This past Friday, I was lucky enough to attend the Chicago stop on Babymetal’s 2016 US Tour. If you haven’t at least heard the name of the idol group whose J-Pop/Metal fusion has been gaining traction in the States, then you are probably living off the grid. As someone who never listens to metal, I’ve been amazed at how much press the girls have managed to get recently. Metalheads are either scoffing or falling hard, and people like me who have had little or no exposure to the metal culture, are attending shows where moshing is the norm. It’s confusing and quite fun.
This concert was not so much a concert, but a completely brand-new experience. I’m convinced that I’ll never experience anything quite like it again. I’m primarily a K-Pop fan, so I’m used to the idol culture and scene, but there truly is no comparison to hearing a live metal band accompany an idol group. What most attracted me to the group was the pure irony of their existence in a male-dominated musical genre and culture. A cute group of 16 year old Japanese girls performing a crucifixion on stage to a crowd of adult male metalheads? An absolute mindf***. I was drawn to this paradoxical concept.
As I lined up at the Chicago House of Blues on that rainy Friday evening, I was amazed at just how diverse a crowd the girls could pull. Most of the crowd appeared to be fans of metal from the looks of their attire, but there were people of all ages and races. K-Pop concert-goers are diverse enough, but there are certainly a lot more teenagers and college-aged young adults than not. Young professionals like myself can feel a smidge uncomfortable in that environment. I didn’t feel out of place age-wise with the Babymetal crowd. There were plenty of people my age and older.
Once in the venue, it became clear that I truly was a fish out of water. My friend and I had pit tickets, but I told him I felt more comfortable a little farther out. I’d previously watched one of their Japan concert DVDs, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect from an American metal crowd. As the band who accompanies Babymetal, the Kami band, made their way on stage, the crowd began getting rowdier. The woman in front of me began losing autonomy of her limbs as her hand formed the “Kitsune” sign and her arm began pumping wildly to the music. I expected that Kitsune would make contact with my face at some point during the show (and I wasn’t wrong).
The first half of the set were mostly songs off of their new album, Metal Resistance. I had just listened to the album for the first time on the ride there, so I wasn’t too familiar with the tracks, but the girls got me pumped up either way. They were very energetic performers and when thinking of idols I’ve seen live, I could only compare that level of dedication to their craft to the TVXQ solo concert I saw in 2013. The lead singer, Sumetal, was passionately singing live. The other two members, Moametal and Yuimetal, were just as hype as I had seen on their live DVD and I was impressed. They performed demanding choreography and were all over the stage non-stop. The Kami band members were just as into it, and from what my casual ear could tell, were highly skilled musicians. I found myself really enjoying their solos and banging my head along to the music.
The latter half of the concert included their most well-known songs and was the most enjoyable part of the concert for me. Their song The One, was very special as it was completely in English and a way of connecting to their international audience. Road of Resistance had a more classic sound and fan interaction was encouraged at the end of the track when everyone chanted along. Their signature song “Megitsune” and their latest single “Karate” were the most fun as a good chunk of the crowd sang along to the Japanese lyrics (including myself) and the mosh pit became one collective dancing mass at certain parts. After the girls performed the last song, I felt a bit empty inside as the concert seemed much shorter than expected. I loved how the girls had really seemed to appreciate their audience and tried to break through the language barrier as best they could. I could see why their fans were so dedicated.
Verdict? Some of the most fun I’ve had at a concert. Of course, this concert was my first “metal” con. As a non-metal fan, I’ll leave the “real metal” argument to the pros, but I totally enjoyed myself and may see them again, depending on the venue. This concert had me wanting to attend metal concerts for other bands, because I loved the energy. With the energy of metal music and culture seems to come an unwritten rule that personal space is non-existent, which I was was not a fan of. So if the opportunity comes around again for a different band and I have my own seat and boundaries set, I am ready to give it another go. Either way, Babymetal has inspired my pop and hip-hop loving self to check out other metal bands. The growth of the genre from the new exposure may be an unintended consequence, but a potentially great one. Hopefully metalheads aren’t too salty about that.
So, have you gotten the chance to see the girls live? What do you think of them?