A monsoon of music hits the Philippines

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OneRepublic performs at MTV Music Evolution Manila 2016. Photo: MTV Asia & Kris Rocha

MTV Music Evolution Manila's a thriller featuring APINK, Far East Movement and OneRepublic

Last year the Philippines capital saw some of the biggest names in hip hop, like Naughty by Nature and the Black Eyed Peas' Apl.de.ap, taking centre stage before tens of thousands at MTV Music Evolution Hip Hop 2015. 

This year, as part of their MTV World Stage Series, MTV Music Evolution returned to Manila on Friday of late last month with a new theme, "Can't Stop Moving", celebrating the evolution of pop music and its recent dance influence through an extraordinary local and international line-up.

Despite torrential rains, music fans, armed with ponchos and umbrellas, danced and sang their hearts out to six electric performances by Filipino pop king Gary V accompanied by his son Gab Valenciano, rising star couple James Reid and Nadine Lustre, top Korean girl band APINK, chart-topping singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha, and anticipated headliners Far East Movement and OneRepublic.

Starting off with a bang as fireworks exploded above the gigantic diamond-shaped stage, MTV Asia VJs Alan Wong and Hanli Hoefer, and MTV Pinoy VJs Yassi Pressman and Andre Paras, riled up the rain-drenched crowd as they introduced the first act, Gary V. The equivalent of Thailand's P'Bird, the 51-year-old local pop legend (who looks amazing for his age) filled the concert grounds with the holy gong sounds of the Philippine traditional instrument kulintang. Getting the audience to dance to their traditional beats, he then launched into some of his most famous hits, such as Shake It Off and Arise while busting out perfect Michael Jackson-like choreography with his backup dancers.

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APINK. Photo: Kristian Dowling

A fitting start to the concert as a tribute to early-Philippines pop music, Gary V was then joined by his son Gab Valenciano, a choreographer and dancer whose viral YouTube videos inspired Beyonce’s 7/11music video. Dancing and singing in the rain without a flaw, the duo encouraged their fellow Pinoys to follow their dreams, as their country, without a doubt, is home to some of the world's most talented singers and dancers.

With the rain subsiding, up next in pop evolution was rising Pinoy stars James Reid and Nadine Lustre (think if Nadech and Yaya were actually a couple who are actually accomplished singers). Taking turns singing solos and duets, JaDine, as the Pinoys call them, hammed their love up for the enthralled audience to the point that, as a non-local, it got a bit too awkward to watch. Their vocals and choreography, however, were unsurprisingly on point.

Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha took the stage next with full-on energy and force. Though probably still not a household name, you've definitely heard her music on the radio. She wrote Eminem and Rihanna's The Monster, which made her career. She's lent her voice to David Guetta's Hey Mama, and she wrote G-Eazy's hook for Me, Myself And I, all of which she performed in stripped-down versions, showing off how powerful her vocals really are. Despite technical issues with her microphone due to the downpour, it can easily be said that the 26-year-old sounds much better live than on her studio tracks. Her striking voice and stage presence make her one of the strongest up-and-coming stars in pop music.

Korean girl band APINK surprisingly generated the most noise from the audience, men and women of all ages swooning over the sailor-dressed girls. The thunderous welcome, however, isn't surprising once you realise the Philippines is the third-largest consumer of K-pop in the world. They gave a performance of exactly what you would expect from a top K-pop group -- fine-tuned choreography and perfect vocal harmonies, with audiences singing and chanting along very, very loudly.

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Far East Movement. Photo: FERDIE ARQUERO

As the rain finally stopped after the third hour, Far East Movement then turned the concert grounds into an EDM rave, revving up the audience to a climax with reworked versions of their most famous tracks -- G6, Illest and Push -- along with impressive laser shows, and James Roh, aka Prohgress, crowd-surfing and throwing emoji inflatables to the audience.

Finishing their act, audiences waited restlessly for another half-hour while being entertained by the MTV VJs as the most anticipated headliner set up its gear. "I think God is smiling on us," said OneRepublic lead vocalist Ryan Tedder as he got onstage. "It cooled down. It's night. It's not raining. This is perfect!".

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James Reid and Nadine Lustre. Photo: MTV Asia & Kristian Dowling

OneRepublic, the multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated quintet played hit after hit, like Counting Stars, Stop And Stare and Good Life, as audience members danced and sang along loudly. The most memorable moment, though, was an intimate rendering of their most famous song, Apologize, as Tedder sang soulfully on the piano, accompanied by Brent Kutzle on cello. His voice, like Bebe Rexha's, is definitely better live than on the audio track. As the last song was announced, audiences moaned in despair, but sang cheerfully anyway, screaming with excitement and awe as fireworks and confetti took over the stage and sky for a perfect ending.

MTV Music Evolution Manila 2016 did a lot of things right. It had an amazing stage with impressive visuals and strategically placed screens. It had crazy lights that accompanied the acts, a great sound system despite the uncooperative weather, and swift set changes with the MTV VJS skilfully entertaining and playing games with the audience in between.

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Bebe Rexha. Photo: MTV Asia & Kristian Dowling

Most impressive of all was the crowd, waiting in line for hours before the show started, then dancing at the concert for another six, three of them in the pouring monsoon rain. It's a testament to the Filipinos' collective passion for music and partying. So it wouldn't be a surprise if the MTV World Stage Series returns next year for an even better concert. Let's just hope that the Thai music scene can reach this level of awesome soon.

"MTV Music Evolution: Manila Asia Special" will premiere on MTV on July 19 at 11pm Bangkok time with reruns on July 21 at 10.30am, July 23 at 1.30pm, July 24 at 7pm and July 25 at 1pm. – Bangkok Post

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