By some considerable margin my favourite 'thing' last year was Babymetal. I thought the combination of cheery-poppy-happy-happy meets brutal death metal was the weirdest thing to hit the headbanging scene in decades. That is until a cross-dressing Australian beef cake wrestler and two diminutive Japanese girls destroyed whatever remained of my WTF-ometer.
Say hello to Ladybaby:
"This was never intended to be heard outside of Japan, ever!" explains the slightly unnerving front-man Ladybeard when I meet up with the band during the Hyper Japan event in London. "One of the most beautiful things to happen with Nippon Manju is that a bunch of happy accidents occurred to make the video the freak show that it is. So without those many happy accidents I don't think it would have been as successful".
It's freezing in the press room and the other band member present today is Rei Kuromiya. Both her and the aforementioned Ladybeard are dolled up in ski jackets while third band member Rie Kaneko joins us via Skype from Japan. The whole scene is utterly ridiculous and when I ask them how they would describe Ladybaby to their best friend's grandmother the answer is predictably bonkers "well, I know the lady in question is dead and we're alive, so that's a start" deadpans Ladybeard, who adds "we are a fusion of Japanese pop music and heavy metal music with a particularly Japan-centric dance performance, featuring two small Japanese girls beside an Australian man with a beard and a dress".
For sure Ladybaby are on the outer fringes of an already bizarre hybrid but Ladybeard explains this is just the way things are and that there are many difference between East and West "so the Japanese have their own way of doing things. If you go to a big show in Japan, half the fun is watching the audience. I went to see Babymetal and it was 10,000 people all doing the dance moves at the same time. And as a Westerner you're like 'what the hell's going on!'" Rie adds "I realised the [Western] audience listen to the music and enjoy that first, as opposed to the dance routines".
I'm really interested in Ladybeard. He exists in a kind of quantum state, unsure of what persona he should be playing; the tough cross-dressing wrestler, or the far more thoughtful chap that appears when the visage drops. I just wish I could see more of the latter because he has some really interesting insights "being idols as we are in Japan, the idol system is something that I'm still trying to get used to because it revolves around taking girls that are very very young, you put them on stage and they're not very good. And that's the point! And over time the fans encourage them to get better, so it's like a paternal relationship. But to a Westerner this is just ridiculous 'why am I paying 50 bucks to see a show if it's not ace?'". And he has a nice observation about the role of collectivism and how it affects the behaviour of fans "I think Western culture is associated around the individual whereas Japanese culture is centred around the group and you're expected to operate with the group. Whereas the show's I've been to in Australia, there would be a circle pit and there'd be this one dude running backwards because he wants to be the one guy that's different from everyone else; if you do that kind of thing in Japan, you kind of get kicked out of the group!"
Both Rei and Rie are at school but I was concerned touring the world with a burly Australian cross-dressing wrestler might not be the easiest to balance with study "it's not really difficult to do both because my thing is to chase your dreams" says Rei "and actually, I don't like studying!". Hmmm, I'm not so sure this is a good thing.
Rei explains this attitude is in part down to the transient nature of their popularity "because we became famous so quickly that could mean we might lose it very quickly too. So for us now the focus is to keep working hard so that doesn't happen". Ladybeard is keen to reiterate the hard working nature of the group "the other thing as well, of course, is that Babymetal have come before us and their show is watertight. So they've kind of set the standard, so even though we're doing something slightly different we have to be at the same level as them or we're just going to be seen as the cheap Babymetal imitations".
It's clear there is a very strong bond between all three of them and here's how I'm calling it: Ladybeard is the most bad-ass big brother any wee girl could hope to have. As Rei puts it "when I first met him I thought he was a crazy man! And now I realise he's quite serious about his job and a perfectionist" adding "he encouraged us [to work hard] and he never stops practicing!" she beams.
And that's that. The band say goodbye and Ladybeard prepares his persona for the next interview. I have no idea what the next year holds for them but I sincerely wish them all the best because they clearly work very hard, the girls are having the time of their lives and there's something so innocent and charming about them all. What I'm obliquely trying to say is that there's a tiny wee bit more to Ladybaby than meets the eye.
Images Copyright Clearstone, Hyper Japan