On P-Pop and OPM

“Make your own kind of music, sing your own special song, make your own kind of music, even if nobody else sings along.”

Mama Cass

It’s no secret – it’s the most obvious thing EVER – that I’ve been listening to Korean pop music, or KPop, for quite some time now. I may not understand the lyrics, but there’s no denying the universality of KPop’s melodies and the way their record labels and management companies have taken their artists and materials on an international salvo – market them are more than enough to get them noticed in other nations.

The influence of KPop, as well as its contemporaries Japanese pop music (JPop) and Chinese pop music (C- or ChiPop), has reached Philippine shores in a very large way. KPop artists like Super Junior, SHINee, TVXQ, and SNSD/Girls Generation have released CDs here that have topped local record store sales charts, outselling the likes of established international superstars like Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers; Super Junior’s Sorry Sorry was one of Music One’s 25 Bestselling CDs for 2009.

This, of course, pays off quite handsomely for the local record label that inks distribution deals with the bigger KPop record labels; in the Philippines, the big winner appears to be Universal Records, which has exclusive distribution rights with SM Entertainment, home to SuJu, SHINee, Girls’ Generation, TRAX, and a variety of other popular acts. Warner Music seems to have contented itself with importing DSP material from Taiwan (SS501, 4Minute); I’m not quite sure what Sony Music is doing.

Locally, however, Viva Entertainment seems to be the first to ride the K-Pop craze and do it themselves. They’ve apparently created two groups – XLR8 and the Pop Girls – that are making music that, by all indications, is K-Pop delivered by Filipino singers/dancers. An eight-man boy band singing a song whose arrangement sounds virtually like Super Junior’s Sorry Sorry, and a five-member girl group who look like the love children of 2NE1 and TLC. (Mind you, we’re talking the TLC circa Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg and What About Your Friends, not Red Light Special and Waterfalls). The fans – if the Facebook accounts of these two groups are to be believed, then they enjoy the support of thousands  – are calling this “new sound” P-Pop, or Philippine Pop.

You can imagine the range of emotions that are currently sweeping all over the Web. Facebook is a great indication of how passionate music fans are about this turn of events. Based on what I’ve gathered, there are several Facebook groups denouncing P-Pop, calling it a rip-off of K-Pop. By my indications, these groups are populated by two types of music fans: 1) Filipinos who are passionate about K-Pop, and are up in arms against the making of KPop-style music and calling it P-Pop; and 2) Filipinos who are passionate about the type of music typically labeled “Original Pilipino Music,” and are up in arms against the creation of Filipino music sounding like K-Pop, complete with similar fashions and videos, because it is “unoriginal.”

This isn’t a new issue, mind you. Filipinos have been dealing with this since the advent of popular music. The thousands of Filipinos around the world populating show bands and delivering perfect, note-per-note renditions of other people’s hits, is testament to the incredible Filipino skill of mimicry. What is “Original Pilipino Music” anyway? 40, 50, even 60 years back, wasn’t it the Filipino habit to want to be the “so and so of the Philippines?” Eddie Mesa was the Elvis Presley of the Philippines. V.S.T. was the BeeGees of the Philippines, just as Hagibis was the Village People of the Philippines. Lani Misalucha is the Whitney Houston of the Philippines. (Politics isn’t spared: Jojo Binay sees himself as the “Obama of the Philippines.” *shudder*) Forgive me, I’m sure there are thesis papers on this, scholarly works by writers significantly more lucid and erudite than I; the question at hand to which I must clumsily segue is this: What kind of pots are we that we cannot call the kettles black? Are we not all influenced, in one way or another, by the musical tapestry of the global village?

