Philippine pop music as a truly original, cultural entity as well as a thriving commerce is but a wee baby, one that was born only a few decades ago.
Some would contest that of course, citing the long music career of their lolos and lolas ages ago. But truth be told, inasmuch as we have had a bunch of old time acts that made it to national consciousness as far back as the 30s and the 40s, most of them were mere copycats, created by local promoters to please foreigners --Americans mostly --who long for a piece of home.
Indeed, even as the 60s rolled in, most of the music heard on clubs and radio were local renditions of popular foreign hits, thus explaining the popularity of acts collectively known as the sound-alikes: The Local Frank Sinatra, The Local Elvis, and so on.
Notably, around this time, a group of Pinoys who decided to call themselves (the very American sounding) The Rocky Fellers made it to the Top Twenty on the Billboard Hot 100 via a rock (!) song dubbed "Killer Joe" -- the highest position ever achieved by locals in the revered chart. Unfortunately, the group vanished a year later trampled as they were by the Beatles who conquered the US in 1964.
But the Rocky Fellers are not unique in that there are a thousand other Filipino combos that are as good if not better, some of whom were touring around Asia including Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan, becoming underground legends for their supposed accuracy in rendering popular records in a live setting. Among them was The Downbeats, which featured drummer and singer Pepe Smith, who at that point, was recognized as the "Mick Jagger Of The Philippines.
The biggest Filipino stars to emerge in the 60s were Pilita Corrales and Eddie Peregrina dubbed as "Asia's Queen Of Songs" and "The Original Jukebox King" respectively. It could be said that their arrival signaled the dawning of a new era in Pinoy pop music, in that both sound much original and unlike any foreign act. Inevitably, Corrales and Peregrina became the standard by which many who followed in their wake were compared with, including Nora Aunor (1967) and Victor Wood (1972).
A musical revolution of sorts occurred in the late '70s, when the burgeoning rock scene hit a new high in 1977, with the emergence of acts that sing in the vernacular as led by the resurgent Juan De La Cruz Band, Sampaguita and Asin, the latter even writing songs about hot topics including political change and environmental protection.
Of course, prior to this was the commercial success in 1975 of the pop rock group Hotdog, considered the prime exponent of the "Manila Sound," which allowed for renewed confidence in the industry. This was followed by the success of VST & Co., -- whose disco-tinged songs were said to have been among favorites played in the legendary Studio 54 -- and the bourgeois very much masa -sounding APO Hiking Society.
Around this time, Filipino singer-songwriters led by the likes of Freddie Aguilar, Rey Valera and Jose Mari Chan were also starting to hit their stride. Still, it isn't as if pure singers/interpreters like Kuh Ledesma, Hajji ALejandro, Celeste Legaspi, Basil Valdez and Rico Puno among others, are to be left behind as their output were still popular as ever. That is, until the arrival in 1982 of Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera.
Though Nievera was somewhat cut in the same mold as the pure interpreters of old, he was willing to embrace the changing pop landscape in that he was open to doing both covers and originals and in any genre. And fantastically so. Valenciano was also a class act, inasmuch as he actually favored performing his own materials, which are steeped in pop, jazz, R & B -- quite removed from the simple ballads that used to dominate airwaves. The duo proved to be the new benchmark by which many upcoming acts were compared with including the likes of Dingdong Avanzado and Ogie Alcasid.
Regine Velasquez lorded over the scene when she came to prominence in 1987, signaling the arrival of the birit queens, subsequently marking the start of the end of the reign of non-birit singers like Sharon Cuneta, Pops Fernandez, Joey Albert and the likes.
It was, at this point, that OPM was said to be shining its brightest with Velasquez and Broadway star Lea Salonga earning kudos abroad. Well, almost, but not quite.
Velasquez' arrival coincided with the rock revival of the 80's led by The Dawn, who, of course, influenced the formation of new rock acts. But before these new acts hit it big, rap became an important force to reckon with, particularly with the popularity of Francis M. and Andrew E.
It was when Grunge signaled a change in the international pop market that local music underwent a huge upheaval as well, with local rock groups starting to make hay in 1993 with the rise of the Eraserheads.
This was considered by many as a turning-point in the local music scene. Note that prior, American Top Forty was king of radio. But the Eraserheads changed all that gaining nods from industry movers including the hugely influential MTV.
The group's success was followed by a string of influential acts such as Yano, Wolfgang, Parokya ni Edgar, and Rivermaya, each of which seemingly utilizing the influence of a variety of pop and rock sub-genres local and foreign in their music.
Again, OPM was said to be on the verge of making it to the international pop landscape. Again, almost, but not quite.
OPM continued to flourish into the new millennium and is divergent as ever with rock, pop, rap, r & b, acoustic/folk and hip hop/urban music all sharing the same stage. It should be said however, that nothing relatively groundbreaking has emerged since.
While groups such as Sandwich, Urbandub and Chicosci merely reflect the sonic experimentation of their predecessors, solo belters and balladeers such as Sarah Geronimo, Christian Bautista, and Jed Madela simply continue the trend started by Valenciano and Velasquez. It doesn't help that the advent of the computer and the internet have made it easy for music piracy to proliferate, leading to assumptions that OPM is actually dying if dead already. But is it really?
Many of the scene's current stars refute this by pointing out that there are a lot of new acts and new sounds that continue to develop albeit in a low key sort of way. If anything, they said, OPM is just waiting for another upheaval. But as to where, or how, or who will ignite it all, well, it is anybody's guess.
Meanwhile, we have Vice Ganda and Anne Curtis with us...