A few weeks back I tweeted some of my feelings about the phenomenon that is Babymetal. I figured I would take this month’s column to discuss the band in more than 140 characters and to shed light on the connection between their approach and specific aspects of Japanese culture. It may be a very westernized take on the very Japanese export or it could be my college studies (Gender & Women’s Studies with minor focus on Queer Theories) forcing my brain to read between the lines. What I do know, from scouring the internet and from private messages I received, I am not even close to alone in my thinking. In fact, my opinion might constitute the majority, despite many fellow concerned citizens reluctance to speak up.
Now. My main beef with Babymetal stems not from the band themselves but from the amount of coverage they are receiving in what could be deemed “metal press.” As I have been saying repeatedly, 2016 has been an incredible year for metal, particularly death metal and experimental black metal. (As evidenced by my January, February, March and Q1 reviews!) Babymetal is taking up what precious space most publications give to actual metal these days and thus stealing from bands like Zealotry, Howls of Ebb, Nucleus, Chthe’ilist, Bat, Oranssi Pazuzu and other tremendous releases from 2016. (And yes: I do recognize the irony here that I’m adding to that malaise of coverage.) Most of these pieces on Babymetal tend to read like fluff pieces in OK! Magazine and only briefly touch upon the actual music. The editors just know that the mere mention of the polarizing band will result in tons of clicks, which of course means revenue for their advertising partners.
My second beef is that I think that these girls are being sexualized. Not in a blatant, ‘let’s-dress them-in-leather-and-dip-them-in-lipstick’ way, but in a different kind of way. A Lolita way. When I see a girl, in a catholic school girl uniform, blowing kisses to the crowd, I get very, very uncomfortable. I have read that specific novel from Nabokov and, from that, I have perhaps a modicum of understanding of the mind of a pedophile. Babymetal’s cute-sweet persona, edgy music stylings and commitment to that J-Pop schtick lends itself perfectly to the sweaty imagination of the adult male obsessed with a nymphette. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some lyrics.
Aside from the tracks in which they worry about their weight and demand chocolate, Babymetal is wont to sing about “Daddy.” Some people take the stance that these songs are merely young girls asking their daddy to buy them a cute toy. To those people I say: you’re brainwashed. The “Daddy” complex is exactly one thing: a younger and perceivably innocent girl appealing and appeasing an older, more powerful male. Below is a brief sampling of the lyrics for “Onedari Daisakusen” translated into English.
I flatter more than usual.
I give Dad a shoulder massage, and immediately…
[With angel’s face, devil’s whisper.] I will become your bride, Dad.
So, if you tell me that those lyrics are not sexual in a way that is blatantly obvious I will tell you that you’re lying to yourself. Additionally, that is some serious Electra complex shit. And don’t forget about the song “Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!” which is about the night of a girl’s fifteenth birthday (her “special night”):
With the legendary black long hair disordered around and gorgeously,
blooming crazy, this flower will soon disappear fruitlessly.
But, back to the outfits: it’s a well-known and well-documented fact that the schoolgirl look in Japan is pretty fetishized. Not in every single instance, but often. It can also be a clever, albeit obvious, front for sex workers. This isn’t rocket science. Taken from the linked article: “But the dark side to all this cuteness is not hard to infer: if adult women fashion themselves after young girls, the sexualization of actual underage girls can start to seem normal.” (Full article here). Um… DUH. Denying these realities based on a difference in culture and different takes on what sexuality is or isn’t does not make them any less real. It’s even common to find young girls being paid minimum wage to massage older men. Starting to see a connection here?
Babymetal, as an export, is taking some of the darker sides to Japanese sex culture and marketing it in a flouncy, buttoned up package. New flash: women do not have to be nude to be sexualized. In fact, when we are dealing with pedophilia, it’s the temptation of youthful purity that makes it so appealing to the worst of the offenders. Thus, the fact that these girls are visually representing this facade is what makes it so appallingly disgusting to me.
Another item I would love to address is the notion that Babymetal “inspires women to find their place in metal.” Do they, though? Most of the women I know see this band as a gimmicky act, not as an empowering presence. I implore any young woman who is inspired to have a career in music (or even just enjoy it as a pastime) to instead enroll in a program like Willie Mae Rock Camp (or any of the literally dozens of similar programs like this one in Salt Lake City, or this one in Portland or find one in your area) immediately so they are surrounded by other strong, badass women. Not cartoons.
Now. I am in NO WAY saying that Babymetal should not exist — if you think they are fun and whatever then go ahead and blast their tunes. If you are a dude and you dig them, it doesn’t mean you are a pedo. It’s just impossible to deny the connection between their aesthetic and the fetishized Lolita character. Babymetal does not exist in a vacuum, and you cannot exempt them from it just because you think they are cutesy and don’t want to admit that there are other people who have frankly nefarious and nauseating thoughts about them no matter where they are from. Because I don’t want to sit around and listen to something doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad or that it has no place. I just very sincerely wish that metal publications would promote some of the terrific, hard-working metal acts out there that are making fantastic music and not merely promoting a stage show or gimmick.