RCOPM (Rational Criticism of Pinoy Music) is Dead

I love that we’re having this “OPM is dead/no it’s not” debate in 2012, for the first time in like forever. As much as the internet has helped us progress pop-culture-wise, I guess it still hasn’t propelled us enough to be in step with our influence, the west. America and Britain have been mourning abstract pop culture deaths since the turn of the century – rock and roll, Britpop, Alternative Music, Heavy Metal, techno; all of these have had their graves dug for more than ten years now. So I congratulate the Filipino critical establishment for finally catching on with the trend. Next up: overhyping whatever’s the Pinoy equivalent to the Strokes. (we’re almost there, guys!)

But seriously, though, OPM is dead! Holy crap, haven’t you heard? Don Jaucian has written all about it in The Philippine Star, invoking the likes of the APO Hiking Society, Sampaguita, and Jose Mari Chan as the heydays of OPM. That’s like…so not recent. And then there’s Leloy Claudio’s ultra-catty piece for GMA News Online, where he used big words like “canalized”, “subtend”, and “y’all”. Oh, but don’t be fooled by the seething superiority of his text, because if you read between the lines, he’s really a populist who’s all for “public solidarity” and a “common cultural language”. And for subpoenas too, for some reason.

Anyway, everyone in the Pinoy band scene is now up and arms, saying “we’re right here, you bozos!” This “OPM is dead” business has really struck a chord with them, as they’ve now come out of the woodwork to complain that they never really went away, and that their music can be heard if you know where to find it: in Saguijo, in B-Side, in Cubao X, in Soundcloud, in Bandcamp, etc.

This, I find really weird. Don’t get me wrong, I understand their sentiments and I know where they’re coming from. But their collective outrage signifies something that I never ever imagined these scenesters will ever try to do: eagerly identify themselves as “OPM”.

Here’s the thing: Original Pinoy Music is definitely not dead; that’s impossible. There shouldn’t even be any debate on that. However, “Original Pinoy Music” is a totally different matter altogether. And “OPM”, as opposed to OPM, is I think what’s on trial here.

When early 90s “Pinoy Alternative” burst into the mainstream, it exploded amidst the old order of “OPM” – the Gary Valencianos, Martin Nieveras, and Regine Velasquezes of the world – which was the complete entirety of mainstream Pinoy music up until that point. Bands like Eraserheads, Yano, and The Youth changed that. And I don’t know if any of you still remember this, but when these dudes came out back then, they were totally, completely, and unabashedly punk rock. What made them so refreshing back then was that – from the way they sounded to the way they looked – they were declaring a big collective “fuck you” to the "OPM" establishment and were having a great time doing it. I remember the Eraserheads performing “Ligaya” once on Eat Bulaga (or was it “Sama-Sama Together”?) with Styrofoam instruments, back when performers were still trapped within the four walls of lip-syncing. There they were, appearing on national mainstream television and mocking the artificiality they thought their music precisely stood against.

But a lot of things have changed since then. Ely Buendia now sells Bench hair products and the Pinoy rock scene apparently now wants to be identified as “OPM” – the very label that their predecessors rebelled against over two decades ago. The erstwhile definitive line between OPM and “OPM” is now blurred and confusing, and that’s because the latter has now become the weakest provider of the former.

I can understand why the Pinoy band scene became all defensive when all this “OPM is dead” shit started. They’ve been making substantial music since the 80s and never really stopped. But to all these critics and scenesters alike, I ask you this: why shouldn’t Sarah Geronimo take the heat for this instead? Why haven’t Claudio put the likes of Christian Bautista to task? Why haven’t I read a single mention of Julie Anne San Jose (a pop singer who writes her own material; our answer to Taylor Swift, if you will) in all this? Why is “OPM” (with the quotation marks), which is clearly the point of contention in this debate, getting a free pass in this conversation?

My favorite comedy moment from Claudio’s “OPM is Dead, So Sue Me” article is his imagined exchange between a waiter and his “middle class patron”, which is hilariously weird because it never happens ever, unless you’re Don Draper in the pilot episode of “Mad Men”. But whatever, let’s humor Mr. Claudio here; let’s pretend that “middle class patrons” actually talk to their waiters and that this is somehow the ultimate gauge of social class relations. What makes him believe that, during the “Ultraelectromagneticpop” era of OPM, these dudes will actually sing the lyrics to “Pare Ko” together? What makes him think that the waiter won’t be more into Andrew E. at the time (who, by the way, was HUGE among the masa crowd in the early 90s)? What makes him think that the snob middle class patron won’t be over the Eraserheads by the time they hit their mainstream peak and would have been more into obscure bands like Sonnet 58, or Feet Like Fins, or The Aga Mulach Experience? What makes him think that classism was magically absent in the early 90s? Was he even there? Alam ba niya na gustong patayin ng mga ‘pangks’ at mga ‘metal’ ang mga ‘skwater na heep-hap’ noong panahon na ‘yon?

