Category Archives: music

Who and what is Babymetal and why is it taking over the world?

Life is about synchronicity. Yesterday I stumbled upon Babymetal online – for no apparent reason. Immediately intrigued, I thought immediately about how I needed to write about the Babymetal phenomenon (and the like) for a wider audience in the English-speaking world. This morning I was showing people Babymetal clips and talking about them. Moments later I opened the The Age’s Good Weekend magazine and found – lo and behold – a two page spread all about Babymetal – the biggest new thing in metal music in the world as we speak. How did the general public miss all this? And what does Babymetal mean for us in the Anglobubble? And for Japanese language teachers?

But first things first, who are Babymetal? They are 3 teenage girls immaculately dressed and choreographed with cutesy voices who sing catchy lyrics to heavy metal music. Only the ever-innovative Japanese could come up with something as original – turning heavy metal music on its head in a carefully designed and managed industrial project (yep – it’s completely manufactured – Simon Cowell eat your heart out). As a result, Japan has changed metal music for ever: it is now for everyone including female tweenies. People often have the idea that where the Anglobubble goes, the rest of the world follows. But, as I have pointed out before, we’re barely aware of how often it’s precisely the other way around, i.e. they lead, and we here in the Anglobubble follow – if we are given the chance to notice at all.

Before I say any more, why all the fuss about Babymetal?  Well, it’s worth looking at the song that’s got them the biggest attention so far outside Japan: “Gimme chocolate”. Running over the banging drums, the driving beat and heavy metal chords, are the ever so sweet vocals and lyrics mostly in Japanese by Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal (yep they have metal names!). They have a distinct black/red aesthetic and well-honed dance moves that appear in all their clips. Anglo-metal has never seen anything like this before.

You might not have been a metal fan before, but Babymetal and the so-called Kawaii Metal  (Cute Metal) phenomenon – an industrially manufactured blend of metal and pop – are genuinely fascinating and high quality to boot. With over 50 million online views and rising just for ‘Gimme Chocolate’, Babymetal has certainly grabbed the world’s attention. And there is also an unexpected twist in ‘Gimme chocolate’: as the English translation of the lyrics make clear, the song is all about a young girl’s desire for chocolate but who is worried about her weight at the same time, all set to heavy metal thrash.

While their first album, Babymetal, released in 2014 got some genuine global interest (including topping iTunes metal charts everywhere), it’s their second album, Metal Resistance, released in March 2016, that has really smashed barriers – with top 10 placings in the UK and Australia charts, as well as topping the US Hard Rock and World Music charts. The clip for the latest single, Karate, has the same catchy lyrics and heavy metal sound but this time coupled with samurai and martial moves that teens like. But it’s important also to point out Babymetal has worked hard to convince European and North American audiences since 2014 – playing concerts, opening for Lady Gaga on tour and appearing on TV – in order to generate international interest.

And all that effort has now paid off. Apart from record sales, you know an act has really made it in the Anglobubble when talented English-speaking singers start doing cover versions…. A current favourite is the acoustic version of ‘Karate’ by Amy B from the UK (but there are many other versions online of this and other Babymetal songs. Who knew? I didn’t…).

Of course language skills are also critical to Babymetal’s global success. Being able to communicate directly to your market is a powerful tool in any language  – even when you are singing in Japanese (with English fragments thrown in). The band knows how to work the English-speaking market – members are bilingual. Here they are answering questions in English in an interview:

And in the clip below they give their insights – in Japanese – about American food and fashion. It’s not earth-shattering but fans love it.

So what is Babymetal really all about? In the case of Kawaii Metal, Japan has taken heavy metal from the Anglobubble, worked it over to refresh it with a snappy pop twist and is now selling it back to us in the form of Babymetal and the ilk. The irony….

Japan,  like South Korea, has a strong music manufacturing base – that operates on an massive industrial scale we can’t really imagine but which we really should be paying attention to. It’s worth billions to the economies of both countries and the exported pop culture (that cuts across music production, tours, videos, merchandising, film and tv) functions as incredibly effective soft power across Asia and now increasingly further afield.

