Music Monday, January 31, 2022 Special – Taking a Kinda Sorta Deep Dive into P-Pop

After checking out VXON’s debut a few weeks ago, it got me wondering about what else P-pop has to offer. Aside from the huge strides SB19 has made to reenergize Filipino pop music the last few years, I’ve been only vaguely aware of how much “P-pop” is booming lately. Without TFC or GMA Pinoy TV subscriptions for now two years, my only exposure to potential P-pop artists or songs are when they randomly pop up on the Twitters or the TikTok or a YouTube recommendation.

So I’ll be honest. When I think of “P-pop” I basically think of “K-pop,” but with Filipino artists singing Filipino songs about the Filipino experience. Essentially western-influenced pop music with tight choreography, glossy, high-production values, colorful styles, etc. But still with distinctly Filipino voices. (And “voices” in the overarching sense.)

That might be diminishing both P-pop and K-pop to a generic description or stereotype. But that’s just what comes to mind. Obviously, Filipino pop music has existed for decades and is usually more commonly known as OPM (Original Pilipino Music).

Maybe it’s also different for me being a Filipino-American who didn’t necessarily grow up with OPM every day. But whenever I think of modern OPM or Filipino pop music, my mind immediately goes to the pop-rock bands (which I used to be a huge fan of) of the 2000s, balladeers and divas doing mostly remakes of classic love songs and Sarah Geronimo (who deserves a whole category by herself, let’s be honest hehe).

But I feel like the term “P-pop” refers to what I previously described. A younger, more modern style of OPM heavily influenced not just by western music, but by K-pop and the Korean Wave. I think the recent growth of P-pop (as well as the interrupted attempt about a decade ago) really owes itself to the rise in K-pop’s popularity around the world. Especially in the Philippines. An effort to reach new audiences in the Philippines and around the world via popular and increasingly mainstream avenues, but again, maintaining that Filipino voice.

Now I mention “interrupted attempt” because a couple of years ago, there were a couple attempts at groups that would absolutely fit into what would be considered “P-pop” today. Mixing the traditional American and British boy/girl bands with the style of the (then-emerging) K-pop idol scene, the group’s that immediately come to mind are Viva Entertainment’s XLR8 and Pop Girls as well as Down to Mars.

I especially remember having XLR8 songs on my playlist driving home from school alongside songs from Big Bang, 2NE1, 2PM, Wonder Girls as well as Sponge Cola and Callalily.

And really, their songs still hold up well today. Take a listen to such songs as XLR8’s debut track “You’re So Hot”:

Or my two personal favorites from them, “I Love You Girl”:

And “Tonight’s the Night”:

It’s actually my first time seeing this live performance. Obviously, it won’t be in HD. But I wish they had filmed a MV for it.

Pop Girls debuted with the fun “Crazy Crazy”:

Though the group is probably best known today as having Nadine Lustre as one of the original members before she would eventually go on to stardom as an actress and a solo recording artist in her own right.

With Down to Mars, I think I remember actually watching their “debut performance” on GMA’s Party Pilipinas especially with the fact that Marian Rivera, one of the biggest stars especially at that time, featuring in their music video for “My Everything”:

There’s also the vocal group 1:43 and boy band Chicser, who I probably would say fit the mold of the NSYNC/Backstreet Boys-type boy band rather than their seemingly K-pop influenced contemporaries. With Chicser especially, I know they were pretty popular because my little pre-teen cousins would go crazy over them back then. (I think two of the members were from my family’s hometown even, but I was never sure since my cousins would always be too busy fangirling and fanboying over them to care to answer my questions about the group. Lol)

Viva even had a co-ed group RPM whose one and only single “Para Sa ‘Yo” was also a great song.

Sadly, this initial wave of modern P-pop was stifled for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest of which was a prejudice against them. Many Filipinos echoing Cherie Gil’s iconic line and calling these young groups essentially “trying hard copycats.” There was a palpable aversion and dislike against these groups as they were perceived to merely be copying other artists, especially artists outside of the Philippines. They were called “lesser-than” and poor versions of, for example, K-pop groups. And because of that criticism and negative perception, none of the groups would really get a legitimate chance to make it in the industry. Despite the sincere efforts and obvious talent the groups really did have.

Both GMA Network and ABS-CBN made renewed attempts to tap into the potential of an idol-type P-pop market in 2015 and 2016. And with the popularity of survival audition programs in Korea, GMA Network launched To The Top with ABS-CBN going with the Sandara Park-judged Pinoy Boyband Superstar.

I didn’t follow ABS-CBN’s show, but I casually followed To The Top and later its winning group Top One Project. Their debut (and only!) self-titled album was actually really good.

Their second single was the fun, groovy “San Na”:

My favorite track off it though is definitely “Somebody”:

But I feel like they were positioned more as vocalists and a traditional boy band, rather than a song-and-dance group. (Listen to those harmonies above!) Unfortunately, GMA (as is often the case) just didn’t put in much effort to build them up and grow their potential audience.

MNL48, sister group of the hugely popular Japanese idol group AKB48, also debuted in 2018. But I also didn’t really follow them much either.

