Lauren Orsini sits down with Ladybead, SUZU and KOTOMI about forming the new group BABYBEARD
Few entertainers have had a career as varied as Ladybeard’s. The Australian performer has worked as a pro wrestler, an anime voice actor, and a death metal vocalist, all while wearing a frilly dress and pigtails. His latest role: singing and dancing as a member of BABYBEARD, the idol group he formed last year. Alongside petite co-members SUZU and KOTOMI, their names styled in all caps, Ladybeard’s formidable vocals complete the group’s kawaii metal vibe.
Though the covid pandemic has kept the trio from doing live performances, their knack for viral social media content has helped them share their peppy, positive, and frequently brutal music with the world. The result has been global; BABYBEARD’s first single, Nippon Kara Konnichiwa, was Number 1 on the J-pop charts in Germany and Finland, Number 2 in Australia, and Number 34 in the US the week of its release in April 2021.
We sat down with Ladybeard, SUZU, and KOTOMI for a video interview about the new group with Ladybeard’s manager, Shiori, translating the girls’ answers. Then, we talked to just Ladybeard about his pronouns, the pandemic, and what’s next for his eclectic career.
Orsini: How is your work with BABYBEARD different than the work you were doing before?
Ladybeard: One of the things that is interesting about launching a group [during the pandemic] is that 100 percent of our activities so far have been over the internet. So the girls have actually interacted with fans overseas more than they’ve interacted with fans in Japan thus far. It’s a new experience for both of them.
KOTOMI: I was in a different group before BABYBEARD. We did in-person live performances. In this unit, we’re doing online stuff mainly and getting global attention. I’m really excited about the fact that we can stream online and get listeners from all around the world.
SUZU: I am actually really surprised to get a lot of attention from overseas fans. I’m excited to go to foreign countries and perform in the future.
Ladybeard: This is SUZU’s first group. I wish my first thing ever had been like this, instantly getting access to the whole world — I’m so jealous!
What is the most unique skill that you bring to the group?
SUZU: A huge smile.
KOTOMI: I’m a huge otaku of idols. My enthusiasm and passion for idols is what I bring. [She’s a fan of the idol group Kamiyado.]
Ladybeard: I’ll PR the girls for a second. We held global auditions for this group, people were brought in from the entire world. Of course, who could seriously be considered was limited by who could physically get to Tokyo. The total number of applicants for the audition was 100, and then after the first cut, 52 made it to the first in-person audition. After another cut, there were 10 final candidates from which SUZU and KOTOMI were chosen.
Very interestingly, SUZU was the first person through the door of the audition and KOTOMI was the last person through the door. SUZU came in with a beautiful smile, which was lovely, sang and danced and was a ray of sunshine. She set a very high bar and it wasn’t until KOTOMI came in that that level of brightness was matched. KOTOMI is a very good dancer and she blew us away.
And to answer your question, clearly what I bring to the group is this beard.
For the girls, what were your first impressions meeting Ladybeard? What is it like working with him now?
KOTOMI: I met Ladybeard for the first time in my audition. At the time I was so nervous I couldn’t remember what was going on. But he was very kind to me and I was really happy about that. He’s a really hilarious and cheerful person and I really enjoy working with him.
SUZU: When I met Ladybeard at first, I felt he was naturally energetic, cheerful, and friendly. That first impression has not been changed.
Ladybeard: Poor SUZU gets elbowed in the head a lot, poor girl. Our pose is me flexing with the two girls on either side of me. And when we go through it, the three of us in a line, it’s always SUZU who catches an elbow. I feel so bad, she’s been elbowed several times. If I’d been repeatedly elbowed in the head, I’d be far less enthusiastic.
Aside from flexing together, how do the three of you bond as a team?
Ladybeard: Keep in mind that this is the main activity we’ve done together — sitting on Zoom. But we’ve started singing and dancing. The girls are very sweet. They’re both really hard working.
What is the creative process behind the videos you post to social media? Do you all add input?
Ladybeard: Yes, it’s pretty collaborative. Actually, Shiori comes up with a lot of good stuff for TikTok. With her help, we now have two TikTok videos with 2.4 million views: “Physically fit” and “Magical girl transformation(LB cut),” and one YouTube short at 16 million views — “When the manager isn’t in.”
