Body Crashes has a rather intriguing title. Aside from the grammatical ambiguity (is ‘crashes’ a plural noun or an intransitive verb?), there is a striking sensuality to it, a feeling conveyed by the song’s cover art, with its stark image and suggestive smoke. Overall the work exudes a personality and bleeds an aesthetic sense, one that feels true to the personality and identity of the celebrity whose work it is—Rhian Ramos.
I refer to her as a celebrity, because she is self-aware enough that people see her first as an artista in the Filipino sense of the word, and only second as an authentic artist, an actress or musician in the exalted sense of those labels. Onstage during the launch gig for Body Crashes’s music video, she admits to the crowd that it is “baduy” when an artista wants to be a singer. “Someone had to say it, so I just decided to say it,” she later says, laughing. She clearly had in mind those dismissive types who would think it overreaching for a popular actress to try her hand at music-making.
The admission though does not take into account, first of all, her loyal base of admirers and supporters, who are fiercely determined to see her through every new endeavor she chooses to pursue. And those fans’ support will not be a blind following, because, more importantly, the admission also discounts her true potential as a musician, her own promising artistry as a songwriter.
Some people may scoff at an artista deciding to pick up the pen and the microphone, but what Rhian is trying to do now, to break out of her mainstream-actress shell and enter new arenas of art, is not without its successful precedent. Her own colleague Glaiza de Castro, after two unremarkable records made in the confines of the mainstream production machine, decided to work with her own hands, write songs herself, and personally collaborate with producers. The result was the eclectic album Synthesis, a rather profound and successful work of art, that shows what can be achieved when artistas go beyond being mere entertainers and start freely sharing their own, original expressions, thereby becoming true artists.
Rhian knows that. “I had always wanted to sing, but never got the chance, and if I did, it was because someone had to write something for me, or there was some kind of marketing thing to be done, or a paycheck to be made. It’s nice to finally do it just to express.” And, just like any other human being, she has a lot of things to say, but at the same time also quite afraid of saying things. “For a long time I’ve been very ashamed of my feelings… I grew up writing songs and poems, and then crumpling them, throwing them away, and hoping that no one that I know reads my feelings, how embarrassing… It takes a different set of guts to put [out] something that you’ve written because then everyone has the freedom to say, ‘You write bad’, or, ‘Your feelings are weird’.” That is the critical difference—when they do it for themselves, risking the vulnerability of personal revelation for the pure intention of self-expression, as she is doing now with Body Crashes.
The new song is superficially not far from her first single from a decade ago, You; that was dance-pop and this is electro-R&B-pop. But Body Crashes is darker, simmering with conflict in the words of its brief but pleasantly symmetric verses, a world away from the happy, youthful, starry-eyed outlook of You. (Rhian says it is “a lot easier to write when you’re sad about something and upset about something. I find it very difficult to write about happy things because I’m too busy being happy, so I have no time to sit alone and write my feelings, which is sad.”) Body Crashes speaks of a love “without a future”, about how love can be both good and perilous, how “it can sometimes be a drug,” and Rhian conveys it via a story that begins in the first verse:
You say you want the truth, I know you want to play
Tell me ’bout tomorrow, tired of today
You’ve been around the town, I wanna be part of that game
And then, after the chorus, the persona is now hooked, and goes through a reversal of roles:
All I want is more, I wanna be all that you want…
You say you wanna know, but where do I begin?
To pick me up and go when you’re underneath my skin
I’ve been around the town, you’ll always be my favorite sin
It may be a short song, but Rhian manages to tell a story between the lines.
But why write about love, haven’t we had enough of songs about love? She tells us: “I find love to be a really inspiring, strong feeling, I think it inspires everything. Whenever I have a character even, I always connect every emotion, like if I’m trying to feel angry at a certain point, I always hook it to someone hurting someone that I love, something like that. I think love is the root of all of the other emotions.” Rhian, the actress, is obviously in touch with her emotions, and her feelings are not so weird after all, despite her worries. In any case, who are we to judge anyone’s feelings? She just wants to relish her freedom to express herself. “Luckily,” she says, “we’re all our [own] worst critics, so there’s nothing that anyone can say to me that will hurt my feelings anymore.”
Her confidence has definitely been renewed by her recent experiences in the Land of the Free. She has just returned from a half-year stay in America, where she studied improv comedy. She also made the music video for Body Crashes there, in collaboration with her New York-based cousin, the director Ryan Willard. “I was in a place where every person is free. You know how here, you’re in an elevator and hindi man lang tayo mag-uusap, kahit tayong dalawa lang ‘yung nasa elevator? Doon kasi, you’ll walk down the street and [they] will be like, ‘Dope jacket!’ And I’ll be like, ‘Thanks man!’ You know, everyone’s so free, and everyone’s cussing all the time, and they don’t care what you think.” She really imbibed the spirit of American culture’s freedom, and they ended up with a music video with a story about cheating that, it took a while for them to realize, was almost too passionate to be airable on Philippine television.
Thankfully, that spirit of freedom is now making its way onto the local music industry. Asked about her perceptions of the local music scene, Rhian traced a brief history from when she was growing up in the midst of the mid-2000s band explosion. “For a long time, we weren’t able to express ourselves through songs, because the only thing that was selling was remake after remake after remake. The last time that music was on a high was when I was in high school and there was Up dharma Down, Urbandub, Bamboo, and everyone celebrated them, and then it went down and there was no one releasing original music.
“And then recently, it just happened all over again. And it wasn’t from big record companies, these were people that knew that someone out there could connect, and indie artists were releasing all of these songs on the internet—thank God for the internet!… Everyone noticed, hey, music is on a high again, we should probably allow everyone to write their own music. And now you can see that so much original music is coming out and it’s very inspiring, even for someone like me, that is very new to the music scene.” There is that theme again, of the liberation a person experiences when she is allowed to say things, and to say them in any manner or style of their choosing. “Now, it’s just so interesting because we have the freedom to mix genres… Body Crashes is a little bit of techno, but depends how you play it, it can be rock; it’s definitely pop, for sure; but it’s always a mix now, everything’s fusion.”
At the launching of Body Crashes’s music video, she performed the song with Brisom, who was also debuting a music video of their own (for the song Hangad, in collaboration with Keiko Necesario). Rhian actually has released another single just a few months ago in collaboration with Brisom, the synthwave-pop track Napagod. While Brisom was not involved in the official recording of Body Crashes, Rhian demonstrated what she means by the song’s versatility, and by extension her ongoing journey of finding her own sound, with this live performance, where Brisom supplemented the smooth techno of the record with their crashing guitars and drums. But in the bridge—“Secret glances / Don’t know who’s at fault / Oh, let’s just keep pretending / this is magic, body crashes”—they went full R&B, and then, for a brief moment before rocking it out again, there was an interlude where Rhian does a little whistling. It was a lovely and small but memorable detail.
She plans to release more music in the future, in an irregular stream of a single every few months or so. Eventually she will probably release a collection, maybe not a full album yet, but at least there will be an EP. It should be a fun journey, for someone who is still finding herself. “I think that at the moment I’m kind of a genre-less artist. I haven’t fully discovered what I want to do because I kinda wanna do everything. When I was in high school, you could either be rock or hip-hop, and that’s your identity, and that’s the only thing you listen to, that’s it. Rock ka lang or hip-hop.” Now, she can be whatever she wants. The future is full of possibilities. We, her listeners, have a lot to look forward to.
The full video of this interview is available at Third World Cinema Club’s YouTube channel.