Supercouple AlDub achieve fan-favourite status within three months of their debut
AlDub, a romantic couple who appear on a daily variety show on Philippine television, have become the most popular spectacle the country has seen in years. A combination of the duo’s names, AlDub refers to Alden Richards and Yaya Dub, whose real name is Maine Mendoza.
First appearing on the noontime programme Eat Bulaga! in July, the two had communicated solely through a split-screen frame, interacting through the dubbing of audio samples of popular songs and movies.
When they finally met in person on October 24, the encounter was broadcast live from the Philippine Arena, the world’s largest indoor venue that accommodated 55,000 of their fans. The event’s hashtag, #ALDubEBTamangPanahon (The Right Time), yielded 41 million tweets and set the record for the most-discussed single topic on Twitter, beating the 37.6 million tweets from the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany last year.
A natural start
It’s a fascinating phenomenon, primarily because their rise has been organic – something you rarely see in the manufactured industry of Philippine showbiz. Their story was not concocted by the show’s producers – Richards and Mendoza were featured in separate segments, until they caught a glimpse of each other on the show’s split screen.
The producers noticed their chemistry and heard the cheers of the live audience. Since then, AlDub have been appearing on their own daily half-hour segment, dubbed as a kalyeserye (street soap opera). The whole thing continues to be a long improv act, featuring unscripted and unrehearsed gags.
Richards and Mendoza are not the only supercouple in Philippine showbiz. AlDub stand out because of their off-the-cuff performances. Their presence has magnified their proximity with their fans, whether those on the show’s set or the millions watching on television. They often respond to the shrieking and hollering of the live audience, effectively involving them in the performance.
They have stimulated in their fans’ imagination. Where once they were bred solely on the passive experience of soap operas, they can now take part in witnessing a relationship unfolding in real time.
Movers and shakers
Whether the couple’s blossoming romance is genuine is unclear. What’s definite is the flourishing careers of Richards and Mendoza: three months after their debut, they’ve become the biggest stars in the country.
They’ve secured film and music contracts with studios and countless brand-endorsement deals.
Richards’s debut album, released in 2013, recently and suddenly shot up the global Billboard charts, placing 10th on the world albums list. He is only the third Filipino singer, and first Filipino male artist, to make it on Billboard.
There are also rumours that AlDub are being courted with millions of pesos by presidential candidates to campaign for them for the elections in May next year.
It’s their unpretentiousness – their self-awareness – that’s charming everybody. Yet their parody of contrived cultural products borders on irreverence and has known to bite the hand that feeds them. In some instances, their appearance marks a fresh departure from what passes as humour in local television.
Eat Bulaga! – the longest-running variety show in the Philippines, first broadcast in 1979 – and its TV network GMA7, have been major figures in manufacturing the country’s mass media. They’ve influenced the rise of Philippine mainstream culture, particularly in the 1990s.
The decade was a time of national renewal after the turbulent dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos from 1965 to 1986 – an era when films, music, literature and art were mostly political expressions of propaganda or protest. The lowbrow culture that emerged in the ’90s after the dictatorship – mass-market, silly and intellectually undemanding – may have been a reaction to the seriousness and sombreness of decades past.
Mass culture in the Philippines has largely been ignored in serious discourse, their relevance often dismissed. With the emergence of AlDub, scholars from sociology to media studies have chimed in and began analysing everything from the tandem’s appeal to their promotion of old-school Filipino values like courtship and kinship.
Also tuning in are audiences from the elite and educated classes, who’ve shunned similar fare in the past. Perhaps this reflects a redefinition of a common consumer of Philippine culture: an omnivore no longer restricted to highbrow or lowbrow tastes.
AlDub have offered us a privileged place to consider the role of mass culture in contemporary Philippines. What’s compelling is they’ve achieved cultural significance because they’re unconcerned about that status in the first place.