Can Babymetal Win Fans Back After Tumultuous 2018?

Babymetal had a rough time in 2018, but can they pull fans back in the second half of 2019?

Su Metal and Moametal of Babymetal draped in a dark red cloak while the rest of the image is entirely black.

2018 was a truly awful year for Babymetal. Just five days into the year, Mikio Fujioka, guitarist in Babymetal’s backing Kami Band died following a fall from an observation deck while stargazing on December 30th 2017.  Believe it or not, that wasn’t the worst thing that would happen.

Babymetal has always been centred around Su-Metal with her being the lead vocalist while Yuimetal and Moametal provided additional lead and backing vocals. The backing band were an additional part of the show, originally all dressed in bones bodysuits and masks; the individually anonymous Babybones would mime performances behind the three girls. After two years the Kami Band were introduced who also mimed for the first six months. For the next two years the backing bands would alternate until eventually the Kami Band became permanent.

Both the Babybones and the Kami Band alternated members and were clearly hired musicians for live appearances. The Kami Band were entirely replaced in 2013 and from there consisted of Boh (bass), Hideki Aoyama (drums) with Takayoshi Ohmura, Mikio Fujioka, Leda Cygnus and Isao Fujita rotating as the two guitarists depending on availability. While fans were upset by the death of Fujioka, who was a much loved part of Babymetal, the show would go on.


Babymetal Fans Become Suspicious

In May 2018, Babymetal kicked off their US tour but in addition to Mikio Fujioka, another member was missing – Yuimetal. No advance warning was given and fans weren’t happy. Eventually the band’s American management released a statement confirming that Yuimetal was still in Babymetal but wasn’t on the US tour – not quite the response fans were looking for. As the year went on there was still no sign of Yuimetal on the European tour or at festival dates and fans started to get angry at being kept in the dark. The addition of two extra dancers didn’t do much to fill the void left by Yui.

Of course, what would any band situation be without their fanbase turning to conspiracy theories?

Theories ranged from Yuimetal being injured as she was known to be accident prone (by her own admission) to her being pregnant, to the completely insane idea that she was being kept as a slave by Japanese management. That whole ‘Nikki Sixx being replaced by a fake Nikki Sixx during part of the 80’s‘ theory suddenly seems a lot less crazy next to the Babymetal conspiracies that were floating around. Despite the negativity online, Babymetal were very well received at Download in 2018 and by fans who saw them live on their various headline tours.

Babymetal Address The Yuimetal Situation

On October 19th 2018 Babymetal released Starlight and with it came a statement that Yuimetal had left the band, with Babymetal beginning a new seemingly darker chapter. Yuimetal released her own statement, announcing that she had been dealing with health issues for some time and had decided to leave the band to pursue a solo career in entertainment. Whether Yui will return to music or look to move into acting is unknown as she hasn’t resurfaced since.

Starlight‘s release was completely overshadowed by Yui’s departure and led to further speculation as to how artists are treated by Japanese talent agencies. One thing did become clear though – Yui’s charm and charisma were going to be sorely missed. Meanwhile, Moametal seemed to be becoming more of a background player to Su-Metal and on times just another dancer. None of this seemed to sit well with some of the fanbase who were proclaiming Babymetal to be dead.

Elevator Girl

Babymetal released Elevator Girl last month and the reception was once again mixed. The song being primarily in English rather than Japanese didn’t seem to feel right and it was a return to their J-pop roots which they left behind years ago. Combined with there being no official video, not even a visualiser or lyric video, it meant there was no YouTube presence for the song beyond an upload on the official Babymetal YouTube channel which was seemingly uploaded by YouTube and was never promoted on the band’s social media. While a lot of fans were still on board the Babymetal train, it was clear that there were a very vocal number still jumping off.

Live Dates and Pa Pa Ya

Are Babymetal in trouble? On the surface, it is a concern is that their London o2 Brixton Academy gig hasn’t sold out. Tickets went on sale on April 26th and as of today (30th June) there are still tickets available in a venue with a capacity of just under 5,000 with three days to go. However, the slow ticket sales can be attributed to the show being so close to other big tours. Download was a few weeks ago, Metallica was last week, Glastonbury had a rather big metal line up this weekend and there’s been a few other big tours for those with wider tastes like The Rolling Stones, The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac who all have fans within the metal genre.  It’s been an expensive few weeks and with Ramblin’ Man Fair just over two weeks away and Bloodstock six weeks away, Babymetal’s ticket sales aren’t as worrying as they may initially appear.

Then there’s Pa Pa Ya.

No, Pa Pa Ya isn’t the new frontman for Ghost, but it’s a new single from Babymetal that is a lot closer to what fans expected from the band and has been met with a much more positive reaction. It still isn’t as djent-y as some would like but you can’t please everyone. Again, no video to really speak of but the song seems to have turned the tide in terms of fan opinion.

Today Babymetal faced a big test at Glastonbury. It has to be said that the Glastonbury crowd seemed somewhat confused by them, which is no surprise, and they suffered a little from being head to head against a talk by David Attenborough. The Glastonbury crowd were there for pop artists and were going to be almost entirely unfamiliar with Babymetal but a masked Kami Band and no dancers; just Su, Moa and Riho Sayashi (ex Morning Masume) did what they do best – entertain. By the end of first song Megitsune they had the crowd bouncing with them and having a good time.  They probably didn’t convert much of the audience into fans but with the festival being broadcast live by the BBC in the UK and internationally by other networks, Babymetal returned to the three girl formula and did what they did best – kicked ass on a big stage in front of a massive crowd and an international audience watching at home and online. If people thought that Babymetal were dead then they were very much mistaken. Today’s performance should silence a lot of the naysayers.

Babymetal’s Future

It’s not the same without Yui“, “It’s different now“, “Babymetal sound different“. Well yeah. Babymetal in 2014 sounded very little like the Babymetal of 2010 and Babymetal in 2019 sound different to how they did in 2014. The same criticism gets thrown at every band because every band evolves. Play Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All next to Load and they don’t sound like the same band. Likewise Megadeth‘s Killing…Is My Business compared with Youthanasia. Bands who don’t adapt and evolve tend to vanish off the radar; admittedly AC/DC and Status Quo are exceptions to that rule and anomalies that no one can explain.

It seems like Babymetal’s management have listened to the fans and are going back to the tried and tested three girl formula, though rumour has it that the third girl will rotate with other singers. Most importantly, while the backing band and now the third girl is apparently going to change, Su and Moa have changed too. These aren’t children anymore – these aren’t two pre-teens, these are two women who are now in their twenties.

The old Babymetal is indeed dead. The “kawaii” cute children are gone and now we have two women fronting a band in a new chapter of its existence. Today they proved they have everything they need to succeed even with a crowd who have no idea who they are. The complaining fans need to forget about their conspiracies and just enjoy the show, because it’s still one of the best shows you’ll see.

Babymetal release their new album Metal Galaxy on October 11th.  You can preorder it via Amazon.

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