In the heart of Manila, streets are dotted with a plethora of billboards where, among Filipino celebrities, the faces of Lee Minho and 2NE1's Sandara Park are seen endorsing local clothing brands.
The Hallyu Wave (the expansion of Korean popular culture to other countries) is a definite hit in the Philippines as Korean TV dramas are dubbed for local television, K-pop plays on variety shows, and dozens of Korean barbeque restaurants are scattered all over metro Manila.
Filipino stars have joined other lay-fans in droves to express admiration for many of K-pop's leading stars, and among them, actress and singer/songwriter Glaiza de Castro has found inspiration with Big Bang.
Despite years of taking on roles in Filipino adaptations of Korean dramas like Stairway to Heaven and Temptation of Wife and being surrounded by K-pop in local music shows, De Castro admits she didn't get hit with the wave until the second half of 2015. After a thankful year of success with her album Synthesis, followed by a solo concert and winning Best Female Rocker, her hard work paid off when she finally got to see Big Bang live. Including her bias, T.O.P.
In January, De Castro sat down with KpopStarz to discuss her latest musical inspirations.
First off, how did you get into K-Pop or Big Bang?
It was still Sunday All Stars (Sunday music variety show) and they were playing "Bang Bang Bang"during a dance segment and then when I heard it I thought, "Okay 'to, ah! (This is pretty good)." So I started researching then when I saw the song on YouTube, I discovered it was Korean. It sounded more western and different and I loved the progression of music.
Upon your discovery, what made you dig deeper into the realm of K-Pop/VIP fandom?
I saw a video clip of GD in the studio and he was so focused. He was so different to how he is on stage. I developed a greater respect for him as a producer and a musician not just a celebrity or a boy band member. It's amazing how his music transitions from club to hip-hop with elements of rock. I really admire him for always thinking outside of the box. For me, I want to be like that.
One of the things I admire about T.O.P is how he handles music and acting. He's really the actor of the group. I can see the balance of what he wants to do and what he needs to do in the future. Right, he had this passion for chairs? He calls it contemporary art and when he continues to look at it, he gets inspired to create something. Everyone has their own way of getting inspiration. I sometimes get it from K-pop, underground artists, Dadaism. That's why I was familiar with "DOOM DADA!" They're not your typical cute-centric artists.
Have you started listening to other artists?
I liked 2NE1 even before Big Bang. When fans and supporters found out that I started listening, they gave me suggestions like f(x), Girls' Generation, SHINee, 2AM. But so far, nothing tops Big Bang.
Can you compare your view of K-Pop before you got into it to now?
I had this perception before that it was always image that they all look and sound alike so I never bothered. During that time, K-pop was such a big hype that it made me question why aren't we [Filipinos] listening to OPM (Original Philippine Music). There was also a time the popularity of K-pop stars reached its peak to the point where Filipinos tried to sing, act and look like them. And I thought to myself, "We have our own identity!" And I respect everyone's opinions, but we should keep the K-pop image and sounds to the Koreans. And us, we try to make our own. If you're inspired by K-pop, you don't copy them. You get something and then you try to make and build your own.
I actually noticed that. Especially in the weekly music variety shows.
I don't know who said this but someone once said, "Great artists steal. They don't copy." I mean, it's quite regretful because some of the artists are forced to do it just because it sells and this is how they know shows are going to get viewers but, at the same time, it's like you're giving false hope to people of what they think is entertainment when it's really not ours. But that's just my opinion. I still respect the producers who think otherwise.
Being a singer yourself, have you attempted or planning on doing K-pop covers?
Of course! I wanted to sing "Zutter" but I think it doesn't fit me. I want to do a cover but it will really take time because, just memorizing the lyrics, it's hard. Even before their Tokyo Dome concert, I attempted to memorize a song because I wanted to sing-along just to experience the whole concert, but it's so hard.
But I read the translated lyrics to the songs and I realized "Wow, there are so many new terms and references that give the song a deeper meaning."
In your opinion, what makes K-Pop different from other genres?
K-pop engages their audience first by the image. It's like "Wow." Because when you see them, you can't help but stare, watch, and finish the video. And from there, of course you will like the sound because it's upbeat and it's good to jam along to. I think that's one of the greatest assets of K-pop. They know how to engage their audience. And from the music, of course you want to research the artist and your admiration grows when you learn everything about them, the meaning behind their songs and their image and the artists themselves.
I had this perception that if you have talent, that's it. But that's not enough in K-pop, or in this world and in general. Sound and image should always be aligned and should art and commerce. Because it's always hard to only depend on art or only depend on commerce. And I think K-pop perfectly shows that balance. They master that balance of art and commerce.
What do you think OPM, or Filipino music, can learn from K-Pop?
Roots. What the audience really admires is the presence of their roots. Even when they perform it shows that they are very proud of their country. As much as possible, they try and share their culture are very open and welcoming to the point where they give off the feeling of "This is us and I hope you enjoy us!" And I think we have that too but we haven't been given the chance to explore it more.
Collaboration is also important. I really wish to see OPM artists unite and be more open to explore, not just the artists within their community, but other genres. Because that's what they do in K-pop, right? GD and Taeyang, GD and Missy Elliot, GD and Sky Ferreira, GD, T.O.P and Robyn! Because you'll never know the outcome of your music until you explore the tap of an artist and a genre. There are so many good artists in this country. The music is so diverse and I'm happy to see that all kinds of artists are being exposed because of social media.
How was your experience of attending a K-pop concert for the first time? Especially considering it was Big Bang!
I was already traveling to Japan for vacation and then my friend told me they were going to Tokyo on this date. Since I couldn't read Japanese from the first site, I went on this other website and purchase tickets right away not even knowing if it was legit or a scam. I know I just wanted to get tickets. But I also had a friend purchase two other tickets just incase. It ends up the tickets weren't a scam but the seats were far compared to the ones my friend bought. So I took the closer seats.
When I arrived at Tokyo Dome the day of the concert, my heart was beating fast. I saw people wearing Big Bang shirts, holding merchandise, every step made me more excited. Like everything I saw was one step closer to seeing them.
Then when I saw the venue itself I thought, "Who would've imagined, in the first place, I'd see Big Bang?! And in a foreign country watching their concert with these people who are intensely fangirling/boying?" I couldn't compete! The merch line was the length of one street. There were people of all ages, from the youngest of the young to the oldest of the old. Once you will see them all and realize how much of an effect Big Bang are.
It's such a happy feeling when you see [fans] so excited, it makes you feel inspired. Not just as an audience member but also as an artist. It's a great feeling to see the effect they have on everyone and how everyone unites under music.
As her single "Dusk 'Til Dawn" gets taught in a Korean elementary school for students to learn English, the singer said she will one day get the track in Korean as she has it already done in Japanese. Check the song out and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Lai Frances is the night editor and photographer for KpopStarz. She is a music and entertainment multimedia journalist and producer who has worked for Sony Music Entertainment and CBS Radio New York. You can follow her on Twitter @laifrncs for random thoughts on western and K-pop music!