Australia would do well to study how the Japanese and Koreans do it, and learn how to imitate it – in order to create so-called ‘idol bands’ (manufactured groups) that can sing in Japanese and Korean – so that we  in turn can sell music back to them (our pollies are always banging on about the need for new export industries, well here’s one). There is no doubt it would sell – the curiosity value (as we see in the case of Babymetal) is immense. Babymetal has played at Wembley Stadium in London to sell-out crowds and even smashed merchandizing sales records there. They’ve also sung on American late night shows, and broken into top ten album charts everywhere. The Babymetal brand – with an ingenious invented back-story – is undoubtedly heading for even bigger global success.

And whatever Babymetal is doing is really working (they’ve certainly won me over). Two days ago they won the British Kerrang! 2016 rock award for best live band. Now that’s a real Anglobubble accolade. It doesn’t come any better than that. Hard work and an inspired product sell, whatever the language. Don’t say you weren’t told….

Listen also to what British heavy metal aficionados have to say after seeing the trio perform live at the age of fourteen (yes 14!) at Sonisphere, Britain’s biggest heavy metal festival in 2014:

Now finally, what’s in it for Japanese language teachers in our schools? Japanese popular culture – in all its forms – is an incredibly powerful tool for promoting Japanese language and culture not just to students, but also to the wider school community, and, even better, to the general public. If I were a Japanese language teacher, I’d be making sure  – with the help of some careful planning – that everyone knew about Babymetal, the story of Kawaii Metal, and the rest of Japan’s amazing music industry. Creating interest and desire is critical in sustaining strong and vibrant language learning communities everywhere – what happens outside the classroom is just as important as what happens inside it. The possibilities of what can be done with Babymetal and their music in this context are immense – if the successful re-use of pop music of Coláiste Lurgan in Ireland that I have blogged about in the past is any guide.

And of course Babymetal is not the latest inspired Kawaii Metal craze in Japan: that mantle currently goes to Ladybaby with Australia’s very own multilingual Ladybeard (a bearded wrestler dressed like a 5y.o. girl who also sings, growls and dances). But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post coming soon with a lot to say about language, style, success and Australians abroad.

The power of going viral: Suor Cristina, the Voice and the Anglobubble…. A little background helps.

Sometimes when things go viral online, they throw up surprising issues about engaging with language across cultures…. The current excitement around the world about one particular clip in Italian is so great it’s worth blogging about here. Plus it’s not often you hear Italian all over the commercial media in the Anglobubble – especially when it’s a good news story.

Where do we start? It all happened so quickly…. At lunch on the weekend, my sister mentioned a viral clip about an Italian nun singing on something like X-factor. She was quickly corrected: it was the Voice. Shortly after emails and texts started reaching me – wanting to know more about the clip and what else was going on beyond the bleeding obvious….. It was on all the TV news that evening – although they only showed a brief snippet of what really happened. It’s what they don’t tell you that’s often more interesting….

In only a couple of days the full clip (almost 9 minutes – very long as virals go) had had almost ten million views. Another 24 hours later and it’s picked up another 8-9 million…. So why all the fuss? And why is it so interesting?

As you’ll see, it’s about a surprise contestant (rocking it to Alicia Keys) on the Italian version of the Voice. The format’s the same everywhere: the judges can only hear the voice and have to turn around, if interested, to see who it is and to indicate their interest in having that person on their personal team. Here’s what happened:



It’s interesting because of what people don’t know or can’t understand – when they don’t speak Italian. What people wanted to know from me was: who was the nun (and the judges) and what exactly were they saying to each other…..? Well, that and the back story are worth considering and highlight aspects of the world beyond the Anglobubble.

Suor Cristina Scuccia is real, 25 years old from Sicily with, in her words, a gift that she is passing on. You won’t know the following from this clip, but she is a member of the Ursuline order based in Milan. And her path to taking her vows started during a musical when she played the role of a soon to be nun asking questions about God and her own path (I am not kidding….).

