A Guide to the Heaviest Kawaii Metal Groups in Japan
The presence of idol groups in Japan is absolutely massive; in 2019, there were over 3,000 active idol groups in the country.
The term “idol” in Japanese culture refers to a manufactured entertainer who is trained and then presented in a form of media for mass consumption. With musical groups, infusing attractive young girls or boys as the centerpiece of the product, with the music itself being an easily digestible form of pop, has been the long-standing tradition with Japanese idol groups.
In the 2010s, the usual pop trappings of idol culture went through a crossover revolution. Some groups adopted the sonic and visual aesthetics of punk or metal and broke away from the traditionally safe and highly controlled standards of the idol world. These groups adopted a harder music style in comparison to the pop numbers associated with the usual J-Pop stars, with some emancipating themselves from the clean cut, non-sexual image that these groups’ handlers traditionally preferred.
No matter their appearance or sound, the idols still have intense work schedules and little time for their personal lives. When a member leaves an idol group they “graduate,” some due to health reasons, personal issues or to start a solo career. New members are then “initiated,” and different eras of the groups are referred to as “generations.”
The bands presented here are idol groups with a harder edge. They are comprised of a core group of girls who sing, dance and act as a visual anchor for the act. The band of instrument players is usually in the background, or in some cases not present at all while the girls perform to a playback tape. While there are also a number of all-women rock and metal bands coming out of Japan such as Band-Maid, Lovebites and Aldious — who play their own instruments rather than just singing and dancing at the front of the stage — they belong in a different category.
If you are reading this article, chances are you’re already aware of Babymetal. There isn’t much to say about this group that hasn’t already been said, so feel free to scroll down, but for the uninitiated: they have released three genre-defining records and have performed duets with the likes of Bring Me the Horizon and Rob Halford. Their brand of kawaii metal kick-started a new era in heavy music and has proven to be a worldwide attraction in spite of all the naysayers. The rest of the groups on this list follow the smoke trail left when the spaceship Babymetal blasted off with into the metal universe in 2010. Bow down to the Fox God.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”
If only Lovecraft could have seen the forms of media he would inspire decades down the road. Formed in 2014, Necronomidol are among the darkest of the idol acts, playing a form of idol-infused black metal, doom and darkwave. Blast beats and shredding guitars underscore the melancholic vocal harmonies of the girls. Ero guro manga fans should take note of their album art; Uziga Waita designed cutely grotesque creations for Strange Aeons and for Voidhymn and Nemesis, Suehiro Maruo provided iconic illustrations of the band. As with all idol groups, lineup changes have been fairly frequent in Necronomidol. Their former pale-faced, green haired member Sari was the group’s visual centerpiece, but since she left, the band have spruced up their image with a little corpsepaint, as seen in the video for “Ritual”.
14th Generation Toilet Hanako-san
14th Generation Toilet Hanako-san is a solo Japanese idol who performs the part of a 444-year-old reincarnated ghost. Her music and image are extremely avant-garde and unusually abrasive for the genre, with the music having an almost grindcore element with matching vocals; there are no sweet-sounding harmonies or cute dancing with this bathroom-haunting ghost. In the live setting, the shows are violent and messy, with the eye-patched singer, clad in strawberry red and white and wearing a school backpack, unleashing all of that negative spirit energy on the lowly mortals watching by splashing different liquids on them. The album Father’s Masturbation depicts her holding an American flag, which could very well mean that after Japan, she’s going to take on the USA.
300 years into the future, the cyborg guitarist Ediee Irobunny, who was programmed to shred more efficiently than any human, was sent back to 2019 to help save rock and roll. What is the grim state of rock in the year 2319? It may be too terrible a thing to ask Ediee, but thankfully he came back to form Ironbunny with three vocalists: Hina, Kotono and Minami. Why he decided to form a kawaii metal group is something only he knows, but if he thinks this genre is the one to save rock, surely we should just shut up and listen. The band isn’t the first to use a masculine figure to contrast with the cute young girls, as Desurabbits also feature a hulking, masked band member meant to assist and guide the idols.
Desurabbits, or “Death Rabbits,” don’t claim to play rock or metal, but instead have christened their style of music to be “Japanese Death Pop.” Whatever they want to call it, the band are still notable for being one of the early pioneers of the death metal/J-pop crossover music style. Like Babymetal, their songs often include a demonic male vocal to contrast with the innocent sounds coming out of the girls. Producer Bucho (Akira Kanzaki, known for his digital hardcore act Akiradeath) wears a gas mask and riot gear, and acts as half mentor / half bodyguard for the band. “I gotta stand up to survive this hard Japanese idol dispute…!!!” His strict and rigorous idol training was shown in the video for “恋する季節” (“Season in Love”) which ends in a nice group pose in front of a cherry blossom tree.
The Australian wrestler-turned-idol Ladybeard is back after disbanding his cult sensation LadyBaby, and aesthetically nothing much has changed besides maybe a few new maid outfits added to his wardrobe. He is joined again by two girls who provide backup vocals to his adorably savage delivery. The brand of electo-infused kawaii metal produced by the bearded one is a hairier, more muscular take on the style, with his vocal delivery sounding inspired by frothy wrestling promo artists such as the Ultimate Warrior or Road Warrior Hawk, though the backup singers always bring the songs back into cutesville.
