Words by Stan Sy

As 2017 ended, it seemed like we’d gotten over the surprising ascent of Iñigo Pascual, Moira Dela Torre, and James Reid as local pop sensations. It wasn’t that we were ready to move on from them. They’d made a dent on the scene to the point that having them around felt normal. Naturally, the underlying question then became, who will be the next to break the status quo?

Enter Karencitta.

She’d been around the scene for a while, having appeared on Eat Bulaga’s Little Miss Philippines as a child, and then subsequently landing roles in film and TV. As early as 2016, she was already releasing music, but it wasn’t until people heard “Cebuana” when they started talking about this particular Cebuana.

Photo courtesy of Karencitta

It shouldn’t be surprising that the song would be a hit. The people behind it seem to know what they were doing when they put the track together. It was produced by 14-year-old Tc-5 and Jon Ingoldsby, who won a Grammy for his work producing Madonna’s Ray Of Light, and whose most recent credits include Eminem’s latest album, Revival.

In just 24 hours since its release last November, “Cebuana” was able to get one million views on Facebook and ended up topping Spotify Philippines’ Most Viral Music Chart. About a week later, “Cebuana” made it to YouTube Philippines’ Most Trending list. Not long after that, the song got picked up on Top 40 and urban music stations in Metro Manila. Since then, it’s consistently gotten airplay and even spawned its own Dance Challenge on Karencitta’s social media.

Billboard Philippines got in touch with Karencitta recently to find out what makes her tick, what she thinks about her craft, and how she sees herself as a figure in local pop culture today.

Given that your musical style is very versatile and transcends genres, how would you describe it? Do you actually classify yourself under a particular genre just the same?

I’ll leave that to the spectators because my music is constantly evolving. I believe that artists don’t have to explain their art. Accountants and lawyers explain things. Artists, however, illuminate, inspire, and juxtapose. Let the spectators make their own conclusion or interpretation. Our minds are built differently, so everyone will have a different interpretation.

It didn’t take long for “Cebuana” to trend on Spotify and YouTube following its release. Were you surprised that it was received this way, even though a lot of the lyrics were in Bisaya?

Oh yes, definitely—my team and I were surprised. We knew that “Cebuana” was a killer record but we could never tell if it would become a hit or not.

Photo courtesy of Karencitta

How involved are you in the writing process of your songs?

110% locked in. Metaphorically speaking, writing with other songwriters is like stripping myself naked in front of them. Imagine writing a love song in the recording studio—it’s an extremely vulnerable situation, if you think about it. So I prefer to write alone and when I’m isolated. My artistic juices flow naturally that way.

How easy/difficult is it to code-switch between languages in your songs? It’s very evident in “Cebuana,” and even more so in “Controlla,” where the rap verse goes from English to Tagalog to Bisaya and back!

Code-switching is not difficult. It’s convivial word play. I enjoy it.

Our country is still generally conservative, especially with its attitude towards sex. However, the lyrics to your songs can get pretty direct, especially when you start singing/rapping about sex (like in “Fckroun”). What type of feedback have you gotten from these particular songs?

Culturally, I understand. I grew up with strict parents and two older brothers; but we need to talk about sex. Have you ever wondered why the Philippines is overpopulated with sporadic non-family-planned lives? Our country has registered the fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Asia Pacific at a rate of 140% over the last six years (Reuters, August 1, 2017). Sex education is a must. One day, I’d like to stand up for sex education in the Philippines.

Initially, when I was writing “Fckroun”, I had the goal to represent womanhood, to express inner desire, which still pertains to human nature. I took the risk and at the end of the tunnel, I found out that the spectators took the record as a relief and sanctuary. It’s enjoyable and relatable; not only to the female market, but also to the males.

Photo courtesy of Karencitta

Save for the likes of Eve, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, and Cardi B, there aren’t a whole lot of female rappers who get mainstream recognition in the U.S., let alone in the Philippines. Has it been difficult for you to break through, especially when most female musicians don’t really delve into hip-hop?

It’s actually more feasible [to make it since I stand out]. If every female musician is wearing pink, then I’ll wear black. It is my conscious decision to become a trendsetter. I was born to be a leader; not a follower.

Was it a deliberate move on your end to record singles that sample or are remixes of existing hip-hop tracks like “All The Way Up” and “Controlla?”

I record remixes that I genuinely enjoy. I grew up listening to Fat Joe’s “Lean Back”, so when “All The Way Up” came out, it was a no-brainer to remix it.

Drake’s “Controlla” was an impactful record. The vibe was so different from his usual [songs] and that’s what intrigued me into remixing it.

How do you reconcile your brand/image when you can sing a heartfelt rendition of “Tadhana” one minute, and have a lot of bravado and swagger on a song like “Cebuana” the next?

I’m not too meticulous with music branding because at the end of the day, I’m human. I don’t have a fixed emotional schedule. Yesterday, I was feeling, “Ako ang sasagip sa’yo”. Today, I’m feeling like “Drop ya glasses and shake ya asses.” Tao lang, po. (I’m only human.)

Karencitta | Photography by Kris Villano of The Visual Club, Styling by Janina Silao, and Make-up and Hair by Noemi & Eunice Samson

You ended 2017 as part of an all-star lineup, performing with names like Gloc-9, Sponge Cola, Sam Concepcion, KZ Tandingan, Morissette, and Kiana Valenciano. Was it your first time ending the year that way? And what was that experience like?

It was my first time ending my year that way. A typical New Year’s Eve for me is very simple. I spend it with my family in a cozy cabin in the woods with the fireplace lit and watching snow fall. However my Eastwood experience was utterly polarized! I had so much fun! I’d never been that excited to perform. I felt as if all the energy I built up from 1995 to 2017 came out of my performance that night. Even until today, I think about it. My mom said she cried that night, watching me from backstage. I asked why she cried and she asked me why I chose this profession, since she would rather watch me sitting down in a clinic signing medical prescriptions from 9 to 5. Unfortunately, that’s not in my nature, even though I did try that route out of respect. However, I live for music.

What are your big goals for 2018?

The world can wait.



FEATURED IMAGE: Courtesy of Karencitta