Filipina star shines bright over bizarre mix of karaoke and commercialism
Concert review: Sarah Geronimo rescues a strange evening
It’s been a heady rise to fame for Filipina megastar Sarah Geronimo since she won Viva Television’s Pinoy talent show Star for a Night back in 2004. Back then, her mother told the Manila Bulletin: “Her cash prize in Star for a Night was a big help. This school year, we don't need to borrow money from other people because of my children's tuition fees.”
Mama Geronimo had no idea what was to come. Sarah has since released 13 studio albums, appeared in 17 films and numerous television shows, and become one of the Philippines’ biggest celebrities. It’s fair to say that school fees aren’t a major trouble anymore.
On Thursday night, Geronimo brought her THIS I5 ME tour to Dubai, celebrating 15 years in the entertainment industry (pedants can note that Star for a Night began in 2003). She also appeared to bring the entire Filipina population of the UAE to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium with her, possibly around half of Manila’s Filipinas, and even a few guys too.
Things started pretty slowly, if we’re honest. The dedicated fans had formed queues that were already snaking out of the stadium’s grounds to the street by the time the doors opened at 6pm, but there was a distinct lack of atmosphere on arrival, with the stadium simply playing local Filipina radio station Tag FM through the sound system by way of a warm up.
When support acts did finally arrive, you couldn’t help wishing for a return to the radio. An unadvertised and unintroduced boy band who lip-synched their way through some Drake, then gave their leader a microphone to inexplicably shout “hip hop” over a soundtrack of Eurodance, and a vocal trio, similarly unexplained, who belted out some out-of-tune covers of retro Filipino pop tunes. They all appeared to have been plucked from a karaoke bar in Bur Dubai.
Probably the biggest cheer for the supporting cast came for an utterly misplaced corporate video, playing on loop on the big screen, telling us about promoter Hesser Events’ activities in the sphere of live US sports. They’re “making history,” apparently, though it was never explained why, or why the audience of a pop concert several thousand miles away should care. I suppose we’re all making history in a way, though, even if no one is likely to teach it in schools next century.
I put this down to cultural differences initially. After all, I did once attend an Indian film launch in Dubai that began with a 25-minute presentation on real estate opportunities in Mumbai. The Filipina resident I attended the concert with, however, assured me that this was a first for her too, so we’ll just have to chalk it up as Hesser-specific.
The sluggish build up was perhaps a stroke of genius, however. When Geronimo finally took the stage, it was as Manna from heaven for a captive crowd who had already endured three hours of 38-degree tedium. A brief recording of her talking about her rise from girl-next-door to megastar was followed by a five-second on screen countdown over an image of her face, and the crowd were pretty quickly ecstatic. At least one person in the venue knew how to warm up a crowd.
The star swooshed onto the stage in a dress that gave the impression she’d come directly from her own wedding, and the crowd were in rapture immediately. With a five-piece band behind her, Geronimo’s set ranged from her own tunes – a mix of pop and crooners, to covers of popular pop and R’n’B numbers, spoken word tales of her own rise to fame, which were eagerly taken in by an audience who doubtless hope for a similar rags-to-riches tale, and even some dancing to recent hits that had nothing to do with her whatsoever. Again, something I failed to understand from my own cultural perspective, but the 8,000 or so Filipinas in the stadium seemed to love it, and they’re probably closer to Geronimo’s demographic than myself.
Things went off the wall when Geronimo brought her Miss Granny co-star Xian Lim on stage to duet on Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do, and Lim stuck around to do a couple of solo numbers and take selfies with the crowd while Geronimo underwent yet another wardrobe change too, much to the delight of fans at the front who got their Instagram moment.
I don’t know much of Geronimo’s material. In fact, I know none of Geronimo’s material apart from four songs from the film Miss Granny, which I reviewed recently. But I can say without any fear of dispute that this woman has an incredible voice. She didn’t play any songs from that particular film, sadly, which left me a bit short of reference points. At risk of ruining any credibility I have ever created in almost 30 years of writing about music, her failure to play Kiss Me, Kiss Me was nothing short of criminal, but I’m slowly dealing with it.
The event itself was a slightly strange affair. The bizarre support acts/video set us off on the wrong foot, and even once Geronimo had come onstage, the constant pauses to thank the myriad sponsors and producers jarred.
Personally, I’m never affected by this kind of intrusive marketing. But even now, as I eat my Jollibee while looking for a cheap flight on Philippine Airlines and listening to Tag FM, I have to say that thousands of Filipinos seemed very happy as they left the stadium, and probably headed to Club 7.