Fast forward to today, K-pop has become even bigger. And thankfully there seems to be a more welcoming environment for P-pop groups.

I believe some would credit SB19 for helping to jumpstart the P-pop scene. But to explain why Filipinos may be more open today to these groups than they were a decade ago, that’s for far more intelligent and dedicated people willing to write a dissertation on it. =)

Anyway, my goal today is to take a bit of a dive into P-pop and check out some of the artists that are gaining lots of attention and helping to grow the movement (is it a “movement” per se, I dunno lol). And if you’d like, definitely point me toward more artists or let me know more about them and these artists as well.

In general, I can say that P-pop can definitely stand alongside K-pop and any other country’s pop music scene. When it comes to Filipino talent in singing and performing, that’s definitely nothing new. But when pairing that Filipino talent with actual effort and those high production values and modern sounds, it’s all very refreshing and enjoyable. And while I won’t say everything is perfect. Far from it. I’ll definitely say I’ve been very impressed by these artists and everything from the music video production to the music to the choreography.





Here are some of those artists and my favorite of their songs that I’ve gotten to listen to (in alphabetical order =))

1st.One

1st.One is a six-member boy group from Seoul-based FirstOne Entertainment. Reading some comments, I see some comparisons to BTS’ “Boy in Luv” for their debut “You Are the One” and I can certainly see why. But I think it’s a great comparison. The vibe is definitely similar. But it’s so awesome to hear those Filipino lyrics.

The first MV I watched from them though was the just-released “Shout Out” which is an absolutely epic visual treat.

The powerful track really shows off the group’s charisma. And the MV is also special as it pays tribute to Filipino soldiers who fought alongside South Korea in the Korean War.

The two MVs and songs are both strong, powerful performances with different vibes. In between them, the group released the more midtempo, but still fierce “OH.” And together, they definitely get you excited for what’s ahead from them.

Alamat

Viva Entertainment’s Alamat is a very interesting group as the eight members are all from different parts of the country. I only found out after having already watched some of their MVs, but one of the members (Taneo) is from Tabuk, Kalinga, my dad’s hometown! So that’s awesome. (He’s obviously now my bias in the group, lol)

My first MV from them was actually “porque” a couple of months ago and when I was watching it, I thought it sounded so familiar before realizing it was a remake of the popular original by “Maldita.” It would be a theme I would notice as I checked out all the artists, but P-pop remakes of some classic OPM songs (classic as in from the last two decades) have sounded very good. And it’s definitely a good way for these new groups to get their foot in the water.

Alamat’s debut song “kbye” really surprised me. It’s a fun, feel-good vibe. And the Ilocano line definitely took me by surprise even more. But the song is such a refreshing change of pace for Filipino music. Especially when it features different Filipino languages and not just Tagalog. Hearing Ilocano in a pop song is amazing!

Then came “kasmala” and I was absolutely blown away. First as a song, it’s a pretty big accomplishment to be able to seamlessly intertwine all the different languages into a hip-hop-tinged pop dance track like this. Really just in awe of that aspect already. And then there’s the catchy, addictive chorus with the awesome inclusion of traditional Filipino instruments as well.

But the group’s performance really brings it home. The choreography is amazing. And like “kybe,” the music video for the song proudly highlights each member’s culture and the wonderful diversity within the Philippines and Filipino culture in general, as well as a very clear message of pride against prejudice.

I think “kasmala” might be my favorite of all the P-pop songs I checked out for this.

BGYO

BGYO is a five-member group from ABS-CBN. I actually first learned about them when I saw that JL Toreliza had joined the network’s Star Hunt Academy. I remembered him from season one of GMA Network’s The Clash and the short-lived boy group the network formed featuring finalists from the show.

I watched their debut “The Light” when it was first released. And I liked it, but not necessarily enough to compel me to closely follow them. But checking the rest of their singles out from their debut album, I like that they’ve been able to show their versatility.

“The Baddest” is of similar vibes to their debut, while “When I’m With You” is a fun, bright summery pop song.

“Kundiman,” however, is definitely a different side of them from the first few songs. A flirty, romantic harana-worthy song. (Well-suited for the title of course!) And though it might be a song I feel like I would’ve heard from other boy groups or solo Filipino artists over the years, it is actually quite refreshing from them and allows them to show off their strong vocals in a way their other singles might not have yet.

My favorite song from them, however, is definitely “He’s Into Her.” The song from the OST of the series of the same name is an irresistible and fun pop track. And I’ve actually had it on my repeat playlist since first hearing it.

Press Hit Play

Press Hit Play is a six-member boy group under Evosound. I actually stumbled upon their debut MV “WIN” last year when it popped up on my YouTube recommendations. I clicked on it and expected a new K-pop group and was pleasantly surprised they were actually Filipino. Reading up on them a little, they’ve had some hurdles to overcome but were able successfully make their debut last year.

I remember being impressed (a common feeling for all these groups!) after first watching the MV and listening to “WIN.” So much that I was going to include it in a Music Monday, but I guess I didn’t for some reason. Anyway, I love that “WIN” is different and lets the group really show off their own color. The bright, pop vibes are really appealing.

