Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Babymetal - 2018 Year in Review

So now we've caught up to the present year of 2018, and what a year it's been. Yui had gone absent at the tail end of 2017, and her absence continued into the new year. But not only that, but tragedy would strike, as guitarist Mikio Fujioka would sadly pass away in January as well. So things weren't off to a strong start at all for the band, and a lot of uncertainty clouded their future.

Now, this is a pretty controversial year to discuss about this band, but I'm going to do so from the perspective of a new fan, someone who only got into the band within the past few months. So I'm not going to pretend like I was experiencing the same sort of confusion and disappointment that many were expressing throughout the year. I'm going to discuss it based on how I personally experienced it, which as with all of my other reviews so far, is from a look back after the fact.

And based on what all I saw, honestly, I was very pleased by what the band turned out, all things considered. Most of the year was spent working around Yui's absence, and I think they did as good a job as possible in that regard. They changed their stage layout, introducing a rear platform for Su and Moa to swap out on, ensuring that those two would always remain the centerpiece of their choreography. And they introduced two backup dancers (unofficially referred to by the Babymetal fandom collectively as Muscle Metal) who performed on either side of Su and Moa, adding back some much needed symmetry to their routines, while still keeping the focus on the core band. And for the most part, I feel as a short term solution, this definitely worked.

This new format also meant that the choreography for all of their returning songs needed to be reworked a bit, and Moa was now performing all of Yui's singing and dancing parts (with the sole exception of Meta Taro, in which Su was taking on Yui's parts). And in addition to this new layout, they also busted out a new look, as our girls were now wearing these really awesome warrior-style outfits with headgear, which I just thought looked really cool. By this point, the girls are now full grown women, so I think it's nice to see them wearing something that's a little more age appropriate, particularly for Moa, who still looked like a kid even on Legend S, yet looks totally like the adult that she is now in their new updated outfits.

And yeah, I really dug all of this, and watched a ton of their shows. During this period while they were touring America and Europe, they worked a number of festivals and some smaller headlining shows, and there were tons of fan recorded videos of these events, which I just absolutely scoured. It was so neat seeing the different ways they changed up their returning songs, such as how Moa was singing and dancing Yui's parts during Gimme Chocolate, or how she totally took GJ and made it her own, so much so that I've honestly come to prefer her solo version of the song over the original.

But they've also introduced a number of new songs on this tour as well. We were first introduced to In The Name Of at Legend S, but while only Su performed it there, the rest of the girls join in on the choreography now, and they were all sporting these really big metal fox masks that were just so sick. We also got the new song Distortion, which is a pretty cool song, though perhaps a rare example of a song that I actually prefer to just listen to as opposed to watching them perform, as the choreography's honestly not all that interesting.

Distortion also had a music video, which was the first to not feature any of the girls in it. I assume this was due to the uncertainty regarding Yui's future with the band, an uncertainty which effected other aspects of the band as well, particularly regarding their social media activities, and the fact that they were no longer saying "We are!" at the end of their shows.

Muscle Metal was put to work during Akatsuki, as the spotlight was shined down on them to put on an elaborate fight dance during the dueling guitar solos. And we were also introduced to a new Su-metal solo, Tattoo. Again, this one isn't my favorite song either (certainly my least favorite Su solo at least), and probably just needs to grow on me a little more. But it's definitely more of a chill song than anything else the band has put out, and it's one where Su tends to go on stage and really just groove out to the music, so it's a nice little change of pace from the norm all the same.

Probably my favorite new song the band introduced though was Elevator Girl. Now, this is a controversial pick, as it would appear this is quite possibly the band's most polarizing song yet, with some loving it, and others utterly despising it. But I land firmly in the former camp, as I find this song just infectiously catchy, really fun and upbeat, and it also features one of the band's absolute best and most intricate choreography routines in their entire lineup, quite possibly second only to Catch Me If You Can. And as we would see in their Japan shows, it's also the rare exception of a song that actually appears to only get better the more dancers you add to it. I just can't get enough of this song, and can't wait for a professionally shot version of this to finally release, as unlike their other new songs I've mentioned, only fan recorded footage exists of this song at the time being.

And then not too long after they wrapped up this part of their 2018 World Tour, that's when I finally enter the picture, discover the band, and just fall completely down the fox hole. And what's especially funny is when I found out just how recently these shows were taking place, and how close to my location the band was. It makes me frustrated thinking about how I could've so easily seen this band live already (and I was especially jealous upon learning that they performed in Tampa in 2017 while I was still living there!), but I keep having to remind myself that I didn't even know they existed yet, so no matter how close they had come to me, I still couldn't have actually gone. But man, I can only hope they come back around these parts again soon, maybe in the next year?

But yeah, I enjoyed the hell out of all the footage I watched. And the big thing that stood out to me watching their shows from this period of time was seeing just how much fun the band was still having on stage, despite all their setbacks earlier in the year. Moa especially had come to regularly pranking Su on stage, and even though the Kami Band kinda got pushed into the background, and we're still waiting for the day when they would take to the spotlight and get some time to perform some solos again, you can often see them still back there just rocking out and having a blast all the same, which is really just so awesome, and so uplifting to see.

But during all that time, there still remained the uncertainty as it regarded Yui's role in the band. She was still considered an official member of the band, and myself and many others fully expected to see her inevitably make her return, possibly once they moved onto their Japan shows. I know I personally couldn't wait to see her all decked out in that awesome warrior gear. However, on October 19th, the band released an official statement announcing Yuimetal's departure from the band. And when I read that statement, it was like my heart skipped a beat. I was just stunned and in disbelief.

