Filipino music became a topic in the GRP Facebook group some time ago. The argument was about what is real OPM (Arche’s post already discussed it, and I prefer the term be dropped), so some say only native or indigenous music is “original,” while others insist modern music is original even if it copies or draws from foreign influences. My concern however went to how commercialism was probably making a mess out of the music industry, and this is a factor in causing issues and disputes like the one above.
I’m a person whose personal taste doesn’t conform to what’s popular or “in.” For example, people are all abuzz about someone having a “great voice.” “Ang ganda ng boses niya” (their voice is beautiful). Me, I don’t know why they do, so I just scratch my head and keep tuned to my favorite synth tracks.
Of course, people will say, to each his own, that’s your choice, etc. I agree it is. Some say music is a universal language. I disagree, since there are many cases where people do not agree on the music they like. But we are all free to like and dislike different forms of music. It is natural for us to have our own tastes. However, it seems to be that the popular music industry does not agree with that. Let me explain (and this is more of personal opinion, be warned).
I remember seeing on Facebook someone sharing a post of a Filipina girl group, with the explanation that the group is proof of Filipinos having “vocal DNA.” When I saw that, my mythbusting radar kicked in. This “vocal DNA” thing was the belief that that some people can be naturally good singers without training, and that vocal chords can’t be trained. This would come in tandem with the belief that talent is “natural,” and some people are born superior to others in such. In turn, it assumes that some people should receive accolades and praises – and thus, even privileges – for their talent, above other people who are perceived to be “talentless.” Apparently, this was the meaning of the post: that Filipinos compared to people from other countries are naturally better singers or have better voices and thus they should become rich and famous “naturally.”
I called baloney on it. It’s for this reason I wrote the “Natural Talents and Pinoy Pride” article, because it promotes inequality. It demonstrates that nasty wish of Filipinos: that, like the oligarchs they unknowingly idolize, they seek privilege by birth. They don’t want to work for success; they want it just given to them. As a result, they won’t want to work, they’ll just want to sing. This smacks of sense of entitlement, basically entitlement to inflated egos.
There are a host of sites by professional musicians that say vocal chords can be trained. Given the right training and dedication, anybody’s voice can be good. Of course, the propagation of belief in “natural” talent is only for selling things like talent shows and associated products (although it’s reasonable to enroll in a singing course).
One article says American Idol and similar shows have done a lot of damage by making fun of people with untrained voices. They imply that the finalists who made it are “naturally” talented, but it’s more likely that they received early training. Indeed, American Idol is one of the shows that ironically encourages some Filipinos (watching an American show, oh yeah) to pursue singing careers rather than more dignified professions such as doctors and scientists (which is why I admire someone like Yelle Castro, still working in the medical profession despite a chance to be a singer). Such shows give the illusion that someone can “make it big” without really trying.
Some people would say, if these singers are good and trained, then why are they not famous? Aha. There is the stupid fallacy that I explained above. If you are a good singer, do you deserve to be rich and famous? A huge NO. Like with business, you are not entitled to success. Success is really up to both you and factors in reality. It is not a necessity, an absolute result, nor is it something that defines your character, to be successful or not.
Of course, shows like American Idol encourage a “pataasaan ng wiwi” (piss height contest) attitude. Sinong magaling kumanta, who has the better voice, better vocal range, etc. They convince people that music is a rat race, and the people will apply this to life. Thus, we have people who are, as our webmaster Benign0 masterfully puts it, culturally hobbled by a compulsion to assert class dominance over each other. Music isn’t just another leisure thing anymore: it’s become a business commodity.
One thing about today’s music that I dislike: everything is about voice. Less love is now given to great guitarists, keyboardists, drummers and other players. They are all considered playing second fiddle (pun not intended) to the vocalist. As if the vocalist is the only star of the show. That for me is unfair. This is probably because of the dominance of R&B (some people don’t even know what it means) and other vocal-dominated music. Executives found R&B popular so they decided to narrow the music industry down, making consumers believe the rules they set are the rules for all of music.
Let me list some things that make me cringe. There might even be people saying, if a person has a nice voice or sings well, that means they’re a nice person. It’s a superstition-like belief, there is no convincing proof that one’s interest or skill in music is representative of their character. I bet even the rapists in Bilibid love to sing love songs.
Some people even tell me, “you still listen to 80s music in the 2010s? That means your mind is not advancing.” Some might claim “studies” say this, but I doubt it works this way.
Now, people will tell me, “why don’t you get taught yourself by someone on how to appreciate voice. You should conform to the standard of everybody.” Oh no, you don’t. I disagree that there’s such a thing as “standard of everybody.” Music, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder (or the listener).
