We’re moving beyond classic birit standards
Words by Jam Pascual
Illustration by MC Galang
When you think of Philippine pop, what comes to mind? Maybe the classic birit standards by Sarah Geronimo, variety show jams by Viva Hot Babes, or even James Reid circa Palm Dreams and the works of his contemporaries in Careless. This is the kind of pop that can easily find a home in radio waves, ride a streaming service’s algorithm, or get blasted to high heavens by a noisy neighbor’s karaoke speakers.
The definition of pop is nebulous and hard to pin down, but you can always tell when a musician is artfully utilizing its tropes and when they’re subverting them. Lately, there’s been a surge of artists doing the latter. Call it hyper pop, call it alternative pop, call it experimental. It’s possible that some of these artists, or these fans, care little for the often persnickety semantics of genre labels. Nonetheless, these artists represent a surging movement in local music that attack pop from different angles.
You don’t have to look far. To start off, there’s the roster for Nick Lazaro’s Eclectic Kiss label. Coates, Midwife, Amss, and Pikoy all come from different stylistic backgrounds and arrive at pop in different ways. Pikoy possesses a theatricality reminiscent of old Marina Diamandis, with helter-skelter composition and cocksure vocal delivery. Amss uses her airy vocals to pursue haunting moods. Midwife takes the post-rock sensibilities of her Tim Äwä work and gives them sticky, melodic hooks. And Coates makes you realize that broadway runs and ’80s arrangements gel surprisingly well.
Expand your radar and more signs of life register. Dana Blaze’s EP REVENGE feels like both a return to Dissonänce form, gothic and spooky. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the bright and buoyant debut LP of ena mori, impeccably produced and loaded with earworms. This year, we also saw Zild expand his sonic repertoire with his synth-driven solo record Homework Machine. It’s been 2020 for a while now, but it’s been exciting to see this movement gain speed so quickly, in the span of less than a year.
Deciphering this movement’s DNA entails considering other artists from before who embraced the pop designation, or at least acknowledged it, while constantly experimenting. Kate Bush and Björk are the sages often referenced in this regard. More contemporary examples of pop artists pushing the envelope include the jarringly abrasive 100 gecs, the self-parodying producers of PC Music, and even Carly Rae Jepsen.
Cite more acts in local music and we weave a grander tapestry. A few examples: Outerhope, BP Valenzuela, and of course Nick Lazaro’s Moonwlk and Twin Lobster projects. Consider also UDD and their Terno peers, who shaped the electronic landscape from the late aughts to the mid-2010s, and left-of-field pop acts like Joee & I and Skymarines. In a sense, they paved a way for the acts who gained traction this year, and give a sense of continuity to this new movement of pop with a twist.
We could be entering a new era for Philippine pop, one in which young, talented artists reinvent the wheel. 2020 isn’t exactly going swimmingly, but this movement is one thing the year is giving us that we’ll happily take.