Karaoke Culture

December 2, 2004

I have always know that American-born (or Canadian-born) Filipinos sometimes go to the Philippines and become big stars. Filipinos call this "balikbayan star." In order to become a big balikbayan star, (assuming one doesn't speak Tagalog very well), one would start out as a dancer on a musical variety show, then become one of the featured singer/dancers. After getting a better handle of Tagalog (from singing OPM, Original Pilipino Music), they might also star in a novela (soap opera), and from there they become a "triple threat" (dancer, singer, actor).

From what I've observed, you don't necessarily have to be talented to make it in the Motherland. As long as you have light skin (look mestizo [mixed/hapa]), can say a few words in Tagalog, and are cute--you TOO could be a balikbayan superstar! You'll totally be groomed to become not only a bongga (fabulous) superstar, but more Filipino-Filipino (you'll do interviews in English, but speak with an exaggerated Filipino accent).

I know this phenomenon (balikbayan star) isn't specific to Filipinos or the Philippines, because I know of Canto-pop singers (and singing groups) in Hong Kong that are American, and seen documentaries about young South Asians (from Canada or the States) trying to break into Bollywood. Aside from my "Filipino-ness," I think the main reason this phenomenon is so interesting is because of the deeper social implications of this "karaoke culture."

Why is it always Filipinos playing the part of Asian minstrel? Go anywhere in Asia and you'll always find a hotel or bar/club where there's a Filipino band or Filipino singers, and they can mimic American music so well, you'd think you were listening to the original. Why is Karaoke Culture taken to the extreme in the Philippines? I would love to do a study on this, so don't you steal my idea!

As much as this "phenomenon" shames me, I admit that I eat it up just as my aunties do. What this says about me, I don't know. (Okay: Hyprocrite.) Although I do consider myself to be somewhat of a hipster, I embrace my geekiness: I love going out to sing karaoke with my friends, I actually like to listen to Destiny's Child, and (gasp!) I have finally found pleasure in watching musical variety shows on TFC. I don't like watching the singers dress up like Cyndi Lauper or Stevie Wonder, singing "True Colors" or "Ribbon in the Sky." And I can't stand to watch singers try to knock out Justin Timberlake, Kelis (yes, "Milkshake"), or Ciara--basically all the music that's on urban radio in the States at the moment. (I cringe when I see one of these mestizo singers say the word "nigga" or American slang, because it's a part of the song.) But the cornball in me loves to hear good singers belt out those ballads.

On Sunday night, while eating dinner, TFC was showing a (recorded) live concert from San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza. It was dubbed "Night of Champions" and featured singers who won previous Star in a Million or Star Circle Quest competitions (the Philippines' versions of American Idol). All my aunties were like, "Where is that concert taking place?" I could easily identify City Hall in the background, so I said, "That's definitely San Francisco." As the camera panned on the crowd, showing this mass of Filipinos in the audience, I joked, "I bet you all of the Excelsior District, Daly City and Vallejo came to represent." Being with SoCal Filipinos, nobody appreciated my joke.

As much as I rag on this Karaoke Culture thing, I'm a microphone hog when it comes to karaoke, so I have to admit that the latent "diva" in me wouldn't mind being one of those triple threat wannabes. I could get down with being one of those "Kikay Girls," "Hot Babes" or "Sex Bomb Dancers" on ASAP Mania or MTB Mga Saya-Saya. Maybe in another lifetime.




thy will be done
did you ever read Arjan Appadurai's discussion of this (Philippines and American music) in Ch.2 of his Modernity at Large?
everyone please feel free to come join my music forum cafe, for friendly karaoke and music chat,http://xsorbit27.com/users5/menephes/index.php
Hey, I saw that City Hall concert on TV too! Mark's parents watch TFC all the time.My favorite HK transplant stars are Christy Chung (from Canada), Michelle Yeoh (from Malaysia), Michael Chow (also from Canada). None of them spoke Chinese or had much acting experience when they started. Which amazes me, because I used to think that you weren't an acceptable Chinese person unless you spoke perfect Chinese. (Mostly because Grandma badgered me for my bad Cantonese grammar.)Oh yeah, there's also that guy who's Russell Wong's brother.
i have a love-hate relationship w/ TFC. i love the fact that my peoples have their own channel, but i hate the fact that it's filled with hard copy-like news shows, corny variety hours, etc. my mom doesn't care for it that much...but of course there's my dad and his side of the family who lives and breathes by it 24/7. BUT when i'm in the mood - MTB is very funny, i just don't think i can take huge doses of it. oh btw, the former lead singer of rivermaya is bamboo. pop bands i like are side a (they're a little older) and passage (i have no idea if they're around anymore). orient pearl has some cool songs too.
I was pretty excited when TFC came out, just for the fact that my parents weren't satisfied with the few hours of block programming they got from the International Channel. I was amazed that even in Bakersfield they could order it.I'm always amused at the tsismis and balita my aunties discuss about celebrities and politicians in the Motherland, and I think it's funny when they swoon over the young pogi-pogi singers like Christian Bautista or Erik Santos.
my siblings and i haven't gotten my dad TFC yet but he seems pretty content with tv patrol and weekend soap operas on channel 26 in the bay area. i just got back from the PI and everyone was excited about 'american idol' star jasmine trias doing concerts there, she's a huge star.
Filipinos around the globe loves karaoke. Especially on the drinking party. It one of the most popular past time in the Philippines.
Karaoke live on my blog