According to Claudio’s revisionist history and class mythology, the days when everyone from all walks of life could sing “Diba, tang ina!” was the golden age of both OPM and “OPM” because it was the last point in our pop culture history when we truly had “public solidarity” and a “common cultural language”. This is a great clever assertion only if you live in a world where Kamikazee’s “Narda”, Orange and Lemons’ “Pinoy Ako”, or the more recent Parokya ni Edgar’s “Pangarap Lang Kita” and Kamikazee’s “Huling Sayaw” didn’t exist. To insist that the across-the-board relevance of “Pare Ko” in the 90s can be purely attributed to the disappearance of class lines is highly reductive. It presupposes that the internet and digital technology hasn’t already irrevocably changed culture as we know it. A 21st century writer posting a cultural critique while completely ignoring the ways in which media has changed is akin to an 18th century essayist decrying the loss of oral tradition while ignoring the impact of the printing press.

“Pare Ko” was huge because of its sheer otherness at the time; an otherness that we cannot possibly recreate ever again. It became possible in highly specific conditions: a pop culture atmosphere that was dictated and monopolized by one source (radio) and was heretofore characterized by one kind of music (“OPM”, with quotation marks). And there is no way this is going to happen again. Why? Because the digital age already destroyed the first barrier, while the Eraserheads already destroyed the second one. There’s no turning back. Claudio’s fantasy of a diverse group of people singing “Pare Ko” together can only be imagined because the Eraserheads was one of the very few bands that were accessible then. Now these bands have multiplied three-fold and can be accessed from a multitude of channels and not just a couple of radio stations. Only L.A. 105, NU 107, and LSFM played Pinoy rock regularly then, and these were targeted towards the middle class. The manongs and the waiters of Claudio’s mythology would have been listening to W-Rock, Radio Romance, or Mellow Touch at the time, which means they would’ve been more familiar with James Taylor and the Carpenters than with the Eraserheads. Today, Love Radio plays songs by Kamikazee and Parokya ni Edgar. But no matter how many times they get airplay or how high up the Myx charts they get, there’s no way they can have that distinct vibe of otherness anymore. The paradigm has long been destroyed.

But here’s my question: why is this necessarily wrong? Why should it be such a bad thing that the 90s Pinoy Alternative can’t happen again or that there won’t ever be another Nirvana or that punk is dead?

I don’t know if Claudio remembers this but there was also a time when Filipinos of all classes knew the words to Gary Valenciano’s “Di bale na lang”. We can all pretend that Gary V is a 100% original Pinoy musician, but everyone at the time was aware that he was doing Michael Jackson. So what happened to that? What happened to “OPM”? Has anyone bothered to ask this? How the hell has Korea been exporting dance pop for years now while we’re still sitting on our hands mourning the “death” of Pinoy rock? Where’s our Girl’s Generation? Or even our PSY? If it’s accessibility we’re whining about, if it’s across-the-board “relevance” we’re after, why aren’t we barking up the tree of genuinely popular music?

We all know the Pinoy rock scene is alive and well. People like Claudio can complain all they want about its lack of accessibility, but the fact remains that this is no one’s fault, that this is a technologically-induced non-problem anyway. We have loads of bands trying hard to sound like M83, or The Postal Service, or The Killers, and we have proof of this. I’m just not sure if anyone’s interested in doing Katy Perry or Carly Rae Repsen. Or if anyone would still care.

Whatever the genre, anyway, it's going to be tough getting (a) a record deal these days and (b) selling these records. CD retail is already precarious worldwide, and here in piracy-crazy Philippines, it's virtually passé. So of course our current artists would have to resort to online distribution and live performances. That's not being a snob - that's being practical. This fact isn't even that hard to arrive at; all you have to be is a sentient human being who actually consumes music. Critiquing the current music industry through long-antiquated standards will not make you sound smart, it will only make you sound like an out-of-touch hack who's writing from 1995. Apparently a lot of our so-called "music critics" are still stuck there.


image credits:
Rico J. Puno album cover – chuvaness.livejournal.com
Eraserheads band pic – last.fm


Lisandro Claudio (Leloy) said...

Don't agree, of course. But this is the best critical response to my piece I've read. Thanks for really engaging the argument. Happy to be a hack if the responses I get are as well-argued as these. - Leloy Claudio

Alex Almario said...

You are a stand-up dude, Leloy. I actually believe we need more people like you, people who stir things up. I look forward to reading more stuff from you.

Lisandro Claudio (Leloy) said...

Thanks dude. Hey, can you give me your email add or send me an email? We're launching a publication called the Manila Review, and we'd love to have you write for us.

Alex Almario said...

Hey Leloy, you can email me at indiegoboy@hotmail.com

JM said...

Loved the healthy and intelligent exchange. If only our legislators were like you guys.

Vice Liberty Andreas said...

OPM is Dead. Most people nowadays appreciate the western pop and korean pop in the mainstream music. But broadcasting stations here began to endorse young Filipino artists. However, most of them are knockoffs of the western and korean pop. The singers actually prefer to sing revival songs rather than original composition.

On the FM radio, Many stations sounds almost exactly the same. It all started when Love radio and yes FM became popular, then other stations imitate the format. Since the demise of NU107, the rock scene became stiff until it went underground.



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