Babymetal At Hammerstein Ballroom
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By Randee Dawn
Never underestimate the power of teenage girls. More importantly, never underestimate the power of three teenage girls dressed in red crinoline skirts with long pigtails and backed by a four-piece band featuring two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer.
When that unstoppable force comes across your path, it's wisest to stand back and rock out while the group — known as Babymetal — shred the night away.
Who is Babymetal? They're a trio of Japanese girls (Suzuka Nakamoto, 16, and Yui Mizuno and Moa Kikuchi, 15) whose fashion is partly inspired by goth and Harajuku styles, and whose music is a blend of synth-laden J-pop and seriously dark, thrashy metal (with the occasional dip into reggae). A prefab band constructed overseas, they released a self-titled debut studio album in February and charmed both Lady Gaga and U.S. listeners alike with tunes such as "Gimme Chocolate!!" and "Head Bangya!!"
And on Nov. 4 they brought every metal trick in the book (plus a few more) to their first New York performance at the Hammerstein Ballroom. You name it, Babymetal have it. Six-foot blasts of fire? Check. Fireworks? Check. Strobe lights? Check. Extended guitar solos and an enormous LED screen filled with mythos-enhancing pronouncements such as "All heavy metal roads lead to the USA"? Check and double check.
But the ladies of Babymetal never picked up an instrument (their backup musicians, who got more than one shot at extended unnamed instrumentals, do the heavy lifting). Instead, they emerged from a mid-stage platform as a tight group (over the course of the night the members sang as a trio, a duo and solo) and leapt to the main stage to twirl and shift in enthusiastic, elaborate dance routines while singing almost entirely in Japanese. Yet their fans knew all the words and all the right hand gestures to make — language was no barrier.
Describing Babymetal suggests cognitive dissonance: Cute teenage girls singing about eating chocolate in super-catchy choruses alongside the hyper-macho tradition of death metal cacophony. But it works. The ladies were eminently watchable, sliding from headbanging noise into danceable, grinding pop ("Uki Uki * Midnight") and then into what is (for them) a power ballad ("Rondo Of Nightmare").
If there was any downside to Babymetal, it was that they can seem a little too pre-programmed live. There wasn't any audience interaction until the end (when they told fans in high squeaking voices they were so happy to see them). But that's perhaps understandable given the language barrier. But to see them perform "Gimme Chocolate!!" in a YouTube video is to know virtually exactly what it was like to see them perform live. And the lack of spontaneity didn't seem to hurt the audience reaction, or interrupt the occasional crowd-surfer.
But in the end, the real surprise with Babymetal was this: Beneath all the choreographed cuteness is the fact that these ladies rock hard, rock loud, and get the job done. They are powerful in a way that has nothing to do with demographics or purchasing power. They're subverting traditional "guy" music and making it their own while retaining its loud, visceral, angry quality. They are women, hear them roar.
"Uki Uki * Midnight"
"Rondo Of Nightmare"
"Catch Me If You Can"
"Doki Doki * Morning"
"Ijime, Dame, Zettai"
(Randee Dawn is a New York-based entertainment writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Variety, NBCNews.com, and Emmy magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in 3:AM Magazine and on the podcast "Well Told Tales," and she is the co-author of The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion.)