What are your favorites?
KOTOMI: “When the manager isn’t in."
SUZU: “Hide and... FREAK!!” My mom said it was very cute.
Ladybeard: For me it was the very first one, the launching BABYBEARD one with Nippon Kara Konnichiwa. It was the first time we showed the group’s image to the world. That was the first time the world saw the girls’ faces; before that, everyone had a mask on.
What are you most excited about for the future of BABYBEARD?
Shiori: Both girls say they want to go on a world tour and meet their fans overseas.
Ladybeard: Finally getting to do this because very clearly it’s what the world wants from me. Last time [I was in an idol group] it was brought to an unfortunate end, and for five years people have been asking me to do it. And then once we were finally able to do it, to then have this pandemic show up, it’s like come on now. For me, just to finally actually do it, to get on stage and take it overseas, to give the fans what they’ve asked for for the past five years, for me it’s, let’s go, I just really want to do it.
[At this point, we say goodbye to SUZU and KOTOMI as they go on to other appointments.]
Idols in Japan have to adhere to strict behavioral rules. As an unconventional idol, which ones do you definitely have to follow and which ones are you allowed to bend?
Ladybeard: Your private life has to remain on the wraps. In this management company, I have not been specifically given instructions about what I can and can’t do in my private life, but I already know that whatever happens needs to stay under wraps.
On the Trash Taste podcast, I mentioned that I have a boring hobby. I’m not allowed to tell you what my boring hobby is because it’s too boring and it’s not in character.
How has your dynamic with your fans evolved throughout your career?
Ladybeard: This is one of the most interesting things about being a professional crossdresser. This career has been going on for 12 years now. In that time, as much as Ladybeard evolves, the world evolves around Ladybeard as well. As attitudes generally change, you can see how that directly affects your interactions with the fans, and directly affects your interaction with the rest of the world, too. For instance, it was about two years ago, suddenly everybody started asking me what my pronouns were. But that conversation had not made it to Japan so I was like, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” We’d be attending conventions in the Western world and I’d be asked, “What are your pronouns” and I’d say, “What?”
Shiori: It’s probably because we don’t use pronouns in Japanese as a language. We don’t use specific pronouns to describe people. We can cut the subject in a sentence, so we don’t think about it. In Japan, Ladybeard’s pronoun is “Beard-chan.”
So what are your pronouns?
Ladybeard: He, she, whatever you like. It’s not something that really bothers me at all. I’ve been called “that jackass” so many times that the wrong pronoun isn’t going to upset me. If I were sensitive to what people were saying about me, I picked the wrong career.
I definitely wanted to talk to you about gender so I’m glad this came up. I recently saw an interview with the actress Amanda Bynes who said she became depressed and experienced gender dysphoria after cross-dressing as a man in a movie. What does it feel like to see photos of yourself all over in a feminine gender presentation?
Ladybeard: Feels like Tuesday. I barely notice it anymore. It’s just going to work.
So you feel really comfortable in the Ladybeard persona?
Ladybeard: Very comfortable.
Where do you end and where does Ladybeard begin?
Ladybeard: So what you just said about that actress, Amanda Bynes. She was an actress playing a role. She went through that process for the sake of a film. For me, I made this character and it came from me. Now it’s an extension of me. Lady Gaga says something similar about herself: she refers to herself as a Gaga-Stefani hybrid.
I’m not sure, where do I end and where does Ladybeard begin? That’s a really good question. It’s like asking “where does you at the office end and where does you hanging out with your Nana start?” They’re both you. It’s just you at different times and different circumstances.
But I’m so comfortable in the skirts and whatnot now. Occasionally we go out in public and people are like, “Oh, a guy!” and I remember, “Oh yeah, I’m in a skirt!” and that’s not what everyone else is doing and I’ve almost forgotten about it.
Interestingly, if I crossdress in the Western world that’s when I remember, because that’s where I get abused. When I crossdress in public, no one [in Japan] harasses me. But in recent memory, it’s happened once in Paris and once in London. When it happened, I was like, “Oh yeah, this happens! I’d totally forgotten about it.”
