How cross-dressing wrestler Ladybeard was born in Hong Kong
Ladybeard is a cute five-year-old Japanese girl … who happens to live inside the body of a hairy 32-year-old Australian man – and he’s coming back to Hong Kong to sing this month. Ahead of the show, he reflects on his early mistakes and how his show gradually took off
As fascinating cultural phenomena go, Ladybeard is right up there. A musician, pro wrestler and former martial arts stuntman, Ladybeard is also a tall, hairy, muscular, Tokyo-based Australian who performs pop/heavy metal versions of Japanese pop songs, and also just happens to dress as a five-year-old girl.
His signature style, known as kawaiicore – a combination of kawaii, the Japanese for “cute”, and hardcore – has catapulted him to massive popularity in Japan, where he’s lived since 2013. He has a legion of adoring fans, some of whom attend his every show, while his band LadyBaby, formed in 2014 with actual teenage girls Rie Kaneko and Rei Kuromiya, have more than 11.7 million YouTube views for their debut single Nippon Manju (“Japanese Bun”).
But the character of Ladybeard, an avatar of 32-year-old Adelaide native Richard Magarey, was actually born in Hong Kong, where he lived for six years from 2006 – and to where he returns for a performance of live music at Focal Fair in Causeway Bay on January 16.
Magarey moved to Hong Kong in 2006 to work as a film stuntman, originally intending to stay for just three months. After meeting a stranger at a party wearing a Hong Kong Pro Wrestling Federation T-shirt, he decided to take up the sport. He’d worn a dress to parties in Australia to get a reaction, but found that it created more of a stir when he did it in Hong Kong – and so his choice of wrestling persona was obvious.
Two months later, he found himself taking part in his first pro wrestling bout – wearing a negligee. His stage name was originally the Cantonese Wo So Lui, which translated easily back into English. A long-term lover of both heavy metal and pop music, he started performing metal covers of Cantopop songs during bouts, and his musical act was born.
Meanwhile, the highlight of his Hong Kong film career was the role as a baddie named Rambo in the 2011 wrestling comedy The Fortune Buddies. “I realised this was probably as good as it was going to get in Hong Kong – playing the evil white guy,” he says.
The upcoming gig will be his first performance in Hong Kong since he moved away, although he’s been back for other reasons, most recently a month ago to film an ad for Broadway cinemas.
“It’s very strange to me, coming back to Hong Kong now,” he says. “Hong Kong was where Ladybeard began, and I had some really good times, but it’s also where I made all my early mistakes. Now I look back at my early work in Hong Kong and think it was terrible. There was so much I had to learn, and I had to figure it out for myself. At the start of Ladybeard I was only a performer; I had to work out how to produce a show and design a show.”
His biggest mistakes, he says, were made in the styling of the show, but he also “hit the carbs too hard” in his attempts to bulk up and for a while built more fat than muscle. The incongruity of the Ladybeard character works best when he’s muscular, and so he works out every day; feedback from his fans suggests that they prefer him bigger.
“But I was very lucky,” he adds, “in the sense that Hong Kong was a good learning ground. I could mess up, and then I still had Japan, which is totally unaffected by what happens anywhere else.”
He first toured Japan as Ladybeard in 2011, after Hong Kong audiences had repeatedly told him that if any country was going to get what he did, it would be Japan. He fell in love with the place, got some extremely enthusiastic reactions from local audiences, and moved there in 2013.
By that point he was already popular in the country – “I’d kind of been working towards making myself as likeable to the Japanese as possible,” he says – but it went to another level after the members of LadyBaby were put together by cosplay outfitter Clearstone. The video for Nippon Manju pretty much sums up the band’s unique appeal, a head-spinningly fast-moving confection full of choreographed dance moves that make much of both the similarities and differences between Ladybeard and his fellow band members, set to music best described as a head-on conflict between bubblegum pop and death metal, and accompanied by delightfully incongruous Japanese tourism promotion lyrics.
Although he sings in Japanese, speaks in the language during his regular appearances on Japanese TV and has no choice but to communicate in Japanese with his manager and fellow band members, he says he only has a basic command of the language, adding that the persona of a five-year-old can be a useful way to cover any weaknesses.
That persona can cause wardrobe headaches, though, especially when he lived in Hong Kong and couldn’t find any women’s clothes in his size. Fortunately his manager in Japan, Naoko Tachibana, is a leading photographer of cross-dressing cosplayers, and already had a wardrobe of potentially suitable outfits. These days he has most of his outfits custom-made by a team of tailors that includes Japan’s leading designer of maid outfits.
The most rewarding aspect of moving to Japan, though, has been the dedication of his fans there.
“The way the Japanese express appreciation is unique,” he says. “There’s a lot of present-giving, especially if people know you like something or you’re missing something. When I first got here I was on a vegan diet, and I mentioned that I ate a lot of chickpeas – and then I started getting given cans of chickpeas at shows, and boxes of chickpeas started getting delivered to me.
“I have so much appreciation for the fans’ 100 per cent dedication to the cause. They’re so passionate – there are fans who come to every show I’m in, even if I’m only in a tiny bit of it.”
That dedication can also include some reactions far in excess of anything a performer might reasonably expect. “One fan said to me, ‘I was going to kill myself, then I found your photos and decided not to,’” he says. “When I first put on a dress aged 14, I never dreamt I’d have any kind of impact, let alone something like that.”
Ladybeard, Jan 16, 3pm, Focal Fair, 28/F Park Avenue Tower, 5 Moreton Ave, Causeway Bay, HK$450 (VIP), HK$250. Inquiries: 9486 4648