Favorite PVs of 2005: #2, Tommy Heavenly6’s “Ready”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I haven’t written much about Kawase Tomoko, so my growing fondness for her may come as a surprise for regular readers. (But then, I don’t think I wrote much about SweetS for the first half year of this blog and I was head-over-heels for them during that entire time…) Anyway, Tommy Heavenly6’s "Ready" is this high because it’s both the best song and the funniest PV of 2005.

In her different personae, Kawase’s been having sick pomo fun with pop music – and along the way, making brilliant pop music as a result. When I first began broadening my Jpop horizons, she was one of the acts that I developed an intense initial dislike for. (Others included Otsuka Ai and SweetS, which is why I always doubt my initial reaction to anything.) Tommy February6 struck me as some kind of strange joke along the lines of MTV’s "Daria". I figured it was either a teen being way too retro for her own good or a bit of postmodern self-reflexivity by an adult steeped in pop tradition.

Finding out it was the latter somehow made Tommy more acceptable – there’s a comfort in knowing that a joke was intended, after all. Then I began paying closer attention to the music. "Je t’aime Je t’aime" stuck with me for a long while, along with "Love Is Forever". If anything, I found it a whole lot easier to get into Tommy February6 if I just listened to the music. It’s amazingly vibrant pop music, full of angsty melodrama and overdone production values – it verges on parody, but is so spot-on that it works on its own terms.

It took me a while longer to notice that Tommy February6 was different from Tommy Heavenly6. Mostly, I realized there were a couple of Tommy songs that were more rock-chick and noisy and they just didn’t do much for me. Those, I soon found out, were February6’s dark doppleganger, Heavenly6.

Of course, the idea of someone taking on two different personalities at the same time isn’t unheard of. Garth had Chris, for starters. But in the brazenly manufactured world of Jpop, the artificiality of these dueling personae took on added dimensions… it was less Chris Gaines than, say, Andy Kaufman. There was a clear delight, not just in the role playing, but in the manipulation involved in the role playing. There was also enough doubling motifs to give Joseph Heller a run for his money.

One is tempted to ask, Why bother? What’s to be gained from this kind of hijinks? But that’s a wholly wrong approach – the play’s the thing, the jouissance gained from such a sharp postmodernist tack. There was such a naivete to the presentation that one may even wonder if the postmodernist commentary is even intended by Kawase, or if it’s the byproduct of a willful pop perversity.

At any rate, when "Ready" came out I was immediately sucked in by the song itself. I remember listening to it constantly while commuting to work for a couple weeks and realizing I hadn’t really been paying close attention to the PV itself. Which was strange in itself, and something I noted briefly, since so much of my Jpop consumption is predicated on multimedia assault – songs, videos, photobooks, whatever I can get my hands on. But I could just listen to "Ready" repeatedly and be happy with that.

And again, it isn’t so much that "Ready" is such a unique song – rather, it gives new life to a tried-and-true formula: in this case, the balls-to-the-wall, three-minute pop-punk song. Unlike the elaborately baroque musical stylings of February6, "Ready" workson the notion that three or four guitar chords and a steady drum beat are all you really need, just so long as the passion’s there. And there’s passion all over Tommy’s vocals  – she sings in a plaintive manner in both English and Japanese and makes you buy every line.

The sweet keening of her voice doesn’t leaven the driving edge of the music, but actually adds to its velocity somehow. We’re not talking Kat Bjelland by any means, but Tommy’s punk diva is convincing and powerful and even a tad sexy. If anything,the slice of sweetness in her delivery is the reminder that we’re listening to Japanese pop music – in American punk, there’d be more of the sneer or rolled eyes in the delivery.

The very opening of the song is instructive – guitars jump right in and Tommy sings, "Sometimes with my heart I feel like just running away". The lyrics are pure pop junk forced through some alchemical aural process, the same way the Ramones took he basic sixties bubblegum pop and juiced it up for their songs.

And when I did get around to noticing the PV, it was fucking brilliant. (No pun intended.) It was a parody of rock star excess, as TH6 arrives at her mansion and proceeds to wreak havok with her short temper and huge ego. The first warning sign is when the limousine drives through the front gates: spraypainted on the door of the white limousine is the Tommy Heavenly6 logo, dripping and streaking in a manner that somehow makes me think of early seventies Rolling Stones.

As Tommy steps out of the limo, she gets pissed at the feathers fluttering around her and punches the window of her limo, shattering glass and injuring her hand. From there, she plays video games, roller skates in the hallway, and eats candy in bed – and continues to hurt herself one way or the other. She bangs her elbow against the sofa in a fit of gaming rage, trips up while skating through the halls, and by the time she’s in bed there’s an IV attached to her.

And in a twist of witty commentary, we see the servants – a butler and two maids – scrambling to make sure she’s okay, to clean upafter her messes, even as she continues to add to the detritus with every step she takes. The butler totes around her stuffed tiger and falls over himself trying to keep up. Though we don’t see their faces, our sympathies are with them – it’s Remains of the Day meets Sympathy for the Devil, complete with un-subtle Godardian leftist heartstring-tugging.