You’ve said that for you, being a man in a dress isn’t about being the butt of a joke, but about changing the energy in a room. Why do you think your crossdressing has that effect?
Ladybeard: It started in Australia. Oftentimes, crossdressing has the potential to get the same reaction as what we just spoke about in London and Paris. There’s a bipolar reaction. It’s either anger and abuse, or it’s “Look at this guy!!” Because everyone acknowledges that hairy men generally don’t walk around wearing cute little skirts.
It’s interesting: people see me and they put whatever is in their head onto me. If they’re super conservative, they may think hateful thoughts. But if they’re not, they may think, “This crazy guy!”
And if they’re LGBT?
Ladybeard: That’s a question I’m actually not good at answering because every member of that community feels a different way about me. I was very cautious when I started this because I was frightened that the LGBT community would think that what I do is a piss-take of what they take seriously. And it’s not, but I can see how they would think that. But I have been told that there are members of the community who feel that way about me, which is very unfortunate and not at all what I was trying to do.
And then there are other members who have completely embraced me. When I got to Japan I was surprised by how much I was embraced by the LGBT community here. My image has been taken and used to advertise gay bars here.
In a previous interview, you said this about the appeal of your metal covers of pop songs: “It takes what you’re used to and subverts it.” I think this sentence is a good way to explain your appeal as a performer. Would you agree? Why or why not?
Ladybeard: With my old group, and now with BABYBEARD, it’s a series of pieces nobody ever would have thought to put together, and then they come together and work very well. And I think there’s something very beautiful about that: the surprise of it, the fact that it works when it really shouldn’t. There’s something very lovely.
With my personal career, I’ve always tried to make the masculine side of me as masculine as I can, and the feminine side of me as feminine as I can, and then try to create the biggest gap possible between those two dynamics. I think the group extends that further. Because it means that my masculine qualities are emphasized and the girls’ feminine qualities are emphasized. It’s an extension of the Ladybeard concept into a three-person formation.
It’s like pineapple on a pizza. Half the people love it and half the people want me dead.
So do you get a lot of hate?
Ladybeard: Less than you’d expect, and not for a long time. I think it’s just that I’ve been doing this for so long that the people who wanted to hate on me, hated on me and then moved on.
With BABYBEARD, you’ve had a role in choosing the name, the musicians, and even your fellow members. How did it feel to have so much say in the process?
Ladybeard: Excellent, it was great. Our current boss trusts us, (me and manager Shiori), regarding stuff outside Japan, appreciating that we at times potentially understand variables like culture and foreign fans’ tastes better than he does. So he listens to our opinions.
Memes are such a big part of BABYBEARD. Do you think internet literacy is an important part of your job?
Ladybeard: Shiori is better at it than I am, that’s for sure. I’m very bad at it. But yes, it’s very important and I need to get better at it!
The internet is an inseparable part of everyone’s lives now, isn’t it? Back when I started Ladybeard it was like, “there’s this thing called YouTube, you’re watching stupid videos there,” and now it’s so integrated into our lives it’s ridiculous. Regarding the group, we’re doing as much as we can online while you can’t physically see us, but when we can, please come to the live show because it’s going to blow your faces off.
That’s the other thing about the internet. It’s changed how people want to consume live performances because back when I was a kid and you’d go to see a heavy metal show, there’d be three circle pits going on and there’d be this insanely brutal moshing and so forth. There’s much less of that now because people want to film with their phones. There’s social media, interacting with the show, interacting with the video of the show — both people who are there now and who are watching online, that’s become part of the live show. As the performer, it’s your job to adapt to that and make sure your performance works for that environment.
What was it like recording your new singles? Did Covid-19 make it more difficult?
Ladybeard: Covid-19 didn’t necessarily affect the recording process, but it did affect the content. The lyrics of "Nippon Kara Konnichiwa" are about how we want to see you and be with you and hug you but we can’t, so until that’s possible we’re sending our love through the web. That’s the theme we’re trying to push until we’re able to leave the confines of the nation. Until then, we’d like to give everyone as much Internet love as we can.
Lauren Orsini is a fandom reporter and anime critic. You can find her Twitter here.