LADYBABY Bring a Burst of Kawaii Chaos to London – Changing the Rules and Smashing the Boundaries of Idol J-Pop in Europe!
HYPER JAPAN’s Christmas Markets are invariably more intimate than their summer festivals. Nonetheless, their 2015 events featured a variety of entertainment: performances from TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE, Honey Spice, Tomoca, ONE NOT’E, Eir Aoi, X Japan, Kuroishi Hitomi and Dempagumi.inc drew large crowds in the summer. Continuing the trend, the 2015 Christmas Market featured performances from Lacroix Despheres, Bentenya, WING WORKS, Rakugo master Katsura Sunshine…
…But nobody was quite ready for the hugely exciting, genre-mashing, boundary-smashing LADYBABY.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Kaneko Rie was unable to attend their European tour. However, this in no way diminished the quality and excitement of their performances. LADYBABY was undoubtedly the most popular act of the weekend – borne out by the overwhelming demand from journalists and fans.
Even in Rie’s absence, Rei and Ladybeard were still a formidable “Singing, Dancing, DESTROYING!” presence. Friday’s performance was the most intimate due to overall attendance figures, but LADYBABY were easily the biggest attraction of the day. The set comprised the group’s debut singles and some brand new tracks, along with group introductions, the brief introduction of the stand-in “Stunt Rie” and some hilarious interaction between Ladybeard and the crowd. The pair’s stage antics and enthusiastic choreography rounded off the performance, leaving the audience eagerly awaiting the weekend’s shows.
While Ladybeard is a pro wrestler, entertainer and self-declared manchild (who insists when asked that he is only five years old), it’s easy to forget that Rei only turned fifteen on the Sunday of Hyper Japan. However, it soon becomes clear that Rei’s work in other idol and musical projects has helped her become a confident performer with an infectious stage presence.
Together, the girls and Ladybeard are a hugely entertaining group. London proved to be no exception in their recent run of excellent live performances.
For those lucky enough to see their Friday set, LADYBABY captivated the early audience with a whirlwind set and soon had everyone dancing to the choreography. Nippon Manju, their breakthrough hit, was once again very popular, Rei providing her trademark vocal accompaniment – and doing a superb job filling in for the sorely-missed Rie – as Ladybeard unleashed a selection of his most kawaii death growls.
After an introduction, the audience was treated to ‘Ultra Lucky’ and two new tracks: the pretty heavy ‘Age Age Money‘ and the catchy, hilariously-choreographed ‘Beard-chan Roboto’ (“this song’s about the time I turned into a robot”, explains Ladybeard). All were met by enthusiastic crowd response, particularly during call-and-response sections.
Saturday’s performance was a fully-fledged affair. LADYBABY appeared at the end of the cosplay parade, first posing for the crowd of fans before launching into their live show. Sunday’s final performance was even more energetic still! Ladybeard and Rei showed no signs of letting up as they unleashed the full force of their live show to a completely packed venue.
At the end of Sunday’s set, it was announced that Rei had turned fifteen, prompting the whole audience to unite and sing Happy Birthday. What Rei did not know was that members of the LADYBABY Fan Club had planned ahead with the group’s management! The Fan Club burst on to stage and surprised her with gifts, a cake and a beautiful, hand-made book containing messages and birthday greetings from fans around the world.
For a moment, the normally imperturbable Rei was overwhelmed – leading to a touching scene of Ladybeard engulfing her in a massive bearhug on stage. The birthday celebrations were a wonderful few moments, perfectly encapsulating the unique, direct connection between great idol performers and their fans.
The audience reaction giving them new strength, Rei and Ladybeard jumped straight into an enthusiastic encore of their signature song Nippon Manju, before exiting to huge applause, screams of delight and calls of “encore!” from the crowd. While their daily performances may have been less than 40 minutes, LADYBABY’s sets were the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Their new singles bode well for the group’s future and this author cannot wait for their next live UK performance.
I was fortunate to be able to interview Kuromiya Rei and Beard-chan before their Saturday performance. In a chilly interview room at London’s Tobacco Dock, Beard-chan and Rei offered candid insight into their recent experiences, the beginnings of the group, what the members think of each other and their hopes for the future.
Chris: Welcome to London LADYBABY! The public reaction to your recent performances has surpassed many people’s expectations…
— Ladybeard: YEAH, ours too!
C: Did you think that it was going to be this popular outside of Japan? Because it seemed initially you thought you were going to be more popular in Japan, and then it just took off!
— LB: It was never intended to be seen outside Japan, ever, right? Being a Westerner I knew there’d be a response from outside Japan because it’s so bizarre, but we didn’t expect it to take off the way it has. We think it’s – being inside it, as I am, seeing the processes and how it came together – I think there were a series of little happy accidents that came together to make the video as unique as it is, and as strange to Western eyes as it is.
C: Could you tell you were going to be popular? Did you get a feeling that it’d be so popular?
— LB Not on a global level – it’s gone crazy, right? It’s out of control, it’s amazing.
C: Is it going to stop?
