Our best OPM songs of 2021

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This was the year for OPM to bounce back. From Zild's "Kyusi" to Bini's "Golden Arrow," here are our top 25 OPM songs of 2021 in no particular order. Screenshot of BINI from ABS-CBN MUSIC/YOUTUBE

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When the pandemic put a halt to events and live shows in 2020, it was a great setback for a Filipino music industry that was already struggling as is.

2021 became the year to bounce back. The past year saw local and international record labels launching more singles, albums, EPs, and merch, as well as mounting virtual concerts to the point that even we had trouble keeping up with all the available music out there — something that would’ve been unheard of pre-COVID-19.

This list was assembled by consulting panelists from the industry itself, from the fields of production, public relations, media, and even artists themselves. What came of this initial survey was a diverse list of titles that make us confident enough to say that OPM continues to thrive.

In no particular order, here are our top 25 OPM songs of 2021.

“Lagi” - Skusta Clee

Prior to 2021, rapper Skusta Clee (real name: Daryl Ruiz) was mostly known for his work as a member of hip-hop groups Ex-Battalion and O.C. Dawgs, and a slew of viral singles including “Pauwi Nako.” Ruiz’s previous 2021 release was titled "Inlove with that B*tch," so it was a bit of a surprise when he signaled a shift from hardcore hip-hop star to doting father in June with a sweet, stripped down trap/pop song dedicated to his newborn daughter. In the music video (currently at over 90 million views), the fully tatted Ex-Battalion member is seen in his newborn daughter's fully pink, floral nursery. With lyrics like “Basta't ngumiti lang palagi / ngumiti ka lang sa 'akin" to describe just how head over heels he was for his daughter, it’s not hard to see why “Lagi” topped local music charts several times since its release. The song captures the sentiments of a new dad and one that I foresee will be used for father-daughter wedding dances in the future. — GABY GLORIA

“Sigurado” - Oh, Flamingo!

As far as 2021 is concerned, nobody did retro better than Oh, Flamingo! Taking an uncharacteristic breather from the art-rock experiments of their critically acclaimed EP, “Volumes,” the four-piece outfit embraces lightness in “Sigurado,” a track that shares more affinity with early Sharon Cuneta and Cinderella than Dirty Projectors or Grizzly Bear. Here, Bassist Billie Dela Paz adds effortless warmth to the song’s ‘70s pop sound, singing in her comfortable register. The music is decidedly intricate with sterling guitar work, but the instrumentation, for the most part, doesn’t get in the way of Dela Paz, whose understated delivery captures the feel of a slow dance. For what it’s worth, “Sigurado” arrives like sunlight hitting the dust. Its subtlety is its own beauty. — IAN URRUTIA

“Hakbang” - Cheats

“Pabibigyan ba tayo ng mundo?” ask vocalists Candy Gamos, Saab Magalona, and Jim Bacarro, and this sentiment is balanced out by the steady breakbeat drums and ice-cold guitars. Cheats is a fantastic live act with their indie rock anthems, but I’ve always had a soft spot for their more introspective songs. “Hakbang” made its local debut with a music video starring Piolo Pascual, directed by Quark Henares. Seeing this superstar sweetheart throwing a tantrum around an old house in a lovelorn frenzy, with push-ups and a dance number in the equation, struck a chord in a year where people felt the way Papa Piolo did, but in the isolation of their own rooms. — MARIAH REODICA

“Karnal” - Dalisay

Dalisay describe their genre category as “Filipino Old School Death Metal,” which is fitting — the pure aggression of the three-piece’s 2021 record, “Ang Trahedya ng Dalisay at Ketungin,” feels like a return to the basics of what makes metal what it is. The entirety of the record is incredibly brutal to be sure, and conceptually heavy, but the riffs and blast beats on “Karnal” are exceptionally nasty and warlike. Aggressive gunshot percussion launches the track into a distorted dirge that soon after breaks out into a sprint of dissonant licks, cymbal crashes, and blood curdling screams. It’s not very often that we get to celebrate what our local metal musicians are doing, and Dalisay is a great place to start, for those uninitiated in the brutal arts. — JAM PASCUAL

RELATED: ‘Ang Trahedya ng Dalisay at Ketungin’ is a heavy metal concept album by dads with day jobs

“Mapa” - SB19

As a sucker for wordplay, I have been steadily impressed by member Pablo’s play on different Filipino and English words in their discography (also notable: the Pinoy pride banger “What?”, a title short for the watawat, the Filipino word for flag). With “Mapa,” we see this in the combination of the words ‘mama’ and ‘papa’; meant to be a tribute to the parents who worked hard to raise them. The ballad best makes use of Stell’s birit capacity, also showing off blended harmonies that demonstrate Justin’s, as well as rappers Ken and Josh’s vocal chops. But of course, as is usually the case with SB19, it’s the effortless insertion of Filipino culture and values in “Mapa’s” lyrics and message that strikes a chord with Filipinos the most. Going through the YouTube comments about how it helped people deal with loss and distance brought about by the pandemic, it’s also very clear that “Mapa” arrived at the right time. — GG

