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OPM’s not dead: On the fate of Filipino music

Just when you think you’ve got OPM figured out, it throws you a curveball.

Channeling the charm of the local sound with lush, boombox-ready sonic palettes, Original Pilipino Music strikes the right chords, reconciling the universal with the intimate. On pitch and veering into broader varieties, OPM registers precisely with the melancholy and occasionally wonderful transformations of every decade with its pulsing beats and beguiling lyrics penned by local artists.

Standing against the backdrop of a music industry that changes track after every pause, it hits just the right notes, amplifying the local acts of then and now, one catchy ballad at a time.


Thriving through struggles

“If anyone tells you that OPM is dead, tell them to go to Route 196, Saguijo, ‘70s Bistro, 19 East and B-Side,” Itchyworms points out. “We have so many talented local artists and bands!”

And the hitmakers behind the tracks Akin Ka Na Lang and Love Team is right. There is no shortage of talent in the industry. Not merely one or two hit wonders we lose interest in, OPM artists offer a combination of direction and dazzle. But just like the characters in a musical odyssey, local artists are not without the occasional hurdles that come along with their craft.

Ang Bandang Shirley gets real on one of the greatest struggles faced by local acts. “The big challenge is sustaining the art. Recording music costs money and time, so artists sacrifice a lot to keep making work and promoting it. Brands often won’t back unknowns even if they’re really good and innovative. And when they do, it’s usually for an x-deal, which won’t really add to the artists’ resources.”

But even then, joining the pantheon of local icons are various artists from shows such as The Voice Philippines and other contests who come up and simply turn OPM on its head—creating new and different sounds, encouraging artists to step outside the shadows of foreign acts.

“It’s a common misconception that OPM is inferior to other countries’ music. That’s the crab mentality of Filipinos with everything locally made. I claim that OPM songs are as good if not better than foreign songs,” Itchyworms declares with a glow of pride. ”We may not have the same high quality recording equipments, but Filipino songwriters and musicians are some of the best in the world!”

It’s a promising future for OPM especially with the rise of fresh acts. “More good artists are coming out of the woodwork despite the lack of monetary support to properly promote themselves,” Ang Bandang Shirley notes. “Artists are managing to create and release music in spite of these hurdles.”

In a time of being head-to-head with foreign icons, OPM thrives amidst its challenges. Itchyworms shares, “We will keep on playing as long as it makes us and other people happy.”


Striking a personal chord

The local audience swoons for honest songs with relatable-verses-you’ll-play-it-on-repeat kind of lyrics. And it’s easy to understand why.

“Listening to OPM felt like someone was there to understand what I was going through,” muses Venice Rañosa (IV, ISE-BSA). “More than as just something I can relate to, OPM essentially gives the feeling of being understood.”

While others would say that OPM is the voice of the youth, its appeal is also largely based on how it translates and listens. Sans the gloss and glimmer necessary to keep other fads in the limelight, it translates vulnerability into lyrical empathy and candidness–a commodity in the industry that has often been in short supply.

“Aside from the fact that it’s something I can easily understand, it reflects the realities of what our generation is going through,” Zyra Joy Parafrina (II, PHS) begins. “And it’s so easy to relate to what it’s about, especially because it’s by Filipinos like us.”

It’s a usual tendency to look for something that would understand and fluently articulate our emotions. It’s in the things that are familiar and universal–things that speak decibels of truth, like translating personal diary entries into lyrics–that resonate deeply with the audience. And operating under this demand, OPM continues to thrive with the currency of producing relatable and genuine content.


“Magkahawak ang ating kamay at walang kamalay-malay…”

Most of us have heard the iconic chorus. Saturated with nostalgic appeal, The Eraserheads’ immortal hit Ang Huling El Bimbo remains relevant as it did a decade ago—and so do most of OPM songs that lived on throughout the years and became classics like Rivermaya’s Kisapmata and Neocolours’ Tuloy Pa Rin from the 1990s.

If the ‘70s had disco pop songs, the ‘90s had rock and alternative OPM—introducing a new twist to the already diverse musical culture. It was the era of legendary bands such as Eraserheads, Parokya ni Edgar, and Side A. It would be safe to say that the late ‘90s, up until the early 2000s, proved to be a different golden age of OPM.

The lyrics on the bracket of these decades also began to speak of Pinoy pride, reminding us that despite foreign sounds, our loyalties remained with the motherland. Songs such as Francis Magalona’s Three Stars & A Sun and Bamboo’s Noypi stoked the fire in listeners’ hearts, rekindling their passion towards appreciating all things Filipino.

“It’s actually good to hear that the focus of OPM songs weren’t limited with love and relationships,” comments Raveena Tahilramani (III, BSA) about the nationalistic themes of Filipino music. “It extended beyond being relatable. It makes me even more proud to be a Filipino because it spoke about issues that mattered.”


Here to stay

“I’m not going to stop listening to OPM,” shares Ronrei Amboy (III, MGT). “It may not be as famous as other international acts but I know I’ll still go back to enjoying it.”

Since it originated in the ’70s, OPM saw current veterans such as Ryan Cayabyab, Claire dela Fuente, and Freddie Aguilar. Playing on the airwaves and into the memories of our parents, OPM continues to receive critical acclaim. Freddie Aguilar’s song Anak, released in 1977, is among the best selling Philippine records of all time. Generating hundreds of cover versions, it has been translated into 26 different languages and sold 30 million copies.

But beyond OPM tracks climbing their way into hit charts, they string together intimate narratives—stories joined together to form a beautiful, intricate whole.

“It’s amazing to see just how much the power of OPM can bridge the gap between generations,” remarks Jane (II, AB-IS). “My parents used to listen to songs by local groups like Apo Hiking Society, and every time I listen to their tracks, it’s almost as if I’m getting the chance to hear the sounds of their era.”

OPM remains to be one of the most versatile, yet distinct types of music and many are still able to appreciate its songs, embracing it with enthusiasm. Bridging obliquely intersecting stories from different decades, it extends the connection of sound, rhythm, and beats into something that binds people despite differences in age, status, and background.

Demonstrating firm resilience–the similar kind from its artists and those who continue to support it–OPM’s enduring influence on the airwaves, still, has not been defeated by its hurdles and Goliaths. Not quite, not yet, not ever.

By Danielle Arcon

By Nicole Wong

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