Or someone may say, “you don’t appreciate voicing? It’s because you don’t appreciate people, you misanthropic jerk!” Well, that’s a knee-jerk ad hominem there.
Or the obvious, “you’re saying all this because inggit ka lang (you’re jealous!) because you’re not rich and famous!” Another brainless knee-jerk reaction.
All of this is just for selling products and records. The companies front a piece, make it popular, of course, by saying things like “if you’re not in, then you’re a jerk!” Because of the commercialization, the mentality is to treat music as a commodity, not as an art form. Taste in music becomes dominated by groupthink (ironic to call it “think”), since you are cajoled into conforming to the tyranny of a majority.
Of course, I do not discourage people from pursuing a career in music. Neither am I putting down musically talented people or those with voices some love. The problem is how the music world is so sales-based and tries to capitalize on people’s desires to be “rich and famous.” Even Lady Gaga lamented that. It’s also no wonder singer Cynthia Alexander decided to go abroad. Some will say, if you can’t sell it, don’t make it. People who even just make music for fun will be told, “di ka kikita diyan!” (you cannot earn from that!). Some people likely believe music should always lead to money. But it’s wrong. Music is actually made for other things than money, and expecting it to be an instant ladder to riches is a delusion (don’t forget how connections are the more likely road to success). Music is better used as an expressive art form, not a business commodity.
Obligation to be a Fan?
In connection to the Pinoy Pride mentality, some people would say you are obliged to shower praises and accolades upon countrymen. Even if they are terrible or you don’t like their act, you’re supposed to lie and say you like them. OK, I feel it’s all right for people to support or appreciate, on their own volition, some performers who are their countrymen (or ka-probinsiya, which is usually the case). But under no circumstance is it an obligation or duty to do shower accolades simply because of country or ethnic affiliation. It would be dishonest.
Some would have the knee-jerk reaction of saying, “if you don’t shower accolades, then you don’t have love and appreciation for our countrymen!” Nope, yet another fallacy. Praise and accolades are separate from love and appreciation.
Also, there was this proposal to ban foreign music in local radios. It’s a good thing Parokya ni Edgar frontman Chito Miranda called bull manure on this and said that Filipino musicians should instead step up to the plate and make quality music (not to mention address piracy). This protectionism by blocking out the competition only highlights the sore loser nature of some Filipinos. And of course, this reminds me of the observation that Filipino music companies aren’t really selling music, but celebrities. Hence the focus on singing voice instead of making better music as I highlighted above.
There is this meme about focusing on the singer instead of the music as brought about by MTV.
I prefer to apply the rule I use in other things, such as politics. Admire not the person, but what they do. In politics, don’t admire the personality, but their platform. Hate the sin, not the sinner, for another topic, but similar idea. Before you admire a person, you first admire their works. Some people may object to that, but I consider it a valid way of appreciating things.
Of course, there is the issue of other indigenous music preservation, something raised in the group. The composer Jose Maceda was mentioned, and that efforts need to be stepped to inform people of his work and perhaps ensure preservation. Perhaps this is where an institution like the government can help out, since this is a cultural, not commercial, issue.
I also maintain that Filipino singers who do well abroad are not and can never be the Philippines’ saving grace. They only offer some temporary relief and entertainment from the problems that we face, but that’s all. The problems are still there. The only saving grace of the Philippines is when the problems themselves get fixed.
My Preferences and Thoughts on ‘Appreciation’
Oh, if people want to know my taste, I prefer mostly 80s music, covering synth, wave, and more along that line. I see music as a collection of ordered sounds that form a soundscape meant to please the ears. When people ask me, what’s the main thing in music, I wouldn’t go for voice, lyrics, or singer. I would say it’s the instruments. I like especially the modern electronic keyboard (called the synthesizer in the “good old days”) that can produce a myriad of sounds, especially those that could not be made by natural instruments. My favorite song these days is Mechanical by The Quarks, a pioneering synth song from 1981 that typifies the traits I seek in music. Mostly minimal wave, but many 80s era Japanese hero theme music also has the action-packed adrenalin in its melodies and beats.
If someone asks about my vocal choices, I prefer voices that are weirdly unique. My favorite style is AOR (album-oriented rock), with the late Jimi Jamison as my favorite vocalist. His voice embodies the youthful fury of his genre. Add to that Larry Leon (who sang the MASK and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors theme songs). Peter Murphy likely started the dark-toned low voice associated with electronic new wave (like David Gahan of Depeche Mode and Ricky Gervais of Seona Dancing). On female voices, I don’t have favorites, rather I like it when the voice suits the style, like Jane Wiedlin’s voice suiting Blue Kiss, or Susanna Hoffs’ fitting Manic Monday. Of course, who can forget when we wanted to imitate both Michael Jackson’s and Prince’s squawks, squeaks, howls, ee-hee-hees and other sounds (called vocables) back in the day.
