Sunday, July 19, 2015

Not just about lip-syncing

My July 19, 2015 column.


So we now know that this matter of lip-syncing artists is actually something that is of serious concern because a seemingly off-the-cuff tweet from a 19-year old artist not only became viral, it got quite a number of major personalities in the local entertainment world to emerge from the woodwork to weigh in with their respective take on the issue. 
Singer Rhap Salazar, who is best known for his appearances in the Ellen Degeneres Show, expressed his “hate” for lip-syncing artists in a tweet sent out to the world last week. When another artist made a rejoinder, he shot out another tweet about how these lip-syncing artists even get to have their own recording albums. The seemingly casual exchange of opinions became viral with the likes of international artist Lea Salonga and talent manager and talk show host Boy Abunda, among many, many others, throwing in their own two-cents. Clearly, lip-syncing was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg because other issues ­—supposedly the more substantive ones – soon surfaced.
First off, let me express my disappointment with certain people whose general reaction to the issue was to shoot down the messenger. Quite a number of commentaries focused on Rhap Salazar, the person, rather than the issue he raised. One celebrity even went as far as to infer that envy was behind Salazar’s rant, suggesting that the fact that Salazar has not achieved superstar status despite his immense talent must be gnawing on the young artist’s ego. Why can’t we just focus on the issues at hand?
This matter of lip-syncing artists hits a raw nerve among us because we happen to be a country of singers. Singing is part of our DNA and this is proven by the fact that every occasion and every celebration in this country is incomplete without a sing-along. There’s always a Filipino with a really great voice waiting to be discovered. Our standards are quite high when it comes to singers so much so that most Filipinos actually tune in to shows such as American Idol or The Voice only towards the end of the season when these shows have already winnowed performers down to the ones that are truly talented. Of course there will always be room for exceptions, such as when there are technical problems at hand, but in general the disappointment or dislike for singers who lip-sync is understandable.
When we really come to think about it, lip-syncing is not really the issue at hand but rather the star system that is at work in the local entertainment industry. It’s a system that capitalizes mainly on looks, or at the very least, good packaging. This is supposedly the logic behind the so-called blind auditions of shows like The Voice, where judges pick singers purely on the basis of singing talent. The reality is that it’s just a gimmick because they do dig up the back story behind each artist and eventually play up the human interest angle with each performance. What we have is a system that seems to be grounded on the theory that singing talent alone is not sustainable; singers are eventually asked to do other things: become involved in love teams, appear in escapist movies, and constantly make their lives interesting – their singing soon becomes something that they just happen to be able to do. Heck they can even lip-sync all they want provided their overall act is entertaining. In fact, in the case of young celebrities, the singing is secondary to their ability to make their fans swoon. This formula has been at work even during the heyday of the Vilma Santos and Edgar Mortiz tandem and is still being used today. 
The system also requires that celebrities, even actors and actresses who have already established their acting mettle, to sing or dance every single time they have a movie, a play, or an event coming up. Why they have to be reduced to clowns is perplexing. We are told this is what makes them endearing to the Filipino audience, but I suspect it’s really because of plain lack of creativity or just sheer laziness on the part of handlers. Thus, it is hardly surprising really that people are forced to lip-sync. We have celebrities who are able to sell albums, mount sold-out concerts, and are made to perform regularly in television shows even if they have singing voices that grate on the ears – all because this is what the system nurtures. We are told this is what sells.
Of course there are genuine talents in the midst and there are singers who guard their artistic integrity fiercely. Some of them are very successful and have a huge following, while others are minor stars in the local entertainment galaxy. These people rarely lip-sync and always pour themselves into each performance. If we want change in the system, we just have to keep on supporting these artists. The point is we are not actually powerless. We have the power of choice. We will have less of the lip-syncing if we stop supporting artists who engage in lip-syncing.

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