The judges – all very different – are well known in Italy:

Raffaella Carrà – singer, entertainer, host, famous since the 1960s in Italy (and beyond including Latin America). She’s 70 (it’s that mediterranean diet….). You can’t be Italian without knowing who la Carrà is.

Piero Pelù – with the facial hair, Fiorentinissimo (most Florentine) from his accent – lead singer with LITFIBA – an Italian rock band that just won’t die….

J-Ax (that’s right: Jay-Axe)- famous rap singer – he’s the one with the hat breaking into tears. He’s well known for such songs as  ‘A cena dai tuoi’ with Emis Villa.

Noemi – ex-talent show contestant who’s made it big, most famous for ‘L’amore si odia’ (with Fiorella Mannoia).

The discussion between judges and Suor Cristina is even more fascinating than the singing. People without Italian are curious – they can tell it’s interesting stuff  (Remember it’s a very long clip – in Italian without subtitles and it is also quite complex – shifting in content, topic and perspective). Everyone  – including the judges – is obviously keen to know what a nun is doing on the show.

There’s also the question of appropriate behaviour and tenor – the jocular proximity required between contestants and judges, tempered by the specific identity of the contestant, and the need to convince her to join someone’s team.

The first issue – for Raffaella to establish – is how exactly one should address Suor Cristina: she asks for explicit permission to use the informal TU form. This is not a small question – research we conducted at the University of Melbourne showed that nuns were typically addressed with the formal LEI form – indicating some reverent distancing. Quite coincidentally we’ll be talking about politeness and address in my advanced Italian class this week – so this is a good REAL LIFE example of how relationships are negotiated in Italian – so we’ll be discussing the clip. Once Suor Cristina says TU is perfectly fine, the others let rip – with colloquialisms (potentially even a little vulgar – at least to English ears), cajoling and jokes. She’s a nun but she’s young – and that’s the clincher for the other 3 (as our research also shows). Raffaella throughout is much more restrained in her interactions – despite her facial expressions…..

There’s a lot more I could say – the clip is great for deconstructing…. e.g. the many references to religion (including talk of a possible phone call from the Pope) in a very knowing Italian context (e.g. the reaction of the audience throughout). And why exactly she’s on the show…. 

If you’re teaching Italian, the clip is definitely something to show students – they might know about it already, but either way, they will be fascinated to see the Voice in Italian….. The shared experience of knowing the format is important: students seem to enjoy viewing their own world transposed into another language (see my earlier posts about Avicii’s Wake me Up and the Cup Song in Irish).

And if you don’t speak Italian, why don’t you just listen and enjoy and see what you can understand and make of what you see? If nothing else, Italian is a beautiful language after all – in sound and gesture. 🙂

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My cups to the Cup Song: the cover song as a great motivational learning tool in any language

Coláiste Lurgan, whose work I have profiled in the last 2 posts as a shining example of how to motivate language learning, has a lot of offer us by using famous cover songs reworked in the target language.

In addition to Avicii’s ‘Wake me up’ in Gaelic (see my Wake me up post about that great clip), one other Lurgan reworking has had the same amount of amazing global viral success (i.e. millions of hits): it’s the Cup Song in Gaelic shown below.

The Cup Song, otherwise known as ‘When I’m gone’ (Cups), is a recent reworking of a country classic from 1931 that appears in the recent teen smash movie ‘Pitch Perfect’. The new version sung by Anna Kendrick in the movie includes lots of people doing clever syncopated tapping using cups, glasses, whatever… Of course kids already know all about it and love it (hey it’s different!). So you can imagine how much fun it is for the kids at Coláiste Lurgan. Click here and see for yourself:


Amhrán na gCupán
(That’s Gaelic for ‘Cup Song’)

It’s got everything: sound, movement, coordination, great song…. Kids are immediately connected to their own popular culture (originally experienced in English), but are fascinated and motivated by the opportunity to experience it and, this is critical, to produce it themselves in another language, This song is especially good because of the need for group discipline, and physical coordination as well as the combination of a range of senses (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic…). There’s also the opportunity for kids to sing together and separately – and to be filmed and to be seen posted online. Kids today want to be visible

No wonder the kids at the end of the Gaelic version are so happy! It really works and language teachers could easily do the same everywhere.

