What We Talk About When We Talk About OPM
In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.
Paul Valery, “Pièces sur L’Art,” (1931) Le Conquete de l’ubiquite
This same passage opened Walter Benjamin’s essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I took this essay up in class, meaning I tried to teach it, alongside another essay which came out in Pitchfork, entitled “The Social History of the mp3”. I’m a teacher, which a few entries into this blog should explain why I occasionally lapse into longwinded vacillating. And while Eric Harvey’s article from 2009 is relatively old (although still relevant now that Demonoid has been taken down [sniff]) and Benjamin’s piece is even older, both are required reading before one goes and declares that Original Pilipino Music or OPM is dead. Or dying. Whatever.
First, can we stop calling it that? OPM, I mean. The use of not one but two contentious terms in categorizing a creation is only asking to be argued with. But if there’s one thing we can agree upon about being Pinoy, it’s that we’re not too big on arguing. Ugh, arguing. So hard. I vaguely remember a conversation with a friend last night about the difference between ignorance and plain old stupidity. I can’t remember exactly what she said though because I was drunk and had just finished slam dancing with a horde of crazed Outerdad (that’s Outerhope plus Ciudad) fans. Slam dancing to Outerhope and Ciudad is something you can experience in this lifetime–which could invalidate any argument about the death of OPM. But what do we talk about when we talk about OPM anyway?
DLS Pineda wrote a 7-point list in The Philippine Star that talked not about OPM per se, but about being part of the generation that would witness its demise, and wishing for better things to come instead. This isn’t the first time OPM has been declared dead, probably anyone mourning the loss of a sound they grew up with or grew to love is ready to call it quits with the industry that’s supposed to be sustaining it. I’m still waiting for someone to feel that way about Maroon 5, whose ad kept flashing in the sidebar while I was trying to read Pineda’s essay (I’m pretty sure the harm principle is the only reason that Maroon 5 are still allowed to make music).
That’s the first thing we need to recognize when we talk about OPM: We’re talking about an industry. With more and more record stores closing up shop FOREVER, categories like OPM, Pop, and Rock are actually losing their meaning now that music is no longer just an object we find on a shelf in a particular section of a shop. (Heck, I once found a Dr. Dog CD in the Heavy Metal section at HMV.) Music, without a material identity, is content: it goes in our ears as something which, at its most basic, we either like or don’t like. The existence of formulas or absolutes is repeatedly contested as music moves from one audience to the next. Didn’t you guys know that Citizen Dick are huge in Belgium?
This may seem like I’m dismissing it, but there are grave implications that come with the literal loss of a place (on a shelf, in a space) in a global economy run by transnational corporate ethos. This is the kind of situation which forces you to ask–again, because I already asked it in an earlier essay–about the place of national identity in a transnational or global marketplace – the very same one in which we post videos and mp3s of “Call Me, Maybe” on each other’s walls. I think James Murphy put it best in “North American Scum,” when he had to clarify that they are not from England. “We’re not, no.” (Re: this video, R.I.P. Neil Armstrong)
Everyone has a song, an album, or an entire discography that resonates particularly well with them, which makes music a particularly effective product to test for viability on the global marketplace. It’s true that some artists thrive within particular national boundaries, and this could largely be attributed to culture. As for which culture, I will get to that later. We also need to accept that this happens regardless of homecourt advantage; there are some products with which the market remains reliably neutral, which brings us to music as a product.
As with any product, music is theoretically subject to the cycles involved in modern industry, but the activity of listening debunks that theory in the case of music. We still call the people who create our music artists, and this has come to mean so much in an age where so much music is generated by the users of the same channels used to distribute it. This isn’t only about people toiling away on their laptops or recording demos on four tracks then mailing them to strangers, this is also about how people who grew up watching their favorite bands play live are just as likely to be the next generation to get up on stage and play songs that emulate what they heard in the past. There are many ways to emulate something that don’t involve blatantly copying, note for note, word for word.
There are methods of emulation that do not diminish their capacity for creation, and this is where arguments about good or bad Pilipino, or “original” vs “hackneyed” begin to lose water. It is precisely this obsession with labels and licenses that prevent us from seeing the infinite possibilities contained in our experiences as consumers and producers or creators in the music scene.
It is these premature declarations of death or disappointment that fail to engage the variety that makes this music scene so rich, and turn it instead into a language of divisiveness and fragmentation. What’s most disappointing is that when we talk about Pinoy culture, it is this sense of fragmentation that arises over and over again, regardless of where we are in the arts. And that’s where the real death is. You’d think a medium like music would give us something with which to negotiate these differences or engage the arguments into something more constructive; after all, this is about leaving a legacy of creation, and not a neverending squabble about who should and shouldn’t get to create.