— LB: It’s not gonna stop! It’s NOT gonna stop! DEATH is where it’ll stop! But I’ve cracked the fountain of YOUTH, so it won’t even stop there! <grins>
C: One thing I’ve noticed is that all of your previous lives, both as Ladybeard and LADYBABY, are – I suppose you could say ‘genki’, they’re full of joy. They seem uncontrolled, but of course they are, and they’re very exciting –
— LB: They ARE very exciting –
C: And full of mischief as well! You’re not afraid to be naughty, correct? <Beard-chan laughs> I watched your YouTube Fan Fest and I saw the WebTV awards – you keep on crashing servers due to your popularity! Every time you came on, all the WebTV Asia streams stopped working…
— LB: YOU’RE KIDDING! DOES REI KNOW? IS THAT WHAT HAPPENED? Because I thought they’d dropped the ball, but that’s what happened!
C: You’re just too popular 😉
<Ladybeard explains to Rei that they ‘broke the internet’…>
— Rei: YEAHH?? Yabai! <Ladybeard: “that’s insane!”>
C: But they did a replay, so we all saw it.
— LB: YEAH, THAT’S HOW WE DO IT! Breaking the internet. <grins>
C: So are you going to keep on adding these punk elements to your performance? Because that’s one of the things that really separates you from everybody else. You’re becoming so famous because of that –
— LB: Punk as in Heavy Metal?
C: Just your stage presence, the way you get right up to the crowds, and being ON the crowds, really engaging with them. It just doesn’t happen anywhere else – and Rei and Rie as well…
— LB: Well the girls, in New York, they both stagedived for the first time in their lives, which was awesome, it was very cool. When we were in LA as well, there was one of those barriers that leaves a gap between the stage and the audience — and before we go on, Rei goes, “I WANNA DIVE AGAIN!” — ‘I don’t think you should, you’ve got a distance to cover!‘ “Well I still wanna do it, I still wanna do it!” ‘Well I think it’s a bad plan Rei…’ I thought about maybe chucking her – in the end we erred on the side of caution!
C: I get from that you’re not going to tone down your live performance – it’s going to get even more crazy?
— LB: YEAH! Yeah, pretty much. Max out. Max out insanity.
C: Do you do your choreography with someone?
— LB: Yeah, we have a dance choreo who we work with who’s very, very good. We work with him; we’ll go in and he’ll have organised a dance he wants us to do. We’ll go through it – if there’s bits that we’re uncomfortable with, or think we can change to something that’d work more comfortably, he allows us the freedom to do that which is excellent.
C: …You’re a bit crazy, even for idol/J-Pop, where almost anything goes – look at BiS/BiSH, Necromonidol, all that kind of stuff…
— LB: Madness…
C: So have you encountered any resistance in the Japanese market? Because you seem to have been welcomed with almost open arms in Europe, we love you.
— LB: Aww thanks, man!
C: But have you encountered any prejudice? Particularly with your crossdressing, it being something you’ve done for a long time? I know Japan is sometimes not quite as progressive regarding LGBT issues, and to me there’s an obvious tie-in with your very, VERY – “here I am!” – kind of attitude. Whilst some places in Japan like Tokyo are very metropolitan and very progressive, in other areas –
— LB: Very conservative…
C: Just like in some parts of the UK, there’s also still a lot of prejudice towards LGBT communities. Have you seen a lot of that? Do you feel like you’re helping the cause?
— LB: Let’s go Rei’s answer first, then I’ll answer that.
— R: … naw, I’ve not encountered any negative response.
— LB: From my perspective, I’m actually very surprised how well I’ve been received by the Japanese LGBT community. From a Westerner, with my Western theatre training that I came from – y’know in drama school, everything’s y’know, crossdressing, everything has undertones all the time, right? –
C: It’s kind of Shakespearean, right?
— LB: Ha, yeah! Coming from that perspective, I… would have been very unsurprised if the LGBT community in Japan, and everywhere else for that matter, had interpreted what I do as a, pardon my French, ‘piss take‘ of what they take seriously.
C: That’s it, because there’s a fine line, isn’t there?
— LB: A very fine line… Now it’s NOT a piss take, but I would not have been surprised if that’s how it had been interpreted by people like legitimate cross-dressers, legitimate drag queens, people who feel that they’re, y’know, women in the bodies of men and things like that. But I’ve received NOTHING but support, God bless. I was very surprised actually, very pleasantly surprised.
C: It’s quite incredible, because you and LADYBABY are managing to crystallise all these different things into one – and I think you’ve done no end of good.
— LB: Yeah, THANK YOU very much! It’s actually amazing, because there’s so many different groups who appear, appear in the audience, appear in the Ladybeard and LADYBABY community. Y’know, there’s pop people, metal people, idol people, people around the world… There’s a lot going on.
C: OK, a question for Rei! Welcome to the UK, yokoso. Sorry the weather’s so bad.
— R: It’s ok!
C: What were your first impressions of Beard-chan?
