dream might come to pass.
Two years on, that prophecy has become a reality. On the penultimate weekend before Xmas, the trio are back at the Yokohama Arena, not as wide-eyed music fans, but as the headline attraction on two consecutive evenings. By mid-afternoon on December 12, there are thousands of fans patiently queuing in the light afternoon rain and ‘Sold Out’ stickers are plastered all over the numerous merchandise boards that surround the venue. Hours before showtime, there’s already a party atmosphere in place. Men in Lycra skeleton bodysuits pose for photos alongside tiny Babymetal doppelgangers, while teenage girls gleefully apply black and white face paint to their friends and strangers alike. More than just a regular gig, this feels like An Event.
The brace of shows in Yokohama are billed as ‘The Final Chapter Of Trilogy’ for Babymetal, closing out a hugely important year for the band domestically, which saw the girls play statement headline shows at the Saitama Super Arena (capacity: 30,000) and Makuhari Messe in Chiba (capacity: 25,000). In their native land, according to figures collated by the statistics-tracking company Oricon, the trio sold 47,241 copies of their self-titled album in 2015, plus an impressive 26,667 DVDs and 52,240 Blu-Ray copies of their Live At Budokan, Red Night & Black Night Apocalypse and World Tour 2014, Live In London collections. In the UK, Babymetal’s biggest market outside Japan, the band’s next headline gig, on April 2, will take place at the 12,500-capacity SSE Arena, Wembley. Such statistics have made ripples beyond the music industry: influential Japanese magazine Nikkei Business recently featured the group in their ‘100 People To Make The Next Generation’ power list, noting, “They are not Idols: they are first level artists.”
The most intriguing aspect of the trio’s weekend in Yokohama, then, is the notion that the shows are not merely a celebration, well-merited victory laps on a two-year campaign which has made the Japanese trio the most talked about new band on the planet, but that they will offer tantalising glimpses into Babymetal’s future.