Thoughts on Babymetal’s American TV Debut

If you had told me five years ago when Babymetal first came to my attention that I would eventually watch them on a popular American late night show, I would have probably laughed. And yet, here we are.

Last night, Babymetal made their American TV debut performing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, promoting their new album Metal Resistance. Which, again, is strange to even write.

There were a lot of great things happening last night that were I think real wins for Babymetal. First, there was an enthusiastic Babymetal audience. I know there were some fans who went specifically just to see the group. So when Colbert announced them at the start of the show, they got by far the loudest cheer, showing some real enthusiasm. Another thing I thought was particularly great was that, even though there was a comment about “I’m not sure what I’m about to see” from Colbert, this was mostly just a straight performance/promotion, and didn’t feel entirely gimmicky. Plus, it was a good performance that also put a spotlight on the band as well as the actual members of Babymetal.

The biggest misstep of the night was the choice of song being performed. I totally understand why they chose to perform Gimme Choco – it’s the song that went viral around the world and has racked up 45 million views on YouTube. If the average American knows a Babymetal song (which, largely, they still don’t) it’s going to be Gimme Choco. That said, it is a misstep to be performing that song to promote their next album.

Right now Babymetal has gotten the viral hit, but their main goal is actual relevance beyond the gimmick and the novelty. Recently, The Guardian posted a review of their recent UK performance indicating as much. Falling back on Gimme Choco feels like falling back on the viral hit, the gimmick. I personally think they should have performed Karate, the song they’re promoting most off of Metal Resistance. Plus, this has the added bonus of focusing a lot more on Suzuka’s vocals. Gimme Choco’s great but it doesn’t show off just how strong of a singer Nakamoto Suzuka is.

That said, what does this mean for Babymetal? I think that this is another stop on their path to longevity. I’m not sure that this necessarily means mainstream success in the US, but it sure helps in their case for being legitimate rather than just a gimmick (this, along with their upcoming US tour and their other international performances this year). I doubt that Babymetal is suddenly going to go mainstream, but the fact that they’re performing on American TV two years after they went viral shows that they aren’t going away as quickly as some might have thought.

If you’re wondering if this will affect the popularity of Japanese pop idols in America… it probably won’t do anything. Babymetal has become fairly removed from idol culture (understandably so), and I can’t see this being a major gateway for idol groups to come perform on American TV. That said, I know that quite a few foreign Babymetal fans have gotten interested in Sakura Gakuin after becoming a Babymetal fan, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

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