I grew up in the 90s; I know what it was like to be passionate about the Filipino music being made at the time. When I was in high school, the band rage was only just beginning, with the advent of the Eraserheads. This kicked off a glorious revolution of Filipino band music that I, in my terms, would label OPM. However, just a year before the Eheads debuted, Francis M released Mga Kababayan, off his unforgettable album Yo!, that, I’m sure many in my day will gladly label OPM. Francis M was an incredible musician in any genre he chose; Mga Kababayan, in particular, struck a chord with the Filipino nation, and skyrocketed him to national – even international – stardom. (Shortly afterward, everyone tried to cash in on the rap phase, including lady rapper Lady Diane, comedian Willie Nepomuceno, and my doppelganger L.A. Lopez.) Which begs the question, though: are the works of Filipino rappers “OPM” for as long as the melodies and lyrics are original even if the genre is not originally from the Philippines?

Then there’s Brown Man Revival, a group whose music is particularly close to my heart because I watched them a lot in college. Reggae is a uniquely Jamaican musical genre, but here we are, with a Filipino band making terrific reggae music, “Filipino-style.” Put3Ska did the same thing for ska. We have artists who will take a musical genre and use it as influence for their own unique style. We also have Filipino artists who have thriving international careers, including people like Christian Bautista (Indonesia), Charice (United States), or Krissy & Ericka, who have achieved regional stardom with “their” music, whatever that music may be. Who broke Krissy & Ericka abroad? MCA Universal. That’s right. The record family that brought K-Pop here is promoting Philippine music out there too. Are they calling it P-pop? Dunno; don’t care.

Then there are artists who make music that are stereotypically considered Filipino music, the music of luminaries like Joey Ayala, Noel Cabangon, Bayang Barrios, and Cynthia Alexander. The “world music” that they create certainly paints a more evocative picture of the kind of music expected of a Filipino artist, definitely; why, then, are they not selling records in the thousands upon thousands, or selling out concerts left and right, if their music speaks to the masses, of a unique Filipino vision and a unique Filipino “sound?” (I have loved Cynthia Alexander since Day One. I consider it a personal affront that her music is not played on the radio, and that her albums do not sell the thousands upon thousands that they richly deserve to sell.)

We can list down many Filipino artists whose first hits were original, before they became – by force or by choice – better known for their revivals and remakes. Nina with Jealous, before Love Moves and her litany of Diane Warren revivals. M.Y.M.P. with A Little Bit, before Tell Me Where It Hurts and other acoustic vanilla tracks. Richard Poon is a brilliant singer and songwriter in his own right; that he has to package himself as the “Michael Buble of the Philippines” is a travesty to his skill and talent. Even the luminaries themselves, artists like Regine Velasquez and Christian Bautista, have to have a significant number of covers in their CDs.

Then there are the artists who most people in my circle of influence would shun with a passion: April Boy Regino. Aegis. Mystika. Isn’t theirs Original Pilipino Music too? We do not live in a vacuum, and it’s difficult to place a label on the kind of music that would be classified as “truly Pinoy.” Aren’t all these artists considered “OPM” for as long as the melodies and lyrics are original even if the genre is not originally from the Philippines? Isn’t music an ever-evolving, ever-changing thing on which we just can’t put labels, and our national identity something, too, on which we cannot – or should not – put labels?

I empathize with the Filipino fans who are disappointed with the type of music that is currently labeled as “P-Pop.” As someone who appreciates KPop, I find it strange that we would try to create our own version of K-Pop, even more so now that it’s overwhelmingly popular. (The KPop fans who’ve enjoyed KPop even before it became popular are particularly angry, I imagine because it feels like a cheapening of something they’ve loved ever since.) I also empathize with the Filipino fans who are passionate about OPM, and wondering why we would want to create KPop-style music and call it Pinoy. “It’s not Pinoy,” they say, “just because Filipinos are singing it.” I imagine they must be doubly angry that the Pinoy pop groups singing the music don’t fit the stereotypical Pinoy, with their fairer skin, their more exotic features, their obviously K-Pop-styled outfits, and their popped-out videos. Naturally, their reaction is, “Gaya-gaya na naman ang Pinoy.”

