Kathang isip? What makes a modern 'hugot' song

TJ Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 17 2019 08:28 PM

MANILA -- A playlist called "#Hugot" was the third most streamed playlist on Spotify in the Philippines last year. About 3 quarters into 2019, songs from this genre still make up a sizeable portion of the daily charts of the streaming platform.

"Hugot" songs are those that evoke deept emotions, often of sadness, through melody and lyrics. These usually revolve around themes such as unrequited love, breaking up, or the search for love. The term was first used to describe OPM love songs in 2010. 

According to Spotify, the top 3 most-streamed tracks by local artists in the country were "Mundo" by IV of Spades, "Kathang Isip" by Ben & Ben, and "Tagpuan" by Moira dela Torre. All 3 could be considered hugot songs.

In making dela Torre's hit single, music arranger Chris Rosales said they prioritized the "feel" in the melody. 

"If you would notice, ‘yong mga kanta ni Moi (dela Torre), lagi siyang nagsisimula sa baba, then lalakas sa gitna hanggang sa ma-reach na niya 'yung climax. Then after no’n magda-die down ulit ang dynamics," he said.

(If you would notice, Moira's songs always start low. Then it goes louder in the middle until it reaches the climax. After that, the dynamics will die down again.)

This structure, adopted by most "hugot" songs, differ from the love songs from the past, which heavily featured "belting," record producer Rox Santos said.

Singers such as Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, Regine Velasquez, Vina Morales, and Erik Santos practice this style, where there will be a swell until the climax arrives and then the song will end with long note, he said.

But today, the popular way of singing is whisper-like and breathy. This style has earned the moniker "harhar."

"Kumbaga bumubulong ang mang-aawit sa listener, mas malapit tayo sa mikropono dahil gusto ng mang-aawit na makaramdam ang listener ng mas intimate na emosyon," said Krina Cayabyab, who teaches at the University of the Philippines College of Music.

(In a way, the singer whispers to the listeners, we are closer to the microphone because the singer wants the listener to feel a more intimate emotion.)

Its popularity rose alongside the popularity of Spotify and iTunes, which made listening "more personal," said Santos.

"So ayaw nila 'yung mga maiingay na songs; 'yung gusto nila ay very soothing lang sa tenga. Sobrang easy listening," he said.

Apart from the melody and the intimacy of the listening experience, "hugot" songs are a hit among Filipinos because they, by nature, can usually relate to love songs of this kind.

"Iyong idea ng hugot matagal na siyang lumalaganap sa kamalayan ng mga Pilipino, iyon nga lang iba-iba ang labels na nilalagay in the past decades," said Cayabyab. Earlier versions of this type were called "senti" music, "emo," and even "kundiman."

(The idea of "hugot" has long been ingrained in the consciousness of Filipinos, but was concealed under different labels in the past decades.)

Today's song lyrics also serve as some sort of personal diary for everyone who contributed to its creation, she said.

"Bahagi ang malalalim na nararamdaman ng tao doon sa nililikha nilang musika, mas kumakabit ito sa pagiging Pilipino, sa identity ng Filipino expressiveness, Filipino emotions," she said.

(People's deep emotions are part of the music they create. This relates to our being Filipino, the identity of Filipino expressiveneses, Filipino emotions.)

But in the end, the depth of a song depends on the feelings of the listener, said Cayabyab.

"Walang distinct sound ang hugot songs dahil ang bawat manginginig ng awitin may kanya-kanya siyang perception kung ano 'yung nagpapalabas ng hugot ng damdamin para sa kanya," she said.

(There is no distinct sound of hugot songs because each listener has his own perception of what will elicit emotions in him.)

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