There are thousands of clips on youtube about how to tap glasses/cups correctly – in a range of languages.  It’s also been covered in a range of different languages too…..

There are so many ways a teacher could approach this song as a learning activity. Here are just a few ideas.

There are lots of clips online – in different languages – about how to do the cups. Use those or do your own.

Create the necessary instructional vocab for your kids – model it for them

Get them to help translate the original text into the target language but make sure the final translation is grammatically accurate.

Get your music teacher involved. Get the kids to play the music. Or buy the backing track on iTunes. make sure all kids sing at some point. All instruction should be in the target language.

Do it for school assembly, language day, concert night, video it (with happy faces) and post it…. Tell the kids to send it around. Make language learning visible!

Let your colleagues know about this post. See what they think about the embedded clip – the reaction is always positive.

Try the Cup Song with your kids and let me know (with video proof) how it went 🙂


Coláiste Lurgan – you rock! A role model for language learning everywhere.

In my previous post ‘Wake me up..’ I talked in detail about an unexpected challenge to the Anglobubble that has gone viral and helped to change entrenched attitudes to language learning. I posted a great clip of Avicii’s ‘Wake me up’ sung in translation by hundreds of excited and happy language learners. I have watched and played that clip many times over. It’s not just the kids’ enthusiasm, the production values are great and that certainly helps. I didn’t reveal the language or the country other than the fact the latter is deep in the Anglobubble (despite having its own national language).

Time for the big reveal: the language is Irish Gaelic, and it’s Ireland of course (the Irish dancing was the giveaway). But the mouse that roared that’s behind the music phenomenon is Coláiste Lurgan – a summer residential school for kids. They’ve been translating hit songs from English and getting their students (and teachers) to sing, record and film them for a few years now.

Their great work has really taken off in the last 12 months – with a number of viral clips – millions of hits and growing. Why exactly has it taken off right now? Well, a number of reasons come to mind. Most of the first Gaelic clips were revoiced versions of the original clips sung in English, i.e. the original visual (e.g. Lady Gaga singing) was kept but the soundtrack replaced. They have increasingly shifted to high quality filming of the kids singing – you not only hear their voices, you see them front and centre – often with a little choreography. They now also have a big repertoire of famous covers so you can just keep exploring! And clearly there’s the power of word of mouth and social media. All of these factors make a huge difference!

The kids really shine – and their enthusiasm and discipline are irresistible. All of a sudden Gaelic and language learning  are cool. These kids really are role models for young language learners in the Anglobubble everywhere.

Some of my favourites are included here. It’s hard to believe but I enjoy them more in Gaelic than in English – because I don’t know what’s being sung! Bastille had a huge international hit with ‘Pompeii. But I like the plaintive lead vocal from one of the teachers in the glorious Gaelic version seen here:


The clip has been so successful that when it was uploaded on the web it was competing with Will and Kate for top spot on Youtube.  How cool is that! That’s a great motivator for students  and teacher involved, I’m sure.

After American superstars Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had a massive hit with the super upbeat ‘Can’t hold us‘, they heard about the Irish version and were so intrigued they asked to be included in the video – speaking Gaelic. Again how cool is that! Here’s Can’t hold us in Gaelic.

There are lots of others given the Lurgan treatment, e.g. Lady Gaga, Passenger, Lion King, Abba,  Michael Jackson. Even ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke and co-workers gets  reworked by our Gaelic learning and loving kids as An Laisc Is Mó.



I have no idea what they are singing but I know they’re plugging in to the zietgeist and loving it.

This stuff really works to motivate language learning. We need to use it. See my previous blog for some ideas on how. And tell your friends. Try it yourself!

More soon 🙂