Among my Filipino music tastes are the 1990s rock that made a revolution in modern music at the time. Here’s where creativity was really unleashed, even in just the naming of bands, like Snakebite Religion, Grin Department, Exploited Omen, Philippine Violators, Death by Stereo and more. I especially like the socially relevant songs of Yano, such as Banal na Aso, Santong Kabayo, Conyo and Trapo. Mainstream music lovers would likely wince at this kind of music because there are negative” songs in this genre – songs that talk of dislike and criticism of someone, like Bahala Ka Na by Sphinx, Tablahan by Grin Department, and Bagyo by Pirahna (with lyrics like “bagyo ang dating mo, ang lakas ng hangin mo”). I believe music should be not just a vehicle for love, sugar and spice and all things nice, but also an outlet for frustrations. There’s nothing wrong with that, everyone needs an outlet to say what they feel. I love 90’s Filipino rock because of this.
Just a little semi-philosophical personal rant. When I’m told I should admire people, I answer, what the heck for? The reply, “because she has talent, you have none!” My reply, “So what if she has talent, she doesn’t like me, I don’t like what she’s singing, so why the hell should I like her?” There are others who would go like, “humanity, oh the beauty!” or “people are awesome” or “people are great!” I would answer, what the eff is all that about? From what I know, people are also the ones to put you down, steal from you, call you nothing and do other things to make your life miserable. You shouldn’t automatically admire people. What is there to admire in people if they don’t do something good for you?
OK, before you go, “have some love, you misanthrope,” I would say we certainly should be nice to people. But if you say, if you want to be nice to someone, you should like them too, I call baloney on that. Liking people and being nice to them are two different things. We should be nice to all, even if don’t like them, isn’t that how it should be? So if you are not nice to people you don’t like, what does that make you? That’s the reason why the world is such a mess. That’s what the hifaluting thinkers call civility and decency. So when it comes to celebrities, like those in music, we tend to treat them nicely, and non-celebrities nastily.
I’ve quoted others saying Filipino being starstruck ignoramuses and peasants is one of the core problems of this society. This attitude actually manifests itself in how we treat celebrities. As I said before, treating people like celebrities at all, like royalty, is one of the cores of the issue. Perhaps we should drop the concept of celebrities at all, or treating people like royalty. I remember an email by a client that said some Americans like to see celebrities looking like shit (I was working on a list article that showed Britney Spears having shaved her head). If only we can work more of that irreverence into our popular culture.
Ilda wrote that we should stop treating politicians like celebrities. Maybe we should also stop treating celebrities like celebrities. This is one way we could start undoing the starstruck ignoramus mentality in Filipinos. We don’t need to treat singers like royalty. They may be talented, but that doesn’t oblige us to like their talent. They may sing songs, but that doesn’t oblige us to like their songs. Talent is no mere reason for off-the-bat admiration. Just like in politics and careers, prove your talent through some concrete work, like my favorite songs mentioned above. Also, remember, even composers, instrumentalists, sound engineers and more are part of making a great song, but are largely forgotten. Thus, we should treat performers like people, not like some high-and-mighty demigod.
People may say you should appreciate the singer as a rule. They have skill to sing, so you should see them as higher than you. I however say, no. To each their own. You can appreciate the song (or music track) and not necessarily the singer. And a singer may be good, but if you don’t like their latest song, so you are not obliged to like it. It’s all a matter of personal taste. I don’t aim to please others when I listen to music. I aim to please myself. Don’t let the industry, advertising or other things (including your peers) dictate your taste. I see that as the basic approach to appreciation of music.
Resisting popular culture and breaking out of the molds would mean refusing to see things by the marketing and advertising schemes of companies. It’s because of commercialism that our music tastes have become so narrow and kitschy. Of course, the tendency for any popular commodity is to be seized for business. However, this does not mean we have to follow the rules set by business schemes. Music is an art first, and we should stop seeing it or related skills are merely being “for sale.”
Of course, what other point do I have? Filipinos should probably tune out of popular culture and stop having dreams of making it big as the new diva or divo. They should stop subscribing to the belief that “natural” talent entitles you to wealth and fame, and that “untalented” people are beneath you. Filipinos should not treat every videoke session as a singing contest, and not as a time to enjoy singing a favorite song. Thanks to this, much more Filipinos than necessary want to be “artistas,” and not scientists, doctors, mathematicians, engineers, real artists and craftsmen anymore. Well, perhaps people can dream great dreams, but it should never let them bloat their ego to an extreme level. And fans should never base their egos on their idols.