Tuesday ∗ 28 Aug 2012

Notes on OPM: Lea & Anne, and the curse of celebrity

Because it was waiting to happen, wasn’t it, where the industry of show is finally called out for creating the monster of the talentless making money out of singing. Of course this isn’t new: many a-non-singer have signed record deals, and we’ve talked about them before. But what is different about Anne Curtis is not just that she is a non-singer, it’s that she can’t even carry a tune, and yet she’s got a CD and a sold-out Araneta Coliseum concert tucked under her belt.

It is the height of absurdity. But also it is a sign of the times for the industry of show and celebrity. It’s at a point worse than reality TV stars becoming celebrities – at least those we’ve proven just die their natural deaths, and the Kim Chius are as rare as they come. It’s worse than Paris Hilton doing a record – at least her record didn’t become a hit at all, and the bad singing isn’t happening on television everyday.

With Anne, this industry has proven that it can take someone who cannot sing to save her life, and make money out of the fact that she cannot sing.

I’m surprised it took this long for someone to say something… anything! But having Lea Salonga begin the intelligent discussion is worth the wait.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I get that that all of this is premised on a great amount of irony, and that is fascinating in itself: Anne’s producers and image makers, the machinery that makes her who she is, know full well of the travesty that is having her sing. Anyone who’s heard it on TV, or now on those youtube videos, would know that this is the worst display of singing non-prowess since, oh I don’t know, Willie Revillame’s best selling albums? Kris Aquino doing spoken word CDs? Take your pick.

But what keeps this audience captive is the spectacle that it becomes: look here! it’s the half-Filipino-half-Australian, a beautiful girl for sure, wearing fabulous clothes, willing to look silly, willing to make a fool of herself. Of course that she and her management would earn tons from this spectacle points at us as audience being the bigger fools.

And here is where Lea in fact, was as kind and objective as she could possibly have been in that interview. Her premises were clear: Anne is an entertainer, not a singer; Anne let out a wish and somebody made it come true.

But that wish has meant money coming in for precisely the producer and machinery that has allowed Anne and her audience to imagine all this to be a valid enterprise of just wish fulfillment. And unlike Lea, I am less forgiving of that. The “But I’m an entertainer” defense? It just doesn’t fly. Because we’d like to think this harmless, but it isn’t. We’d like to think this is nothing but a passing fancy for both music and concert producers and its audience, but it can’t be just that.

Not in this day and age when spectacle is what sells, when we are in the throes of the industry of the superficial, when what makes money for the business of show is already just the image. Granted that this is what being a celebrity means, granted that this is nothing but a by-product of Hollywood as the peg of our neo-colonial cultural production. Granted that our celebrity and showbiz culture actually survives on mimicry and being (poor) copies of American originals: monkey see, monkey does a little worse than the first monkey. Let television variety show culture dig its grave.

But singing – singing! – is our comfort zone. It’s the one space we have a clear claim to, what’s acknowledged about us across the world. We have Lea to thank for the latter, as we do them the first batch of Pinoy Miss Saigon cast members from Monique Wilson to Leon Roque, Cocoy Laurel to Michael Williams, Isay Alvarez and Robert Seña. We have Josephine “Banig” Roberto to thank for it, that spit of a girl who gained fame pre-youtubevideo. We have Charice to thank for it (as we do Ellen who discovered her, Oprah who took her on). We’ve got Arnel Pineda to thank for it, breathing new life to old Journey songs.

And here, in these shores, we’ve got every other fantastic singer who struggles in small bars and lounges, even when there’s no big break in sight. We’ve got those who do local theater, the Jett Pangans and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulos and Bituin Escalantes, the lesser known Tonipet Gabas and Lorenz Martinezes, who face a small audience in performances that are larger than anything television even allows us to imagine.

Singing is the one thing we do well. The performance it requires ours to claim. Anyone who grew up on Ryan Ryan Musikahan knows of the power of the piano, Ryan Cayabyab and a singing voice that can rise to the occasion.

And it is this kind of talent, it’s this kind of singing, that is already sacrificed in the preoccupation of current celebrity and showbiz culture with the superficial. It’s this kind of talent that is already put into question by a television culture that’s become more focused, now more than ever, on how people look versus how talented they are. It’s this kind of talent that the contemporary imagination fails when it is forced to deal at all – at all – with questions of how they must look in order to get their minutes on TV stage.

It’s this kind of talent that is set aside when money is funneled into making CDs that have the newest pretty ingénue or the hot metrosexual (or both! why not), or the president’s sister, taking on a part of the small original music buying market.

Lea tweets:

“There are people calling themselves singers without the talent to justify it, taking away business from those that rightly deserve it” (12 Feb 12).

“That is what burns me, and is insulting to all singer-craftsmen, gifted artists that work so hard and need to be heard and patronized” (12 Feb 12).

Lea tweets it right: “It’s frustrating, is what it is. Chances are I would’ve been one of the under-appreciated if not for Miss Saigon” (12 Feb 12).

It’s because of this dreary state of affairs that Anne’s wish of a CD and concert can’t just be dismissed as wish fulfillment. Because it in fact allows for the public to imagine that singing is secondary to the spectacle of fantastic costumes and grand production numbers. It allows for a concert-going public to expect what should be secondary to sheer unadulterated talent that is what carries concerts for two hours straight.

It allows for the off-key to imagine that they can dream of singing – that they can fulfill that dream as long as they’re pretty and sexy and willing to look silly. They’ll make even more money than the real singers who work hard on their craft, too!

And yes this is barely about Anne at this point, as it is about the system that allows her to imagine that this is alright. This is barely about Anne, as it is about the pits of contemporary popular culture that the cultural monopolies have introduced us to. This is about us not knowing singing talent even if it were right in front of us, because we’ve been taught that it must come in a pretty package that’s all dolled up by Vicky Belo.

In this sense, there is nothing harmless about Anne adding the feather of singing to her cap. Because given the injustice that the real talents in this country already suffer through, that feather’s ultimately a knife straight through their hearts.

Note: This piece was submitted to Pulse.ph, but never got published. Seems about right to publish it now, given the Anne Curtis, uh, wishes here.

Posted in: arts and culture, kultura, tugtugan

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