J-Rap Rollergirls: Heartsdales’ “Hey DJ!”

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

I really, really want to like the Heartsdales. I first noticed them with the song “Love and Joy” – it’s a perfect gem of hip pop bliss, balancing sweet harmonies and shimmery synths with gritty beats and solid rapping. No other song I’ve heard from them compares to “Love and Joy” but that one song is enough to keep my hopes up…

Their latest single, “Hey DJ!” is good… It tries to be sexy and playful while still remaining as street as possible. It’s still not as memorable as I’d like, but as a PV it’s typical Heartsdales and worth looking at.

Here, they’re harassing a DJ while he tries to work. I’m sure he doesn’t mind this, all things considered. Still, I love how DJs are always portrayed as serious technicians: staring intently at their turntables, playing with the vinyl a little, sometimes listening to their headsets. You’d think such serious workers would yell for people to get away from the turntables and leave their arms alone, for Christ’s sake!

For those who aren’t familiar with the Heartsdales, they’re sisters Rum and Jewels, who grew up in Hartsdale, New York. If I got it correct, Rum is the younger one who’s shorter and smiles a lot, while Jewels is the older, taller sister who also smiles a lot. The sisters grew up in Hartsdale in upstate New York; I probably passed it time and again, whenever I traveled from Albany to Manhattan or vice-versa. Anyway, if it’s anything like the rest of upstate New York, Hartsdale is probably about as street as where I grew up in Long Island – that is, not at all, except by proximity to the real center of cool, Manhattan. In other words, like Long Island, Hartsdale is considered “bridge and tunnel” to those who actually live in New York City.

Still, Heartsdales aren’t about looking gangsta or sounding tough – they seem to be all about beats and parties…

… and, in this PV, rollerskating. I’m not sure what to make of this, especially so close on the heels of Amuro Namie’s astoundingly weird “WoWa” – it doesn’t have the same impact as Namie’s PV, as there aren’t any cheerleaders or anything. And thankfully, no Pink Panther. And no strange pomo gestures that make you wonder what the hell they were thinking.

I love how the Heartsdales sisters are almost always smiling – big, toothy grins that show great hygiene and a whole lot of enamel. Some Japanese performers have less than perfect teeth and make it work for them; others are misguided enough to fix up their dental problems and look blander for the effort. (I’m thinking less Tsuji than Akina here.) But Heartsdales have smiles that not only dazzle, at times they blind – it may not be very street, but it’s certainly quite welcoming.

Part of the PV takes place at a very J-urban pool party. Apparently, there’s lots of food and backup dancers and basketball.

Basketball may have been a better choice than rollerskating races – but then, the girls would have to sweat, and I really really don’t think Rum and Jewels sweat.


I love the shot of this guy. I’m not sure why, it may be the helicopter in the background, or that he’s sharing a hot dog or pizza slice or some kind of food stuff with one of the backup dancers. It may also be the weird little things in his hair, which may or may not be dreadlocks.

One imagines he’s a record executive who wheedled his way into being in the PV so he can be near pretty girls. Hell, I’d do the same, given half a chance.

Well, not the sad-ass dreadlocks. But force-feeding a dancing girl some carbs with a copter nearby? You bet!

The race around the rollerskating track isn’t exactly a high speed chase. If anything, it reminds me of lost Saturdays as a child, going to the local rink and skating around and around in a semi-co-ordinated struggle to stay on all eight wheels. Rum and Jewels are considerably more graceful, but this whole sequence seems to be a bit beside the point – like they wanted to differentiate from all their other party-themed videos and just decided to throw in a “race” to add a semblance of a plot.

Of course, if we were talking rollerball, it would be a lot more interesting… And hey, the remake featured LL Cool J, so that was kind of street.

Given the urban obsession with big, expensive vehicles, it’s no surprise to see the girls posing with gas-powered bling. Here, Rum is in some kind of boat, looking very much like a backseat wet dream waiting to come true. Rum exudes a kind of feminine comfort, all softness and sweetness and a desire to please. She’s the mistress of the over-the-shoulder stare, the kind with a “what you looking at?” insouciance that can melt even the hardest gangsta’s heart.

