By Audrie Bernas
(SEPTEMBER 10, 2019) — Twenty-nine years ago, businessman Jose Mari Chan released “Christmas in Our Hearts.” And holidays in the country were never the same.
Fast forward to the age of internet and the endless pit of memes, we are now at the stage where we admit the surest thing on the worldwide web: nothing dies in here, not even the seasons.
He thought the 1990 hit would last two to three years before finally residing in the dusty loft of musical obsolesce just like the vintage vinyl and jukebox of old.
But songs that pre-dated the LSS (Last Song Syndrome) era like Chan’s Yuletide anthem have a good way of coming back to present-day popular consciousness – first as accident, second as inclination, and third as a happy habit.
THE CULTURE OF INTERNET
In the Philippines, memes play a big part in the daily online lives of millions of Filipino internet users. One could say that Chan’s career was somehow rebranded by an influx of these cheesy canvas cut-ups across all social media platforms.
About 67 million Facebook accounts have been recorded last year, with millennials consisting more than half of this population. This age group—from an estimated age of 20 to 35—are the top sharers of memes, now deemed the lifeblood of Chan’s “Ber-month” ensemble, fusing tongue-in-cheek hilarity with telling musicality.
“Unfortunately, the music industry now has changed, and it’s very difficult now to promote a new CD,” Chan said in an interview, going back to the days when he was still a budding musician.
“It’s not like before that you just go to radio stations [to promote],” Chan added.
But it wasn’t too long ago when Jose Mari Chan memes came out of nowhere to re-ignite the iconic crooner’s musical presence in a country where “White Christmases” and “Jingle Bells” were once the celebratory staples in the run-up to December 25 and beyond. The rest was online history.
Chan’s creativity has its own nativity like a paternal figure siring his material with meaning and message, from the romatic “Perfect Christmas” to the ultimately familial and immortal “Christimas in Our Hearts.”
“My songs are like my children, they come from the womb of my mind, the womb of my heart,” he said. “When a child of mine becomes successful, when a song of mine becomes a big hit, then I’m proud to see that.”
Suddenly, Chan is relevant again, thanks to the power of the worldwide web. But this phenomenon is not alien to us.
In 2016, Amanda Hess of the New York Times wrote about how Americans and their memes about the elections made them not just spectators of the political circus—they’re performers, too. Hess argued that the internet and its users unconsciously ran the campaign for Trump to be elected. Bad P.R. is still P.R.
In this sense, the country circled around the same take-over, with a #throwback concept concerning Chan’s music. If the United States can elect someone in office through the internet, then the Philippines can also do the same—pull an oldie back from almost three decades ago and replenish him with relevance and attention than the younger, fresher musicians.
This may be one of the few good things internet weaponization can bring—a cult following of a man in his 70s and his classic Christmas carols.
RETAILING WHILE RETELLING
Around the same time when malling became a Filipino habit, the 90s was the time when Chan’s music was the resounding theme of Christmas spirit—a period where the holiday seasons were characterized by mall sales.
To many Metro Manila residents, trooping to the mall on an apparent Christmas mood with SALE! signs glaring at every storefront is the name of holiday culture.
The fourth-quarter 2017 survey of the Nikkei Asian Review (the -ber months season) reported that a thousand urban Filipinos are attached to shopping malls, with 11% of the respondents visiting these bustling bazaars every day, the most across the ASEAN-5 economies.
It could be said that our growing fondness for retail and holiday spending as a people also brought us to a Chan-themed holiday. As if malls weren’t enough of a criterion to measure Chan’s music, the rise of online shopping brought about by the ever-evolving power of the internet.
In one of the famous memes on the internet, one says, in full jest, that Chan will have full control of the mall’s speakers. Last year, Chan teamed up with an online shopping platform as its brand ambassador. Being the leading e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, Chan became the face of the well-known 11.11 and 12.12 Big Christmas Sale.
The meme is now the benchmark of embodiment—Chan gaining full control of our shopping experience as well as our Christmas attention.
And in one rare moment, this is where we can say, wholeheartedly: Thank you, internet. And late Yuletide capitalism.