And then I read Yui's personal statement addressing the situation. She mentioned how she had battled with this decision for some time, but ultimately decided that it was best for all parties that she parted ways at this time. However, while this may have marked the end for now of Yuimetal, this wouldn't be the last of Yui Mizuno, as she assured her intentions to continue to pursue her other goals and aspirations. And despite only being a fan of the band for a little over a month by this point, reading that statement from her actually brought me to tears.

I've been into a number of bands. I've seen band members leave, and I've seen some of my favorite bands of all time break up completely. Hell, so many musicians and other celebrities even die all the time without it phasing me in the least. And yet none of those instances hit me nearly as hard as the official announcement of Yui's departure from Babymetal. I dunno what it is about this band, but something about them just touches you on such a personal level, and they just have such a tremendously strong connection to their fanbase, to where a moment like this can just really knock you off your feet. And I'm still only a new fan, so I can only imagine how hard it must have hit fans who've been into the band for far longer.

On this same day, the band also released a brand new single and accompanying music video for their latest song, Starlight. And this is just really an incredibly powerful and emotionally driven song. It's clear that it was originally intended as a tribute to their late guitarist Mikio, but due to the timing of its release, the song also works as a fitting farewell to Yui as well, as the band would move forward with Su and Moa as their core, and we even see the image of those two's eyes looking off into the distance at the very end of the video.

And move forward the band did, as they changed things up even more with their big shows in Japan. Now, I kinda want to hold off on getting too in-depth on these Japan shows for a couple of reasons, the first being that just about all of the fan videos that came out of these shows are of an especially low quality, and the other being that I'd honestly just prefer to wait until one of these shows is officially released, and then do a proper full review of that show (most likely Dark Night Carnival, I would assume).

But what I'll say for now is that the band indeed continued to evolve, and for these shows, they actually introduced three more dancers, bringing the total up to five backup dancers. However, they also brought back the traditional triangle formation, with one of those dancers taking Yui's spot, giving Moa a dance partner on these shows. A lot of people complained about Moa getting lost in a sea of dancers on stage, however, there were two spotlights specifically shining down on Su and Moa throughout the shows to help keep track of her. And while I can see how being there live in person might've been hard to pick her out of the pack, I personally never lost track of her for too long, at least from the footage that I saw.

While their set list for the American and European tours was pretty strict, they finally introduced a couple of changes to it on their Japan shows, where they swapped out Tattoo for Starlight, and they even brought back Meta Taro on Dark Night Carnival. And these shows also finally saw the return of the girls saying "We are!" to the fans during Road of Resistance. And I tell you, it may seem like a small thing, but just little things like that are enough to well the eyes up. The uncertainty regarding the band's future was finally over, and this showed a sign signalling a return to form of sorts, as the band could now confidently proclaim that we are all Babymetal once more, without us feeling like something was missing.

They also introduced another alteration to their look on these shows, which featured some especially fancy outfits, as well as these new stylized pulled back hairdos, which I also quite dig. And they would continue to wear these new outfits as they ventured out into their final shows of the year taking place in Singapore and Australia. And for those shows, all but one of their backup dancers would go away, as they returned fully to their traditional triangle formation for their songs. And performing in Yui's old spot, we would become familiar with Saya Hirai, who was totally the talk of this leg of the tour, as she would win over the hearts of fans the world over with her genuinely enthusiastic and exuberant outings on these shows.

Welcome, Saya!

Despite wearing a mic, we still haven't actually heard her sing yet, and her spot as a full time member of the band remains to be made official. However, based on what I've seen so far, I'd personally love to see Sayametal become a real thing in the not too distant future. But of course, as to whether or not that will actually happen, only the Fox God knows!

But as to the shows on this final leg, something I noticed was how I found myself eagerly awaiting the live footage to be uploaded or streamed live by the fans in attendance, and I've already watched all of these shows in their entirety now. And I was left wondering, well, I guess this is just going to be the way things are now, and moving forward, I'm just gonna wind up watching literally all of Babymetal's live shows from here on out as they're performed.

And meanwhile, most other bands I'm into I've never even seen a lick of their live shows, nor do I have any real interest in doing so. Yet I still can't get enough of Babymetal. Every show just has something about it that's worth watching for, not just the big changes I mentioned all throughout this rundown, but the smaller stuff, those moments where Moa trolls Su, or where one of them interacts with the fans in a certain charming way, or how one of the guys in the Kami Band will be doing something funny in the background when they really get into the music. All of these moments I find myself just fascinated by, and I can't say that I've ever cared about these smaller details concerning any other band. This band just has some sort of magic to them that makes myself and so many others just completely entranced by them, where we just can't get enough of them. And I love it!

So yeah, this may have been a weird time to become a fan of the band, but they managed to win me over all the same. And while it's possible that someone who's been a fan of the band for a longer time may have been put off by a lot of the changes the band underwent in the past year, as someone who's still new to it all, I really liked what I saw. And I also totally appreciated seeing the band's willingness to change things up and evolve. One of the worst things a band can ever do is just stay stagnant, and it's the quickest way for me to lose interest in a group. So I really dug the hell out of what I was seeing out of them during this period of time, and continue to look forward to seeing how they'll continue to evolve still.

And with that, we are now officially all caught up on Babymetal! However, I'm still not done talking about them, as now that I've seen all of their bigger shows, I'd now like to discuss some of my personal favorite performances that stood out the most to me. So join me next time, as I'll be counting down my Top 10 favorite Babymetal performances. See you!

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