Ladybeard -- a cross-dressing, Australian, heavy metal wrestler, sat down with Cynthia Popper to chat about foreigner culture in Asia, Babymetal, and life before becoming the wildly popular Ladybeard.
You lived in Hong Kong for six years before coming to Japan. What was life like pre-Ladybeard?
I’m a trained actor and martial artist, and went to Hong Kong from Australia to seek stunt work in the entertainment industry. I did a lot of TV and film there, and eventually got into anime dubbing and live performances in China as Mirrorball Man.
Mirrorball Man? Tell us about that.
I wore a giant mirror ball and went to clubs and got patrons pumped, dancing to club music. During the week I’d work in anime or do TV work, then on the weekends I was Mirrorball Man. I traveled all over China for months. It was the best job ever and a super fun and exhausting time period. Mirrorball Man redefined my notion of what a performance could be. I was in a costume and environment that stripped me of my usual physical, vocal and emotional expression, and there was no "actual performance", I was just rocking out and partying, getting patrons involved in the party. After that experience my mind expanded, and I think that's where the "create joy" element of the choices that led to Ladybeard began.
His first appearance as Ladybeard happened in 2009 in Hong Kong, when he opted to go to a music show in a “white frilly bikini.” “I changed into it on the way to the venue on the train.” Dropping a super-fit foreign man in a women’s swimsuit in the middle of an event mired in conservative Chinese culture, the crowd’s attention completely veered from the event headliner to him. He became an overnight sensation and has been performing ever since.
But why Japan? You had an established base in Hong Kong.
Because of the anime dubbing I was doing in Hong Kong, as well as my training in martial arts, I developed an interest in Japanese culture. Coming here was a natural choice for me to explore where I could go with performing.
Japan has a long history of "otokonoko" (cross dressing men). You identify as a cross dresser and have been wearing women’s clothing since age 14.
I’m a high-energy extrovert. When you go to a party, there are three groups of people: people who love you, people who don’t, and people who might not be sure about you. You figure out who’s in which group a lot faster when you’re the guy in a dress.
So that’s why you do it?
I do it because it’s fun and it makes people laugh. And I wanted to perform in a way that made use of the things I’m good at. I like metal music. I’m a trained martial artist and pro-wrestler, and I like women’s clothes.
Let’s talk about metal music in Japan. Where are you with Babymetal?
The audience participation with Babymetal is unbelievable. Everyone knows all of the words, all of the calls and responses. Seeing 10,000 people doing the exact same moves, singing the exact same lyrics… it’s incredible. I love Japanese audiences. People really work hard to be good audience members. My performances feature metal covers of J-Pop songs, so the audience really gets into it.
What’s your audience like?
I’m so lucky. Most of my fans are Japanese girls 18- late 20s, but I get grandmas, metalheads, gay guys, and working women. I’m humbled by the range of people who come out to support me.
And out they come--in droves. In less than a year, Ladybeard has built an impressive fan base, with a Facebook following of nearly 11,000 and a Twitter following of over 50,000. And these are fully engaged devotees: sending fan art, attending multiple events and performances, some even divulging personal and heartfelt stories.
“At an Osaka event, one girl walked up and hugged me. She whispered in my ear that she had been in the hospital, with an incurable disease (this was in broken English). She wanted to ‘give up,’ but saw photos of me, and they inspired her to stay positive and give up on life.”
September 27 Yashima Gakuen Midorien Festival (Tachikawa BABEL) 18:00
October 31 Propogana Party (Shinjuku Christon Cafe) 24:00
Learn more:© Japan Today