Momoiro Clover Z
The Power Rangers-inspired color coordinated band Momoiro Clover Z (MCZ) play a hyperactive form of J-Pop which is at times infused with a punk or rock sensibility. If you thought Babymetal were popular, look at these stats: in 2013, they grossed the fourth highest total sales revenue by a music artist in Japan with over 5.2 billion yen (north of $47 million USD), and in 2016, 636,000 people attended their live concerts, the most ever for a Japanese female group. That’s fine, but what about their rock credibility? In 2015, MCZ released a collaborative single with KISS, “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina.” Paul Stanley said of the collaboration, “Somebody said, ‘KISS, why are you doing it?’ ‘Because we can!’ It’s two worlds getting together, doing something unbelievable. Music power rocks the world.”
Brand New Idol Society
The anarchists of the idol scene, Brand New Idol Society (BiS), are a revolutionary faction among the hundreds of rather faceless, uniformed, positive facades seen in the community. Bear with me as I present the cliffs notes version of their history: starting with their video for “Paprika,” with stockings over their faces, they pantomimed oral sex. Controversial antics continued with the group running naked through the Aokigahara forest while in black metal makeup in their next video, carried through the streets in the fittingly titled “Idol.” They eventually released an album called Idol is Dead and a noise album under the name of Bis Kaidan, in which they threw underwear and a pig’s head into the audience during concerts. They have broken up, reformed, disbanded again and reformed again while releasing tracks like the eleven minute, Freddie Mercury-inspired “Are You Ready?”
The duo known as Fruitpochette formed in 2012 and utilize elements not often found in idol groups, including metalcore, electronic and death metal backing music to match the harmonic melodies sung by these studded leather jacket-sporting girls. Fans of the virtuous song writing style of Babymetal on songs like “Road of Resistance” will find the fruit grown by the pochette similarly satisfying. Their album The Crest of Evil is full of genuine bangers which could sit on the same shelf as “real” bands like Lovebites or Bandmaid. The Rat Fink inspired album cover of the two girls in skeletal form on a monstrous vehicle is no joke. Like a few of these groups, there have been ups and downs within their timeline; the group disbanded in 2017, but a year later announced a reformation.
Have you ever wondered how Jason Voorhees would look as a woman dressed in a frilly skirt and doing choreographed dance moves with four other Voorhees siblings? Well, Kamen Joshi (Mask Girls) has you covered. The Voorhees family is large with Kamen Joshi, as this idol group is more like a cult, with four different teams, Alice No. 10, Steam Girls, Armor Girls and Easter Girls. The type of mask differs between these subgroups, with the girls wielding different prop weapons in each group, such as chainsaws or laser guns. One member is a wheelchair user (which oddly makes me think of that wheelchair death scene in Friday the 13th Part 2). The backing music is usually rocking, but unlike other groups who have a live band, these Kamen Joshi teams, who do shows daily in theaters in Tokyo and Osaka, use a playback tape, making the girls, their costumes, and their dance moves the focus.
Burst Girl were formerly known as Guso Drop, and with their new iteration comes a hard-edged sound that combines the cool chick strut of rapped K-pop-like verses combined with an explosive rock energy. At times, the idol group sounds punk influenced, as on songs like “Great FXXKING MY WORLD” which I would imagine would ignite fans to shout along to the lyrics and scream into a handed-off microphone like it was a Dayglo Abortions gig. In contrast to most idol groups strict dance routines, the five members of Burst Girl are known for stage-diving and crowd surfing, giving this group an air of unpredictability which is a key element to the ethos of punk or metal, but not so much in idol culture.
Lyric Holic Noir
Originally known as Lyric Holic, the group’s second incarnation has brought doom and gloom to the idol scene. The sound of one of the girls mimicking the vengeful ghost Kayako in The Grudge on the track “Tsitomyaku” lets you know that this is no ordinary idol duo. The music video for the song is also horror-inspired, with the eye-patched, bloody and bandaged members positioned like murder victims. The music is thrashier than usual idol group output, with some symphonic metal flair and at times Babymetal-esque male demonic vocals applied to assure the listener that these girls are not afraid of ghosts, death or even S&M. A chain-filled dungeon is the setting for their video for “Curse of Bloodthorne” in which bound men are portrayed submissively, either behind cages or kneeling like dogs under the girls’ feet.
Satanic Punish declare that they make “fight music.” “It’s time to execute punishment on things that cannot be judged by the law. Eyes for Eyes. Teeth for teeth.” That ethos is on display in their video for “Bully,” which takes aim at the ever-problematic situation of bullies making lives miserable for people at school, driving some to suicide. The dark lord also makes his presence felt in the music of Satanic Punish, with the song “Pray for Satan” a rather brutal number that opens with a barked command from a demonic entity over some gnarly riffing and electronic squeals. They may just be the heaviest idol group out there, with “See You on the Other Side” sounding as heavy as any metalcore group, sans the teenage girls of course.
The horror punk idol unit Xteen (which is a spin on Stephen King’s killer car Christine) takes musical and thematic cues from bands such as The Misfits, which when performed by a group of Japanese girls, is certainly novel and perhaps more enjoyable than spinning the latest Danzig covers CD. In “The New Black,” the girls harmonize in English and even add in those signature “Whoa oh ohs” made famous by Glenn. The group doesn’t go all out with their image — though they do adopt a skeletal look for their new promo video for “Toxic Candy Girl” — and instead focus on catchy, punk songwriting.
Starting in 2013, Passcode mix metalcore and EDM with pop, creating something which could be described as high-octane kawaii core. The band aren’t ashamed of sounding artificially perfect, as they put auto-tune to ample use. With any self-respecting band in the West, this would be sacrilegious, but within the idol world, what’s the harm of another contrived element? The highly energetic songs are written in Japanese, though they contain English-language parts as well, much like Babymetal, so Passcode are ready and willing for Western audiences trying to crack this weird world-of-kawaii password.