‘OPM’ as a catchphrase is a term that Filipinos know all too well. Various Spotify playlists are being made every year with different variations of OPM such as ‘OPM Favourites’, ‘OPM: Hits of the 00’s’, ‘Acoustically OPM’ and many more. But what makes these songs ‘original’ to the Philippines, as the acronym implies?
OPM or Original Pinoy Music was a term that was established in the 70s and 80s as a successor to the ‘Manila Sound’ era. The term was a label for Philippine pop ballads during this time. However, this eventually became a catch-all term for music produced by Filipinos.
Below is an infographic of the timeline of the Sounds of the Philippines and how these genres came about.
To an extent, music that originated from the Philippines cannot be entirely original as it takes inspiration from what is currently trending.
For example, the 70s were known for disco music. The genre originally emerged in the US, intended for audiences in nightclubs, with escapists lyrics about love and dancing - captured in a toe-tapping rhythm of a 4/4 time signature, at 120 beats per minute.
VST & Company, a group from the 70s for example, are known as one of the bigger names in the heyday of OPM. Their all-time classic ‘Aawitin ko, Isasayaw Mo’ (tr. I'm going to sing it, you're going to dance it) is known by every household and it was during this time that the disco dance music genre was introduced to the Philippines. If listened to and compared with hits from the US in the 70s, similarities in characteristics are evident through the tempo, the bass lines and the electric rhythm guitars.
This highlights that although VST & Company may be singing in Tagalog, there is a lack of originality there as similarities are found between their music and what was popular at the time. Should we then dismiss this band as unoriginal? Surely there are characteristics of their music that is original to the Filipino, otherwise - why are they such a big name in the OPM world of the 70s? We'll explore this later but before we do, let's discuss how colonialism may have played a part in this 'lack of originality'.
It’s not a culture blog post if we don’t talk about the colonial influences is it?
The colonisation of the Philippines by the Spanish and the Americans not only left a mark on the languages of the Philippines, but also its music. Even before the eras of Manila Sound and the height of OPM in the 70s to 80s, Filipino music borrows characteristics from both the Spanish and the Americans. As our culture post highlighted, Spanish influences ‘aided the development of Philippine folk music’, although this varied greatly from region to region.
As for the early 1900s, Paul de Guzman writes: “The American colonial period saw Filipinos mastering the Western classical idiom, as they started performing and creating classical pieces. Operas, which became popular in the country, produced talents such as Jovita Fuentes, who received acclaim for her international performances.” Filipinos were welcoming in western influences and making something of the genres that had spread to the country, even before the height of OPM in the 70s to the 90s.
Another big name from the peak of OPM are The Eraserheads, also known as “The Beatles of the Philippines.”. It’s quite obvious why they were likened to the Beatles - their classic rock vibes and the witty lyrics still have Filipinos singing their songs on Karaoke today. Although formed over two decades later after the height of The Beatles, it is evident that through these characteristics, they based their inspiration for their music on the British band.
Worldwide music trends and strong connections with the western world have played such a significant part in influencing OPM during its height. Even if this blog post was aimed at exploring what makes another country’s music 'original', surely we would come to the same conclusion that nothing is ever original?
There is clearly something unique about OPM as so many artists from this era are still relevant today. Bands that came out from the 90s were staples to Filipino households like (as previously mentioned) The Eraserheads, Freddie Aguilar, Ryan Cayabyab and Sharon Cuneta - to name a few.
Let’s explore why the musicians of this time are still celebrated today as OPM classics.
OPM at its highest may not have been original to Filipinos in terms of style of music. As discussed, The Eraserheads were likened to the Beatles and the music of VST & Company possesses elements of disco rock. However, one thing that makes OPM so unique to Filipinos is its use of various Filipino traditions - specifically the Harana and the Kundiman.
Despite the Harana’s Spanish origins, if you google what the word means, search results come back with the word’s translation as ‘serenade’, and of ‘Filipino’ origin. Articles about how it’s a tradition of Filipino courtship will also show up first in search results. It's the cultural phenomenon of a gentleman wooing a woman through serenade and song as he is stood outside her house, by her window.
Kundiman, on the other hand, is a genre of traditional Filipino love songs, mostly written in Tagalog. Some academics even deem the genre as originating from Visayas, emphasising that the tradition was a pre-colonial one. The term, when broken down is a creation of the phrase kung hindi man which translates to ‘if it were not so.’ As Albert Bofill puts it, the genre kundiman has ‘managed to sow seeds of romantic pursuit, embedding itself within Filipino culture’.
Filipinos love the cheese!
We’re hopeless romantics! There’s a reason why rom-coms are labelled as the ‘genre ng bayan’ (tr. the nation’s genre). Inquirer.net states that ‘nearly half of the highest grossing Filipino films of all-time are rom-coms’.  This surely translates to music (I'm sure the figures for music are higher too!) Our favourite songs to sing during karaoke are romantic songs! OPM composed during this time tapped into these traditions, highlighting its originality to Filipinos.
Take the cultural phenomenon of the harana and the kundiman, mix in the ballad and you've got yourself an OPM classic!
We’ve established that love is at the essence of the Filipino consumption of media. But what makes a love song truly Filipino? What makes a Filipino love song truly excellent that it is immortalised in Karaoke books? It's the hugot factor.
Hugot is a slang term that translates as ‘to pull out’ or ‘to draw out’. It’s an emotional reaction to something. It’s pulling out powerful emotions from deep within your soul - an out of body experience. The best Filipino love songs are the ones that make you hugot. And the ballad help to make this happen.
One of the more common characteristics OPM from the 70s and 80s is the ballad. Freddie Aguilar, Sharon Cuneta and Ryan Cayabyab are just a few big OPM names that have popularised the Filipino ballad. Despite the many styles that the umbrella term OPM stood for during its peak, it was the Filipino ballad’s ability to stir such an expression of emotional connection to the song that marks these OPM hits as great.
Lastly, along with these characteristics of OPM that showcase its uniqueness is the Filipino ability to experiment with various styles and genres.
The Filipino’s ability to create something unique from so many cultural influences is surely something to celebrate. De Guzman captures this perfectly - this “diversity in musical styles, subjects and traditions reflects the many facets of our musical heritage. It also speaks of the vibrancy of our culture..”  This surely means that OPM is far from unoriginal.
The many lists and blog posts that highlight the best OPM hits of all time isn’t just limited to one genre. The introduction of disco to Philippine music was not the only genre that Filipinos could experiment with.
Reggae was also experimented with by the early 90s band Brownman Revival. Their music is a mix of pop, folk, rock with percussion and wind instruments such as the saxophone to bring out the reggae vibes.
Whether these are songs sung in English, Tagalog or Taglish, it is the sentimentality of the OPM classic and its ability to make you feel nostalgic. This is the ultimate characteristic of its uniqueness. These are songs sung on Karaoke with family during gatherings, played out loud while you clean the house from ‘burned’ CDs and theme songs to your favourite MMK episodes. It’s the OPM hit’s ability to get you right in the feels, that hugot moment, no matter how old the song was or what memories you associate with as you listen to it. Its ability to give you feel good vibes - that’s what makes a song an OPM hit.
 FiliFest (2020), Sounds of the Philippines I (https://www.instagram.com/p/CHnoMWWB8et/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link)
 Paul de Guzman (2020), Historical notes on why filipinos love music (https://ph.asiatatler.com/life/historical-notes-on-why-filipinos-love-music)
 Katrina Escalona (2017), 10 Filipino Musicians You Should Know (https://theculturetrip.com/asia/philippines/articles/10-filipino-musicians-you-should-know/).