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Babymetal bring pop-metal stateside

The Japanese metal-idol stars begin their West Coast trek this week

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Mike Pont/Getty Images Portrait

Japanese metal-idol band Babymetal have been tearing through the heavy metal world since 2014, when they released the self-titled Babymetal, but it was only in April that they made their U.S. television debut when they appeared on Colbert. Since then, their second album, Metal Resistance, became the highest-charting album for a Japanese band in the U.S. in more than 50 years and they’ve launched their third stateside tour, which hits the West Coast Tuesday.

Made up of three teenagers — Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-Metal), Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal), and Moa Kikuchi (Moametal) — Babymetal was the brainchild of Japanese record exec and producer Kobametal, who mythologizes the group by saying they were born with inspiration from the Fox God. They fuse J-pop and heavy metal to create catchy, frenetic, head-banging tracks that have attracted fans like Rob Zombie and Judas Priest, whose singer Rob Halford will perform with the band at the 2016 Alternative Press Music Awards next week.

Earlier this year, EW sat down with Babymetal (through a translator) to catch up about taking America by storm, and what it was like to meet their metal heroes Metallica.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You made a splash with your late night appearance on Colbert. What was that experience like for you?

MOAMETAL: We had to travel the very next day, so when we were on board the plane, the stewardess immediately recognized us and said they gave us a bunch of sweets and snacks. That was a great experience.

That was one of the biggest moments you’ve had in the U.S. and made you much more visible to so many new fans.

SU-METAL: We were pleasantly surprised by how many responses we got after the appearance. When we went to L.A. when we were walking in the town, some people recognized us. After that we were about to embark on the U.S. tour so that the tickets immediately sold out.

This has been a massive year for you. Metal Resistance cracked the Top 40 in the U.S. and the Top 20 in the U.K. What changed for you since you released your first album in 2014?

YUI-METAL: The last two years we’ve been touring around everywhere in international countries and in Japan so we’ve been growing to the next level. At the same time, the popularity grows everywhere, so we feel the difference as we tour. Also, it was very remarkable that we’re the first Japanese artist in 50 years to enter into the Top 40 on Billboard. That was shocking.

How have the other bands in the metal scene reacted to you?

SU-METAL: Mostly the response has been positive from metal bands and the metal industry. We’re grateful for that. The surprising thing is when we met Judas Priest, they all recognized us. They knew our songs. They knew “Gimme Chocolate!” and started dancing along with the music.

There hasn’t really been a major female metal group that’s had this success, and your songs have a feminine perspective. Do you think about that intentionally when making your music?

SU-METAL: We’re girls and we’re feminine so it naturally comes into the music but at the same time we intentionally put beauty and females and also Japanese culture J-pop into the music so it creates unique music. Sometimes metal music tends to be very masculine, but because our version of metal is a fusion of dance and heavy metal, all the mixing will create a very different type of music and the female aspect of it will help to create more uniqueness to it.

People have been so taken with your choreography and your dancing. Do you have dance backgrounds? Who comes up with your choreography?

MOAMETAL: We danced before we formed Babymetal but we weren’t familiar with the metal headbanging movement at the beginning. When we first tried “Doki Doki Morning” with headbanging, I had whiplash for the next few days.

Had you been big metal fans before forming the band?

YUIMETAL Before Babymetal I wasn’t familiar with metal. I used to listen to more pop music and anime music, but through Babymetal, I discovered not only heavy metal music but it opened the door to other genres.

Are there any bands or artists you really love right now?

SU-METAL: Metallica, Bring Me the Horizon, Limp Bizkit.

Where did the idea to fuse metal and pop come from?

SU-METAL: They were called upon by the Fox God and the Fox God has chosen the three girls to become Babymetal and carry out the mission. Only the Fox God knows why he came up with this idea.

Are there any artists you hope to work with?

SU-METAL: Metallica. We first met Metallica members three years ago and at that time we weren’t so into metal music. Actually, the Metallica live concert was the very first heavy metal concert we saw. We met the member of Metallica before they went out on the stage and at that time was “oh such nice, sweet, middle-aged people.” Once they were up on stage, the energy and aura was so enormous so not only just the impression we got but that also really got into our hearts. We learned to appreciate their metal music. That was a great encounter.

What are you most excited about for these U.S. shows?

SU-METAL: Even though this is the third U.S. tour, this is an intense one. We’re going to visit so many more cities than we used to in the last two tours. After Colbert, we have more fans who will come to the tour at the venues so we’re looking forward to meeting them. At the same time, because they may know a little bit about Babymetal, we have a very exciting live show. Our goal is to mesmerize those people who just started loving Babymetal. Because the second album was released recently, through those performances we want to create a new versions with our performances with the audiences.