Tuesday ∗ 28 Aug 2012

Notes on OPM: the fact of celebrity

The question of supporting Original Pilipino Music (OPM) is one that isn’t simple anymore, not in these times when cultural systems are so intricately intertwined, and television networks and cultural empires are kings. In this series I look at contemporary Pinoy music’s production(s) and unpack the contradictions and discriminations inherent in, and the context(s) crucial to, the fight for OPM as we know it.

We say it often, and truth to tell in these shores it is true: many of our less talented singers have albums, and many of our more talented musicians are without jobs. But what of the non-singer, someone who doesn’t sing at all, gathering a strong enough following for her CDs that she’s now on her fifth (count that!) solo album – and yes, that’s not counting the one she did with her son, and another about the rosary.

Welcome the celebrity CD! At the center of which is Kris Aquino. Judy Ann Santos began this kind of production with Ang Kuwento ng Buhay Ko (2007) where her TV show and movie theme songs were interspersed with her recorded thoughts about particular times in her life. This album had an all-Filipino all-original set of songs that still made it original Pilipino music (OPM) by all counts, over and above Judy Ann.

But Kris, unlike Judy Ann, began this enterprise not to do a retrospective on her life, which would’ve meant just planning one CD. Instead, tied as the industry of celebrity is to selling the personal, Kris immersed herself in doing self-help albums, which is what most of these are. But unlike self-help albums done by experts in some form of counseling or other (think Dr. Phil on CD), most of Kris’ albums are only about her: when she came out with a first CD Songs of Love and Healing, it was soon after a public marital crisis and pregnancy difficulties; when her mother Cory died she did The Greatest Love (2008), a tribute album; when her brother Noynoy was running for president she came out with Blessings of Love (2010) filled with nationalist and campaign songs.

Each of these CDs also aren’t straight out self-help because each uses music to represent the aspects of Kris’ life. And with most these CDs hitting the gold if not platinum mark for sales, and the most recent one My Journey of Love (2011) staying in the Top 10 list of most record bars the past two months, this kind of production obviously can’t be ignored. Especially not in light of the fight for OPM.

Why? Because if we insist on saying that people aren’t supporting our music, our CDs, our cultural products, we must consider the ones that actually have an amount of and consistent following.

Granted that it’s easy to state that Kris is no singer, she is still a Filipino who is coming out with music CDs. And while it might be easy to dismiss these albums as filled only with revivals of mostly foreign songs at that, the question has to be what of those CDs that include original Pilipino songs? How does that fit into the discourse of struggle for OPM?

Particularly for the tribute album to her mother and the campaign CD, Kris chose and spoke of classic Pinoy songs such as “Uguy ng Duyan” and “Iingatan Ka,” as well as an original Filipino campaign song “Hindi Ka Nag-iisa” and the Jose Mari Chan original “I Have Fallen In Love (With The Same Woman Three Times)” alongside foreign songs.

And then there’s the fact that while Kris isn’t the one singing in these albums, she only hires original Pilipino singers to record her chosen songs. It’s difficult to fight with the fact that Gary Valenciano, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Christian Bautista, Jed Madella, KC Concepcion and Toni Gonzaga are local singers, ones who must also stand on the side of original Pilipino music. Add to that the local musicians who are part of these CDs’ production, and the local recording company (Universal Records), and to some extent we’ve got to grant these CDs OPM status, yes?

Or not. Which is to say we should begin redefining our terms here: does OPM cut across all CD productions by local musicians / singers / artists? Or do we have a set of requirements for calling something OPM? Can local artists with all-revival CDs claim OPM status? Or do their albums need to have all-original Filipino music, including revivals, for these to be called OPM?

It seems tedious to create a list of rules, but too it might be the only way to gather a following for the fight for original Pilipino music. Ignoring productions that make money, that actually have a following, point to a failure at considering audience, but more importantly it fails to look into the kind of media system musical productions fall within, a media system that we all fall within.

And are up against. It’s this media system that allows for albums like Kris’ to exist and practically ascertains that these make money. This is a media system that creates celebrities, whose talents might be questionable, but whose ability at selling themselves and their lives mean cultural productions that are profitable: from movies that become box office hits, to TV shows that have high ratings, to countless product endorsements, and yes to CDs that sell well. Which is to say that all of these are interwined: when you have a TV celebrity like Kris, a CD is promoted practically every day, mentioned every chance she gets, is played on her network’s radio stations and on her TV shows, and gets media mileage like no other. A celebrity CD in fact has every chance of winning, in much the same way that celebrity biographies, no matter how superficial or talentless their subjects are, actually become bestselling books.

The next questions are painful to ask: how does OPM as we’d like it to be known, as we imagine it to be great art, fare in light of this media system? When a system is dependent on the superficiality of celebrity, how do we even begin to talk about art and craft, musicality and originality? The fact that OPM as original Pinoy art doesn’t fare well within this system, is our crisis. What it requires is a creative response to at least battle it out with the local celebrity who makes music her business, and bestselling CDs a part of her credibility, no matter that she is talentless.

Which is to say this: when we know how to handle Kris Aquino’s CDs, then we can move on and face the struggle with the foreign artist. We battle with one demon at a time.

Note: this series was previously published in the now dead Pulse.ph in the stretch of June to August of 2011. the premise of this series meanwhile was and is that OPM is alive and now more complex than we’d like to think. as i wait for my editor Aldus to send me his edited versions, am putting this up, with all mistakes mine.

Posted in: arts and culture, kapitalista, kultura, tugtugan

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