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   the sheer range of where a song can go
Saturday, March 8 2014
This evening while Gretchen was off working at the bookstore and then attending some event (perhaps a reading?), I was doing the usual mix of activities that doesn't take me far from my computer. At some point I made a huge pot of chili that included tempeh and green beans in addition to all the usual ingredients (such as black beans, mushrooms, and hominy).

I've been working increasingly on a project with Mike, the guy who occasionally sends me web development work from Los Angeles. We reached a lull in our work and he started sending me material that was not work-related. One of these was a Youtube video of a song called "Gimme Chocolate" by a band called Babymetal. The conceit of Babymetal is that it is three cute little Japanese girls fronting a thrash metal band. Two of them look to be about ten years old while the oldest one, who acts as a lead singer, looks to be about 14. They cultivate a look in keeping with Japan's famously pervy culture, wearing short skirts and prancing around with nascent girlish protosexuality. One of several radical things about Babymetal is that the musicians themselves (aside from the three girls) are completely de-emphasized. Frequently they wear stylized skeleton outfits or Jesus robes and stand in the back of the stage, which is very different from the flashy musicianship normally shown by even the most esoteric metal bands. Babymetal is all about spectacle and there's a lot to be found in the vision of three girls doing tightly-choreographed dance moves over machine-gun drums and thrumming guitars. (It's important to note that in all of what I saw, the girls were obviously lip-synching and the musicians were only acting like they were playing their instruments.)
Over the course of watching several videos (some of which stray into such categories as bubblegum pop, somewhat-antiquated techno, and even hip hop), it became clear that this phenomenon is an only-in-Japan sort of thing. Evidently metal, even aggressive thrash metal, is just another tool in the musical toolbox there and can be used as the basis for any sort of entertainment. In Western countries, particularly in the United States, metal still has enough of a sinister reputation that it's unlikely that little girls would find themselves perfecting dance routines to it and that people would be attending shows to watch them. There's a lot of religious baggage wrapped up in the Western view of metal and it affects parents and audience members in subtle unconscious ways (even if they consider themselves mostly secular). But in Japan, Western religion is just another tool in the cultural toolbox. The Babymetal stage features crosses or huge Jesus statues and, as I said, occasionally the backing musicians dress up as if they are all Jesuses (Jesi?). That kind of thing would never have a mainstream following in the United States, but in Japan it's clear that Babymetal is a carefully-manufactured entertainment product like N'Sync or the Mouseketeers. Supposedly the girls fronting the band were completely unfamiliar with metal when they were recruited. Now, of course, they flash the devil's salute at every available opportunity. It's all very deliberately metal in a way that would be considered comic outside of Japan. All that being said, I have to add that the sheer range of where a song can go when it can be death metal in one part and vapid bubblegum in another is impressive and inspiring.

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