Calling it “Kilometro” is risky enough. These days, no one uses the word to suggest distance between lovers: it has always been about travel or traffic, the space from one point to another, a matter of measurable length that is both physical and calculable. It is neither obsolete nor outdated—for it still serves its purpose in everyday contact—but like a saying whose point is hardly taken seriously due to frequency of use, it has always been written or spoken without curiosity, its existence detached and indifferent, a word that has long since accepted its perfunctory nature.
But Thyro Alfaro and Yumi Lacsamana are gifted with this ability to add zing to what could have been stale or maudlin turns of phrase, and at their peak as composers, penning and producing some of the most remarkable OPM songs in recent years, their weapon rests on a skillful grasp of language. They know how to remove dust and dirt from surfaces that might appear too old-school for kids these days, always pursuing attractive hooks and smooth verses but never underrating the sense of them all, individually and together, recognizing the capability of pop music to satisfy the listener on many levels, in a diverse range of pleasures leading to worthwhile discussions, no matter how much it has become standard to look down on products of commercial undertakings. Compelled by silly conventions, several makers of entertainment often find it indispensable to prove their artistic merits, and Thyro and Yumi, although their compositions can speak clearly for their proficiency, have done so over the years by continuing to produce music. They understand that to penetrate this uneven and fickle pop scene, controlled by the same megalomaniacs that offer other diversions through film, television, and print, one must wade through the trash with eyes open and arms wide while making smart compromises.
What strikes the listener upon listening to “Kilometro” for the first time is its sheer seriousness, an earnest admission of love that can’t help but exceed itself line after line, driven by a need not to impress but to convince, reaching this state of hysteria that comes off completely hilarious and ridiculous, because clearly, in such moment of mortifying but genuine disclosure, in a confession that runs between mad and sober, what kind of love is afraid to look silly and outrageous and unreasonable? This initial impression is made even more telling by the fact that Sarah Geronimo is singing it, she whose most memorable songs are marked by excesses, she who is yet to master restraint but in lacking self-control achieves moments of awe-inspiring hopelessness (“Forever’s Not Enough,” “Ikot-Ikot”). Her career has suffered a standstill due to this insistence on recording dull remakes, but it is obvious that over the years her highly publicized ill-fated relationships have been providing her with all shades of emotional maturity—exposing her emptiness and filling her with rage, despair, resentment, sorrow, and optimism—each of them looking for an outlet in the form of a legitimate hit single, a shamelessly desperate, first-rate lovesick anthem.
“Kilometro” is bent on fulfilling this. Every word of it seems to have been submerged in hot water, blistering and burning with zeal. “Kilome – kilome – kilometrong layo” looks awful on paper, but through a simple partition of syllables and Sarah’s riveting lilts, a spell breaks the discomfort of hearing something awkward and uncommon. This hook allows the chorus to stand steadily, creating this force to which all the other verses are attracted or thrown. Thyro and Yumi observe a graceful balancing act (“sa huli – sa huli – sa huli ay tayo”), and the use of “upang,” enunciated with ire and defiance, a conjunction bridging the possibilities, emphasizes the ripples that come and go. Like all timeless choruses, it lingers even when the song is not playing, whirling as though picked up and given life by memory, walking around the mark it makes on one’s mind.
But even the verses will put Max Martin to shame. One can only revel in the richness of literary persuasion that holds it together, the exquisite alliterations, the livid inflections, the wallop of verb tenses, the attempts at poetry that never feel too strained, and the risks it takes in describing a struggle to deny defeat and overcome despair. There are words that one feels thankful to be reminded of—“tala,” “laot,” “papawirin,” “daigdig,” “daluyong”—and the moment it reaches, “Inanod, inagos at halos hindi ka na matanaw / Pagtapos mabalot ng galos / Sigaw pa rin ay ikaw,” the exhilaration peaks, her hope becomes bigger than love and consumes it entirely. Hearing the lyrics does not make the listener imagine the object of her affection: she interprets them with cunning self-importance, showing that love has made her this person of admirable lucidness, bold but rational, romantic but typical, hostile to passive sentiments and measures, straightforward, worthy. Like “Ikot-Ikot,” it is a song made more meaningful because Sarah sings it, but unlike it, “Kilometro” is much freer and more determined, with lighter emotional baggage and stronger ambition.
The fluency of language can’t be stated enough, and in fact it is quite reminiscent of “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas,” composed by Willy Cruz and sung with perfect composure by Sharon Cuneta, a song enlivened by sweeping hyperboles. Both compositions share this mania for going beyond possible and have a way of expressing it with delightful profuseness, heedless of musty social conventions, aware only of a wound that needs some nursing and a heart about to burst. Imagine the kind of love that can say, “Kahit na ilang tinik ay kaya kong tapakan / Kung iyan ang paraan upang landas mo’y masundan and Kahit ilang awit ay aking aawitin / Hanggang ang himig ko’y maging himig mo na rin”—a love that can put into words such foolishness, such submission! And it is no coincidence that in both songs there is a body of water to traverse, as though the most convincing proof of love was being able to cross an ocean, many oceans, despite the waves reaching the skies (as Sarah says), and promising to do more than that (as Sharon swears). But this is only half the story: for in the confines of popular music, where all pleasures are pleasures and guilt has no part in making it, hardly pointed out is that these songs have closures but no futures, a sense of an ending at most, a dimension to it attesting to how any display of sincerity works wonders. Feeling is still the basic currency, and it will always be the first and last. #
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