Back in the 90s and early years of the new millennium, J-Pop was sitting on top of the world as the most sought-out music originating from the East Asian market. A lot of their popularity had to do with its association with Japanese animation, better known as anime. Along with the Japanese gaming industry, many songs from J-Pop artists became popular among a large cult following especially in North America and Europe. It is even safe to say certain J-Pop artists themselves became popular, not just their music. The J-pop girl group Perfume has been prominent since their debut back in 2000. Utada Hikaru is a soloist known for her featured songs in video games like Kingdom Hearts and anime like Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo.
Sadly, J-Pop has lost a lot of its international luster after 2002 and a lot of its failure has to do with the fact that Japan does a lot of their business internally, not internationally. What this means is they will always cater to their small local preferences over the much larger international scene. In this case, it is the Otakus – people, primarily Japanese, with obsessive interests in anime, manga, video games, and J-pop and often have a say in its direction – who are at fault.
As a result, J-Pop suffered internationally because it mostly attained attraction through both the anime and video game industries in which the songs themselves have an emotional connection with said media. J-Pop on its own is very hard for the Japanese to market internationally because they do not take popularity cues from the most popular musical markets are five years to a decade behind the times. Also, they too follow the same “slow killing” trend of not appealing to international markets.
Still, there is one J-Pop act that is dominating despite the situation the J-Pop industry is in now internationally. This act is known as BABYMETAL and they are extremely popular. The question is why is the hybrid J-Pop and metal girl group the most popular J-Pop act internationally?
For those who do not know, BABYMETAL is technically a risky concept. Prior to BABYMETAL coming to existence, the members Suzuka Nakamoto, Yui Mizuno, and Moa Kikuchi were better known for being part of Sakura Gakuin, a well-known “junior high school” group in J-pop in which its members constantly change through being “enrolled” or “graduating.” They primarily sing traditional bubble gum J-Pop often associated with their concept, but change it up time to time.
Eventually, the label in charge of Sakura Gakuin wanted to create a sub-unit of the group. They utilized the popular international musical cues of metal music, repackaged it along with idol music, and started to promote the songs not just to the Japanese, but to a wider audience. It also helped that the three members of the group were willing to learn and adapt to metal music, a genre they were previously unfamiliar with. They even went by new stage names, Su-Metal (Suzuka Nakamoto), Yuimetal (Yui Mizuno), and Moametal (Moa Kikuchi).
BABYMETAL was born and to initiate their presence in the J-pop music industry, they released their debut song titled “Doki Doki Morning” back in April of 2011. They then uploaded a live music video on YouTube back in October of 2011. They were able to attract 1 million views by the end of 2012.
For the next three years, BABYMETAL would keep doing their thing, creating original music that did not follow the rest of the J-Pop music industry and promoting locally and internationally. By 2014, the year they signed on to a major label, they had such a following that the release of their first official studio album not only received praise from critics, but sold over 37,000 copies in Japan alone. Online sales, however, were huge as it reached No. 4 on Oricon and No. 2 on Billboard Japan. It also topped iTunes Metal charts in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Their highest achievement was entering the U.S. Billboard 200 at 187. Take note that it is extremely rare for any Japanese musical act to even make it on such a chart.
At this point, one probably understands why BABYMETAL is the most-popular J-Pop group internationally. BABYMETAL and the labels that take care of them are following a formula, as mentioned earlier, of taking on musical cues from the top music industries with the biggest international influence, repackage it to make it their own, and promote it back not just locally but internationally. That formula has been utilized for many years by the K-Pop music industry and it almost guarantees musical superstars in their sake. Ergo, the success-to-failure rate is so favorable that other East Asian countries’ music industries, especially China and the Philippines, are utilizing it as best as they could too.
As for BABYMETAL, they recently released their second studio album titled Metal Resistance on March 29 of this year. BABYMETAL will also go on another world tour too in which numerous concerts in the United States are scheduled for both May and June.
[Photo by Danny E. Martindale/Getty Images]