Tuesday ∗ 28 Aug 2012

Notes on OPM: The reality talent sings

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.

The reality show seems far off from a discussion on Original Pilipino Music (OPM), but anyone who watches local television would know that these shows are the birthplace of celebrity. Current televition has created stars with no great measure of talent: Kim Chiu and Sam Milby were Pinoy Big Brother housemates before they became stars. Both of them sang inside the Big Brother house, and stepped out of there to recording contract deals among other prices of fame.

And then there’s the reality singing show, no different really from American Idol and Dream Academy. Except that of course by the time these franchises get to the Philippines, it’s never just about the talent anymore. The way popular television milks these talents all their worth doesn’t only mean rigorous training and strict criticism; it also means getting into these contestants’ lives, showing us footage of their roots, which in this country always means images of poverty and utter difficulty. That these images affect the outcome of talent contests might arguably be a foregone conclusion: the poorer and more difficult life seems equal to winning a contest that’s dependent on viewers’ votes.

Which is not to say that those who win these reality singing shows are without talent: usually the mass voting public gets it right, and in recent years it seems that even when the more good looking contestant might obviously be favoured by the show’s judges, the public doesn’t listen. Yeng Constantino and Jovit Baldivino, and recently Angeline Quinto, beat other contestants in their respective reality singing shows on sheer talent. A surprise really if we are to consider the presumption that the viewing public is still all about who looks good, versus who actually delivers.

And these three obviously have the goods, and deliver not just to their public but also to the networks they owe and recording companies they become part of, regardless of what kind of CD production it is. Of these three Yeng is different because she’s songwriter too – something that was part of her image even while she was in Pinoy Dream Academy, reconfiguring as she did every song she was made to sing, and in the end writing up songs with a skill that was new on primetime TV. Jovit, who became famous singing glam rock songs by Journey can really be limited by revivals of this foreign genre, if not by old school Lloyd Umali songs. Angeline’s first CD, while made up of five original songs, is stretched to 12 tracks, as each of the five are rendered on minus one, in radio edit, and diva club remix versions. Not unlike American Idol winners who record a winner’s song, Angeline carrier single is an original by Jonathan Manalo entitled “Patuloy and Pangarap.” She was the only one who chose to sing a Tagalog song for Star Power’s finale, which might have meant votes, too.

Yet, regardless of originality – and yes, still of talent – these CDs from reality show and reality singing show contestants sell like hotcakes, ascertaining an amount of success, if not a real career. Of course this isn’t new and arguably began with Nora Aunor and later on Regine Velasquez, but neither of these two were part of the machinery that ascertained multi-platinum CDs for singing contest winners.

A machinery that’s borne of the contemporary cultural empire as we know it. It seems easy really: viewers are given the power to vote and decide on who the next “star” will be, the network and management company generally agree with the audience, and once a winner is declared, her singing, her music, and her story, are used as a multilayered, multidimensional marketing tool that’s bound to television appearances and magazine covers all of which ascertain popularity and profits for the empire.

In this sense the winning contestant’s CD is almost only a by-product, versus an end goal to take pride in. This explains as well the lack of imagination and creativity in putting these CDs together, shamelessly rushing to come out with an EP for the sake of keeping the fan base interested, as if overexposing these winners in every talkshow and variety show wasn’t enough.

In the case of someone like Jovit, the songs for his first CD were practically pre-chosen to include the ones he became famous for in the contest, no matter that this meant mostly revivals, and that we were also listening to Arnel Pineda singing these songs. In the case of Angeline, it’s the sparse set of five songs turned into different versions including putting it on minus one. Across the board, the lack of creativity doesn’t seem to affect CD sales, putting both of them still in Top 10 Lists, and Jovit, now on his second album still rocking it.

Both these contestant winners sing local songs, they record original Pilipino music, are original Pilipino musicians, but become famous for foreign songs. And by all counts this star creation works, with the machinery behind this kind of production allowing for the possibility of great OPM CDs by the most raw undiscovered voices across the complex social classes of the country.

The discovery of talent of course is one thing; great OPM CDs are another. Save for Sarah Geronimo’s star and staying power, and even she is still dependent on an amount of revivals in her CDs, and Yeng whose stardom is only as limited as her rocker chick genre, there is no proof that reality singing contest winners will survive the dog-eat-dog business of show.

In the meantime though they’re teaching us about musical discovery that isn’t just about talent anymore, but about a cultural machinery. Gone are the days when we could bank on a Ryan Cayabyab imagining Smokey Mountain and creating an original hit of a group, with original Pilipino music. Here are the days of the reality singing show as controlled by the mass audience and manipulated by the cultural empire, making popular foreign songs.

In this configuration, OPM’s enemy is clear, isn’t it?

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, TV

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