(Please note, too, that KPop is facing its own woes. SNSD, for instance, received some flak recently with Oh!, as some people felt it was too similar to Rihanna’s Shut Up and Drive; C.N. Blue got some interesting press for its megahit Oetoriya, which some felt was a carbon copy of Blue Bird by independent Korean band YNot. Influences or plagiarism?)

What makes the Filipino artists making Korean pop, Filipino style, so different from the previous Filipino artists of their day? The purists – OPM purists and KPop purists, who’d prefer their own playgrounds stay unsullied by the intrusion of something as insidious as the other playground – are up in arms. I wonder, though, because I wasn’t one, did the ska purists think that with Put3ska, and the reggae purists with Brownman Revival, and the rap purists with Francis M?

“But wait, Ganns,” you might say, “You can’t compare them! Put3ska, BMR, and Francis M were legit! They lived the lifestyle, they lived and breathed their genres. These newcomers are just cashing in on the trend!” I agree; it’s easier to be legit if the music you make is the music you love. But who are we to judge XLR8 or Pop Girls for making this kind of music, if this is the music they actually do enjoy? We may not know how the members of all KPop idol groups actually feel about their music; a lot of these idol groups are manufactured in Korea, too, as were the dozens of boy bands in Lou Pearlman’s little studio – I say that ironically – in Florida. Manufactured pop groups go back to the days of Menudo, friends, and perhaps even the 60s; it’s no real indication of the kind of music that these people want to make.

Justin Timberlake evolved after ‘N SYNC broke up, into one of the United States’ most successful male vocalists doing R&B/dance music; Robbie Williams created a niche for himself with an eclectic pop-rock sound after Take That split up. Michael Jackson became a bigger star making his own type of music once it was clear the Jackson 5 wasn’t big enough for his star; Lionel Richie made quite a different name for himself after leaving the Commodores. Destiny’s Child’s Beyonce may have paved the way for herself to make millions, but Michelle Williams – the third member – went and made her own music – in gospel. (She went pop later on, but whatever.) Some artists need stepping stones to get the attention they need to make the kind of music they want to make.

Here’s my two cents on it: walang mananalo sa away na ‘to maliban sa record companies. Most record companies, regardless of country, will make music they believe will sell. K-Pop is hot right now, so record companies will make a “local version” and hope it will hit. And, for the most part, given the right marketing, songwriting, and supplementary promotions, it will, until the next big thing comes along. And it’s safer for record companies to record albums of revivals, simply because people are more willing to shell out their hard-earned cash on an album of familiar songs than take their chances on untested originals. It’s still a business, so musicians will have their influences, and record companies will throw their money & resources behind artists who they believe will sell. It just so happens that the new wave of musicians coming out – thanks, Party Pilipinas, *roll eyes* – are now KPop-influenced. For the record, I think P-pop will never be K-Pop. They can try, but it won’t work. K-Pop is K-Pop, and nobody does K-Pop better than the K’s. What will P-Pop be, then? What do you think? I’ll tell you this: with your definition will come several people who will violently disagree with your ideas.

I will say this, though: in the case of XLR8, despite the obvious similarity to Sorry Sorry, I’m not going to put You’re So Hot down just because it sounds like a K-Pop clone. These are eight guys trying to make a living, and I would dislike it very much if I were in their shoes and got nothing but hate for all my hard work. (It’s not easy, putting all those hours into dancing, vocalizing, and putting on a show for their fans.)

Finally, I just want to say that many of us who live and breathe music in one way or another do it for the love of music. If I were Filipino, and I wrote a song influenced by KPop, for as long as it is not a carbon copy of a KPop song, i.e., plagiarized, I think my music would and should be considered OPM.

Child of God • Husband • Father • Author • Food Blogger & Vlogger ••• Canberra, AU Welcome to my food blog! Currently in Canberra, AU until 2022! More than just food, though, I write about family, fun, and faith. Come join the journey!