— R: “CRAZY MAN!” <grins> At first my impression of him was a crazy man, but I’ve found that he makes a great effort towards practicing while no one is looking – he is a hard-working perfectionist. Of course we value each of our gigs, but sometimes we’re lost in the moment as we’ve been performing so much recently. However Beard-chan never neglects any detail of a performance, no matter how small – right down to the minutiae of stretching his fingers during dance routines, how we stand in stage choreography and so on. In that sense, I find him very professional.
— LB: Thanks Rei. <3
C: Rei, you’re very active on social media. Your recent statement where you said, “this [modelling] is what I want to do, and if you don’t like it, deal with it!” was impressive – many thought it showed maturity beyond your years. A lot of idols always seem to want to please their fans, even if it compromises their own ambitions. Rei and Rie have already achieved amazing things at such young ages – so given your differing experiences, do you find yourself giving each other advice about different things?
— LB: Well, the girls are very much my seniors when it comes to singing and dancing like little girls, right? So I rob from them as much as I can. If I’ve got dance problems I’ll ask them about them. Or I’ll just say ‘could you do it again?’ and I’ll watch intensely and try and figure out what they’re doing that I’m not doing.
C: What’s next to come in LADYBABY world?
— LB: WOOOOOOOOORLLLLLLLLD DOMINATIONNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!
C: You’ve got the new single, アゲアゲマネー (Age-Age Money) coming out–
— LB: Yep, yep, January – it’s gonna be madness –
C: …And an album?
— LB: Dunno yet, <laugh> not sure yet, not sure yet – we’ll see what happens, maybe, possibly – world domination bud. World domination or album, which one ya gonna choose?
C: A mix of J-Pop and Metal? Because I know you’re a metalhead, you’re a legit metalhead.
— LB: 100%. We could make an album called “World Domination” – we’ve got a name for our album! Done. <LB and Rei both grin>
C: You’re a very close group, which is amazing to see, it’s fantastic to see. You obviously support each other all the time, and I know Rie can’t be here for various reasons and we all wish her well. But what are your favourite groups at the moment?
— LB: Our favourite group? Of any nature? I’m listening to a band from Texas called Upon a Burning Body, who I am looooving, loving. But you know, my tastes, I go in and out of new stuff all the time, so right now that’s who I’m into. A lot.
C: Any message for the fans?
— LB: GENKI O DASHITE KUDASAIIIIIIII!!!!
— R: Itsumo, arigatō gozaimasu!
— LB: Thank you always, arigatou, for everyone’s support thus far — thank you, amazingly grateful, amazingly grateful.
And with that, the interview ended – LADYBABY sprinted off for another filming appointment. Despite their busy schedule, LADYBABY stole the show all weekend. As further proof of their popularity, the Meet & Greet queue was at least two hours long each evening! Nonetheless, Ladybeard and Rei took the time to talk to every fan. Moreover, they did it with big smiles on their faces, which hugely impressed me.
LADYBABY represents the best aspects of the new wave of Idol music from Japan – giving their fans amazing shows, catchy songs and still remaining down to earth and happy to spend time talking to their fans. Without a doubt, LADYBABY’s performances have been a memorable highlight for everyone who has seen them, whether in Europe, USA or Japan.
In particular, one of the best moments from their HYPER JAPAN appearance was Rei’s birthday celebration during their Sunday performance. After the audience sang Happy Birthday, the LADYBABY Fan Club surprised Rei on stage with a cake, a bouquet of flowers and a hand-made book filled with drawings and birthday messages from fans around the world ― which brought a normally imperturbable Rei briefly to tears! She gave her all for the encore. For that short while, LADYBABY and the fans partied together, giving everyone unforgettable memories of the weekend to treasure.
So, what next? LADYBABY left London having inarguably conquered HYPER JAPAN, travelling to Cologne to dazzle more European fans at their hotly anticipated, sold-out gig at Die Werkstatt on the 5th of December. Afterwards, they headed back to Japan and raised the roof (and in Beard-chan’s case, climbed into the ceiling!) at Shinjuku’s Loft Plus One on the 20th of December – the video of which is available to watch on the LINE LIVE site. During the Loft Plus One show, Beard-chan complimented Rei’s commitment during their recent performances without Rie, reiterating, “Rei threw down Europe. She was very good. I was very impressed.”
To finish 2015, LADYBABY and DEATHRABBITS performed a collaboration live on December 30th. LADYBABY debuted three additional new songs and introduced a live backing band, tentatively named ‘Cawaii Chaos‘ – a sign of things to come? Fans can only wait in anticipation of the next release.
LADYBABY’s 2016 schedule remains relentless – their calendar is packed with appearances, live events and meet & greets. Their third single, “Renge Chance!” is slated for release on April 13 – and the group’s first Japan one-man live was recently confirmed for April 15 at Shinjuku BLAZE. More details are available from Tokyo Girls’ Update, LADYBABY’s official LINE blog and the official LADYBABY web site. LADYBABY supporters can join fellow fans in Japan and around the world in the LADYBABY Fan Club on Facebook.
Interview and photography © Chris Woods, with thanks to Shimohigashi Ryosuke for translation contributions.
Chris is grateful to Tachibana-san and Hayashi-san (LADYBABY) and Sam Narr (Curzon PR). Published with permission by Tokyo Girls Update.
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