The group released “Adlaw” in December and it’s a sweet midtempo pop track perfect for the holiday.

The great news is they just made their first comeback last week with “Tell Me.”

And the retro, synth-infused track definitely follows in their debut’s footsteps. Allowing them to set themselves apart from other groups and helping to really showcase their skills and talents as well as the infinite potential of P-pop as a whole. I love it!




BINI

Like BGYO, the eight-member girl group BINI are also alums of ABS-CBN’s Star Hunt Academy. The first thing I saw of them last year was their cover of “Da Coconut Nut,” the iconic Filipino novelty song. As much as I love the song and the awesome memories I have of singing the song at karaoke with my family, I don’t think I really enjoyed BINI’s version. I was actually quite confused and again, wasn’t really inclined to follow them.

The next video I stumbled upon from them a couple of months ago was a cover performance of Toni Gonzaga’s awesome “Kahit Na” on ASAP. But again, I was a little confused as to what kind of a group BINI was supposed to be.

But actually digging into their discography and watching their actual singles, I definitely know who they are now. And I like what I’ve seen so far.

Their actual debut single “Born to Win” is a catchy pop dance track and the accompanying MV allows the ladies to show off their talent and charisma in an eye catching way.

Their next single “Kapit Lang” is also a very nice song and it’s wonderful that it’s in Filipino. But it’s far less impactful for me and sounds more like a TV theme song, to be honest. What I’m eagerly awaiting is for them to have a more powerful, impactful song, like their debut, in Filipino.

Their latest single “Golden Arrow,” though will tide me over until then. The song has a very nice modern sound that you (or at least, I) don’t normally hear in Filipino music. You can’t help but sway to the addictive melody of the chorus.

One thing I am definitely sure of after watching more of them is that they are the kind of the group that has a wide appeal. If it’s not their obvious talent, then you’ll be enamored by their obvious charisma. I am looking forward to what they will be releasing next.

DAYDREAM

DAYDREAM is a four-member girl group from Rebel Records. They debuted in May of last year with the track “Fallin’ 4 U.” It’s a nice, smooth R&B track, but I’m not sure if it’s the most impactful track for a debut.

Their first comeback “Lumayo” is a different story though. I like it a lot more and I think the group delivers a much more confident performance. Again, bonus points for being in Filipino. It just sounds so pleasing to hear Filipino lyrics with such a catchy, modern melody.

I think the song being better overall allowed the group to really show off both their vocal and performance skills in a way that their debut song was not able to. The pre-chorus is especially great and it leads to the even more awesome and catchy chorus.

DAYDREAM definitely has great potential and it’s evident between their two releases so far that they are on the right track.

KAIA

KAIA is the upcoming five-member sister group of SB19. They released pre-debut song “Kaya” last month ahead of their debut this year. And it really reminds me a lot of SB19. And in a good way!

The bright vibes of SB19’s “Go Up” really changed my point of view of modern OPM. And it definitely made me take a second look at the group. I get a similar feeling from “Kaya.” It’s an energetic and bright song. And you can’t help but get caught up in the positive vibes.

Knowing how well SB19 has done, KAIA may have some big shoes to fill. But also knowing the talents and skills of SB19 honed under ShowBT Entertainment, I think it’s safe to say KAIA will be up to the task. They already deliver a strong first impression with “Kaya”. How much more when they make their official debut?

LITZ

Another upcoming girl group is the five-member LITZ from Viva Records. Being from one of the biggest entertainment companies in the country, there’s high expectations.

But they too make a strong first impression with their cover of James Reid’s “Natataranta.” I vaguely remember the original, but when I compared the two versions, I was surprised how different they actually sounded. James Reid’s original is a bit more poppy actually. And LITZ’s version sounds quite contemporary.

I think there’s an interesting mix of that early-2010s OPM pop (James Reid and Nadine Lustre’s early releases as some examples) with a modern twist. I could hear a song like this from a K-pop group, but that little bit of Filipino flavor is evident and very likeable.

I’m also looking forward to their official debut as well.

Speaking of debuts, I was very interested to watch episodes of TV5’s POPinoy, but only had to settle for the clips on YouTube. And that kind of lessens the experience of wanting to follow along every week. But I enjoyed the performances and am looking forward to VERSUS and YARA’s official debuts too.

So what have I learned from this kinda sorta deep dive into P-pop? I think my biggest takeaway is that P-pop is very much alive and brimming with a great sense of energy that definitely was not present years ago. Though I may be a couple of months late to the party, it makes me think that there are a lot of other people out there who are still yet to discover what Filipino music has to offer.

It’s wonderful to already see so many international fans of these P-pop groups. And maybe even not fans, but just people (maybe K-pop fans) who are more than open to checking out Filipino music. Not only that, but actually appreciating and liking Filipino music as well.

But what’s even more encouraging is seeing Filipinos actually be much more open and welcoming to the idea of P-pop. When just years ago, P-pop would be welcomed with derision from Filipinos, today P-pop is being increasingly welcomed with open arms. And seeing that is a very positive thing for Filipino entertainment and its growth at home and abroad.



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