The Spinners

XLR8 (XLR8, 2010)

In OPM, Pop, Thor Balanon on December 7, 2010 at 3:55 am

If one could only separate intent from mens rea, then XLR8’s self-titled debut could have been more enjoyed as what it should have been: twelve tracks of catchy electronic pop that defies mainstream OPM.  But there it is, the evidence pronounced, from the album cover to the opening of “You’re so Hot” and “I Wish Lang,” it’s all too obvious. Whoever created this group has Super Junior, and K-Pop in general, on mind.

COPY PRINCES? Facebook and fan forums have been on fire with arguments since XLR8’s debut, with the haters calling the group a bunch of plagiarists. First of all, don’t blame the kids. They’re cute enough (Hello, Hideaki!) and it seems like they only do what they’re told. Secondly, the group’s formation may have been inspired by the growing popularity of K-Pop boy bands, but the inspiration part is more derivative than influenced. A little more originality in the attack and arrangement of the songs would have been better because from the auto-tuning to the beat breaks, the dancey tracks in XLR8 are often reminiscent of Super Junior, 2PM, or Big Bang. The ballads, mixed with a little urban flavor, are musically more interesting but also show the vocal limitation (to put it nicely, because, hello, Hideaki!) of the members. Oftentimes, it’s just a couple of guys singing together, smooth but without texture. The songs come out robotic, drained of youth and emotion.

FAST FORWARD. You see folks, there are rules in putting together a boy band. Let’s say that in a group of five, two have to be really kakakilig cute because that’s where the fandom starts. The other two, or the average-looking ones who could be cute from a particular angle, bring the moves. The fifth member, the one that makes you wonder why he is in a boy band in the first place, is the resident belter, the one that gives the group cred. (This is all tongue-in-cheek but do try to observe.) With XLR8, and fangirls please don’t kill me, there’s not one great vocalist. I’ve seen their live performances on Party Pilipinas and I have to say that even their dancing isn’t synchronized. South Korean boy bands are trained for four to six years before they make their stage debut because their public demands perfection. Members that commit mistakes on stage are singled out and admonished by netizens.

A recent call for auditions for a new local boy band lists “Must be chinito” as its first requirement. Here we go again. Emulating shouldn’t just be in terms of styling or gestures. One can’t fast forward talent development. Thank you for the cute guys, but we also need great singing, dancing, and the palpable hunger to succeed. We need substance, not necessarily in the form of lyrics or song structure, but in group dynamics, the perfect symmetry of calculated flirting and gymnastics, of distinct personalities moving as one.

JUST POP. P-Pop (or Pinoy Pop), Viva Records’s label that rides on the Asian music trend, is also something I find problematic. Since it’s new, I hope that the music the label carries evolves to something distinctly Pinoy in the future, but for now, it’s merely a follower, a pale echo, of what is trendy. Whatever happened to the songwriters of Sarah Geronimo’s “Sa Iyo”? That’s personally how I thought P-Pop would sound like. And if P-Pop is mostly emulation—Eurasia’s “Working Girls” sounds like 2NE1’s “Fire” while XLR8’s “You’re So Hot” is built around Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry” riff—then I don’t think it’s wise to append “Pinoy” to it. Besides, “K-Pop” or “J-Pop” is from an outsider’s point of view; since we are in the Philippines and Pinoy pop is what is playing on the radio, then shouldn’t it be just pop?

– Thor Balanon

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