If Tommy February6 is the geek girl with dreams of a sanitized pop heaven, Tommy Heavenly6 is all about the sins of excess… albeit the kind of excess imagined by a particularly spoiled thirteen-year-old. A 1980s-era thirteen-year-old, before sex and drugs became as much of the junior high equation as it would be in college.

That kind of virginal wonderland of candy and video games, satin sheets and stuffed animals, helps keep the excesses from becoming grotesque or pathetic. Rather, it grounds Tommy’s personality within certain pop parameters – more Tiffany and Debbie Gibson than Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill. And it also makes the parody that much more apparent, since even Tiffany and Debbie Gibson weren’t this saccharine.

One can’t help but wonder how much of this is pure image manipulation and how much of it is strange wish fulfillment on the part of Kawase. Tomoko isn’t Tommy February6 nor is she Tommy Heavenly6, but there must be elements of both in her. And from all known reports, there’s a deep-dish strangeness to Tomoko that may be merely compartmentalized within her different pop personae. The masks she assumes are in some ways her true faces. Is Tomoko an ironic commentator or victim of all the strange pop fantasies conjured in the 1980s? The short answer is she’s both – she gets to have her cake and eat it too, in true pomo fashion.

The woman-child aspect of Tomoko has given way to two very distinct sets of fantasies in TF6 and TH6. It’s strange to realize this woman is twice as old as any of the Berryz – hell, she’s only six years younger than me – but she seems much younger than that. I don’t think it’s the perks of being a schizoid pop princess, either – one gets the sense Tomoko would still be this weird even if she was in accounting instead of music. (The same can be said of Otsuka Ai, too.) She’s part of a generation that refuses to grow up, that has dedicated much of its life to maintaining elaborate personal wonderlands – and if possible, make a living off that obsession.

And personally speaking, I can’t help but love her for it. 

Oddly, I haven’t paid much attention to Kawase’s work with The Brilliant Green. Not yet, at least – their reputation is known to me, what I’ve heard I like. And apparently they have their own weird side, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. But the Tommy projects seem to be sui generis, springing wholly from Tomoko and having a different feel as a result.

And as for Tomoko herself, she’s got the beauty of the truly weird shining in her eyes. There are times when I think she’s absolutely seductive, other times when I think she’s downright scary – but when the two blur together, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. She’s created pop personae designed to deflect that kind of attention – the girl geek and the pouting rock diva – but there are those who find those types attractive as well. But again, one has to wonder how much of her is in any of this – is it a confession of a mask, or just a well-deployed put-on?

That constant gyrating between authenticity of expression and pop-spawned manipulation makes the Tommy projects frustrating to think about at times… but also immensely satisfying, if you like spinning in rhetorical circles. And more to the point, once you stop thinking and just let yourself feel – the beat, the guitars, the voice – there’s an understanding that the process, the journey through this feverishly imaginative mind, is the true pleasure of Tomoko being Tommy(s). And hopefully there’ll be much more Tommy – H6 and F6 – to come.

Next: #1 is…


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6 Responses to “Favorite PVs of 2005: #2, Tommy Heavenly6’s “Ready””
  1. Alice says:

    I totally agree, but have you seen “Lonely in Gorgeous”? I think it’s better than even this.

    Like I’ve said before, you should definitely check out Tommy Heavenly6’s album that was released in August, it’s damn near amazing and definitely my pick for album of the year.

  2. Freya says:

    For me, it was rather the other way round. I wasn’t too fond of TF6, even though some songs were quite catchy, but when I listened to TH6 more and more, it also opened a door to February!

    She’s really doing a great job, no matter what persoality ^_^

  3. Wapiko says:

    Damn, it looks cool!

    And don’t waste your time on Lonely in Gorgeous. I have never been so uncomfortable watching a PV. Ever seen Ogura Yuko perform live? Think that, only 10x more novice. Download it if you’re curious, but I was disappointed. I was expecting one helluva PV, not Tommy standing around awkwardly.

  4. Alice and Wapiko:

    I actually haven’t seen “Lonely in Gorgeous” yet. Was it available on Jpopsuki or Hello! Online?


    It’s definitely interesting how one Tommy helps pave the way for the other Tommy, considering how they’re supposed to be opposites. What would happen if a third Tommy was thrown into the mix…?

  5. Wapiko says:

    I think I got it from either Tokyo Toshokan or Jpopsuki. :D/

  6. razor says:

    been a fan of tomoko kawase`s cute voice since the brilliant green ^^ . anyways tomoko is too awkward to dance. not as bad as ogura yuko tho. ive seen ogura live and she`s like on the verge of tears. poor poor kawai ogura :P. but i love seeing her shaking her ass on vitamin love video clip :).