Meanwhile, Jewels is posing with a helicopter, looking less coy but still quite sexy. She’s a bit harder than sister in her looks, the kind of girl who looks like she’d whip you into shape and demand you please her first if you have the balls to get into bed with her. Still, her smile takes a lot of the edge off that kind of personality.

Maybe it’s their chosen nom de raps, but Rum is all about a warm feeling inside, while Jewels is a beautiful, hard surface. I haven’t paid especially close attention, but it also seems that Jewels takes on the harder, bump-and-grindier lines in their songs, where Rum gravitates to the softer deliveries. In that light, Jewels is definitely sexier.

As the video progresses, the daytime pool party sequences start shifting to nighttime party sequences. We can tell it’s a real hot party because there’s a huge crowd of people all pressed up against each other, moving their bodies in a way that says I’m self-absorbed and flaunting it but am actually quite bored kind of cool that I never understood. It’s the beautiful, hip people kind of posing that’s always eluded ugly, geeky me. Not that I feel sorry for myself – I hate crowds and I almost never try to look stylish, so these kinds of gatherings turn me off anyway. It takes work to be glamorous, and I’m just too damn lazy and not that genetically gifted – which is perhaps why I appreciate it when done well by others, including Rum and Jewels.

For reasons I still can’t quite pin down, watching Heartsdale videos always feels like I’m looking at scenes from the local Hawaiian nightlife, like the Pipeline or Oceans. Part of it is the people who populate these videos: Asian youth emulating American street fashions. And while they look hot and stylish, it doesn’t look like the people in the PV have got wardrobe and stylists waiting offscreen. The party scenes in Ayu and Namuro’s PVs, for example, look more contrived, more like the set of a music video than a real party.

It’s during these shots that I realize a key difference between the Heartsdales and some of my other favorite J-urban sirens like Halcali or Amuro Namie or Koda Kumi: where the others may try to exude sexuality (okay, not Halcali), the Heartsdales sisters give off a vibe that they actually put out. Which may not be the case in real life, mind you, but it’s easier to watch their PVs and think they’re messing around afterwards. (And beforehand. And maybe off-camera.)

I’m not sure what gives me this impression, it’s like watching Christina Aguilera in her younger days and contrasting it with “Dirrty” or however the hell it’s spelled. The difference in vibes. In the latter, there’s that suspicion in your head about just how much dick Xtina’s sucked and fucked, and that either enhances your viewing pleasure or turns you off completely.

It isn’t so bad with Rum and Jewels – I picture quickies in a closet and maybe some sister sharing, but (unlike Dirrty Xtina) nothing involving multiple orifices and entire hockey teams… but there is a whiff of promiscuity I can’t shake. It may be that they smile so much – and that when they’re not smiling, they’re doing the sexy pout thing. It may be the way they dress, not like rap divas but more like backup singers with a bigger budget. It may be that it does look like they’re in the middle of some hot parties, and of course people attend such parties to be seen and to get laid. (Not necessarily in that order.) It may even be that the people in their PVs, the partygoing females especially, also look like they put out and therefore provoke a kind of guilt-by-association. It may even come from my own personal experience that people growing up outside New York City – especially bored, affluent suburban kids – tend to be freakier than their surface lives let on.

Whatever the case, the Heartsdales seem sexier because of that hint of possibility, as imaginary as it probably is. It’s a good balance to the obvious sweetness and girl-next-door beauty, giving them a different kind of edge, a hint of danger, if you will.

At the end, the two sisters are standing on some kind of winner’s pedestal, with Rum at top and Jewels in second. I guess there’s no bronze medal in this event.

Anyway, I listen to “Love & Joy” every few days still, but I doubt “Hey DJ!” will be on my iPaq for too long. Still, it’s always fun to watch the Heartsdales, if only to feel a bond with other bridge-and-tunnel Noo Yawkers who’ve opted for a different kind of island.

Oh, and to guess some more if they really do put out. (Which I’m sure they don’t. But if they did, it’d be okay, right?)