An unlikely but fascinating collision of J-Pop and heavy metal, Tokyo's BABYMETAL emerged in the early 2010s at the dawn of the kawaii metal movement (also known as kawaiicore or idol/cute metal). Helmed by producer Key Kobayashi, who operates under the pseudonym Kobametal, the group's eponymous 2014 debut album was certified gold and found international success via the single "Gimme Chocolate," which became a viral hit. Subsequent offerings Metal Resistance (2016) and Metal Galaxy (2019) continued to mine the seemingly disparate worlds of pop and metal, delivering decibel-rich confections that found favor both at home and abroad.
The early lineup of BABYMETAL featured SU-METAL (Suzuka Nakamoto), MOAMETAL (Moa Kikuchi), and YUIMETAL (Yui Mizuno). The trio began as a subgroup of Sakura Gakuin, a more traditional-sounding J-pop act whose members would leave the group once they graduated from junior high school. Taking their name from producer Kobametal's concept that BABYMETAL marked the birth of a new genre, the group arrived in 2011 with the song "Doki Doki Morning," which introduced their mix of sugary vocals and melodies with pummeling riffs and drums. Their first indie single, BabyMetal Kiba of Akiba, debuted at number three on Oricon's weekly indie chart in early 2012; later that year, the limited edition of another single, Headbangeeerrr, came with a neck corset to ease listeners into headbanging. BABYMETAL's first major-label single, Ijime, Dame, Zettai, arrived in January 2013 and entered Oricon's Weekly Singles chart at number six after selling 19,000 in its first week of release. Later that year, the Megitsune single and the live video Live: Legend I, D, Z Apocalypse set the stage for the release of BABYMETAL's self-titled album and lead single "Gimme Chocolate!" in early 2014. Soon after its release, BABYMETAL made the Top Ten of online rock charts as well as some digital chart lists in six other countries. That March, the trio became the youngest group to play the Budokan.
Finding favor with more adventurous metalheads as well as pop music fans, the band continued to tour the world, playing festivals and opening shows for Lady Gaga on her U.S. tour. They also racked up an impressive array of awards, including Breakthrough Act at the 2015 Metal Hammer Golden Gods and the Spirit of Independence prize at the 2015 Relentless Kerrang! Awards. In November, they released a single, "Road of Resistance," which featured Sam Totman and Herman Li of DragonForce on guitars. That song, plus a live version of "Gimme Chocolate!," were featured on the mid-2015 U.S. release of their eponymous album.
Their next album, 2016's Metal Resistance, was again produced by Kobametal and featured a heavier, slightly more serious sound and tone. The band spent the next year touring, playing festival shows and American late-night talk shows, and generally spreading the kawaii metal sound around the world. Highlights included headlining Wembley Arena in April of 2016 (Live at Wembley arrived later that year), having their debut album voted Best Metal Album of the 21st Century by the readers of Metal Hammer, and performing with Judas Priest's legendary singer Rob Halford at the Alternative Press Music Awards. They finished the year with the release of a CD/DVD set taken from their Wembley concert and an opening slot on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' U.K. tour.
In 2017, they continued touring in support of high-profile metal acts like Metallica and Korn, which kept them on the road for most of the year. Festival slots followed in 2018 as the band promoted their next album cycle. The single "Distortion" was released in May on their own BABYMETAL RECORDS label. Several more singles followed, including "Pa Pa Ya!" featuring Thai rapper F. Hero, before their third album Metal Galaxy arrived in October 2019; it was their first without Yuimetal, who had left the band a year earlier. ~ Heather Phares