“Kapangyarihan” - Dicta License

Dicta License has never been subtle in their approach towards social commentary. While their music has undergone massive changes in terms of volume and range, the Filipino rock band continues to deliver explicit expressions of dissent with timely and relevant artistic statements. “Kapangyarihan” is the comeback that we kind of expected from the iconic outfit: a smoky trip-hop tune that takes a swipe at the potential resurgence of tyrannical rule with the Marcos-Duterte ticket in 2022, and a call for Filipino voters to elect a leader that will put an end to the culture of incompetence, corruption, and systemic abuse perpetuated by Duterte regime. Delivered with nuanced conviction, Dicta License hopes to unify dissenting voices to keep the lifeblood of democracy alive. As Pochoy Labog puts it, “‘Di ba na sa ‘yong kamay ang kapangyarihan?” It’s about time that we restore the power back to the Filipino people, and not in the hands of the privileged few. In “Kapangyarihan’s” gospel, we trust. — IU

“NO! Voicemail” - Half/Figurd

Drum machines, check. Pete Hook-style poste bass, check. Lackadaisical sing-speaking, check. This has the tried-and-tested formula pinned down, and they nailed it. Fortunately, Kirsten Salazar’s vocals shine here, unbridled by a telephone filter typical of other songs in this vein. Half/Figurd is cool, what else could I ask for? There is room for indie synth pop amidst the apocalypse, and “NO! Voicemail” has proof. — MR

“Vega” - Jacky Chang

The VisPop movement produces plenty of hits year in and year out, and this release by Cebuana-Korean singer Jacky Chang is proof of that. The Cebuana-Korean singer’s 2021 release is a flirtatious gem of a pop song with verses written in Cebuano, English, and Korean. VisPop founder Jude Gitamandoc praised the song’s lyrics, saying that it uses “Korean and Bisaya languages without losing the charm and wit of both influences.” Chang has been a major name in the country’s thriving VisPop movement in the past few years thanks to her sad, emotional tunes (see: “Pero Atik Ra”), but the catchiness and wit of “Vega” makes it one of her best releases to date. — GG

“Bubunga ang Punla na Tinanim ng Kasaysayan” - Artista ng Rebolusyong Pangkultura

Artista ng Rebolusyong Pangkultural released this protest dirge at the end of Peasant Month this year. It’s a distortion-drenched track, and a powerful expression of dissent through dissonant guitars. The band carefully crafts a crescendo of shoegaze guitars that culminates in a rally cry: Walang panginoon ang lupa. They scream this everlasting truth over and over, stirring the listener to chant along and rage. The Philippines has a storied heritage of protest music, and this is a potent gesture of how younger generations inherit resistance and revolution. — MR

“Metro Retro Bizarro” - spacedog spacecat

What a joy it is to hear indie rock’s finest kick back with this dreamy, reverb and fuzz-washed reflection on loneliness and melancholy. It really feels like Evee Simon, Jam Lorenzo, Janine Samaniego, Jerros Dolino, Marc Inting, and RJ Mabilin (plus featured act Ian Aguila!), having earned their stripes in the gig circuit as seasoned scene vets, are simultaneously at the peak of their powers and at their most relaxed. The choir-like vocals come through like bright, persistent stars on cloudy nights. This’d be the perfect song to listen with headphones, mid-commute, shutting off the world and looking out the windows while vistas race past, but since we’re all home, we must leave it to the music to transport us. — JP

“Lunod” - Ben&Ben ft. Juan Karlos & Zild

Ben&Ben’s second album “Pebble House, Vol. 1: Kuwaderno” packs a number of powerhouse collaborations in it’s 13-song long tracklist. “Lunod” is one of these collabs, with the band pairing up with Juan Karlos and Zild for a track that seems to go all-out production-wise. Most importantly, however, is that beneath the surface is a strong statement on mental health; maybe serving as assurance that even the biggest band in the country can go through the same things too. — GG

RELATED: With Ben&Ben, all roads lead to home

“What’s It Gonna Be” - Mandaue Nights

Mandaue Nights excel the most when they make music that evokes a specific kind of restraint: blurred, neon-lit images that pass by the car windows, recalling soothing lullabies that are inescapable but easy to get lost in. “What’s It Gonna Be?” steps into the familiar light with gorgeous production details and deeply intimate lyrics sung and written in their native Bisaya. While it picks up where remarkable pop singles “First Kiss” and “You & I” left off, the minimalist electronic ballad rises above the lightweight backdrop with a sense of romantic introspection. Without coming across as mood music by design, “What’s It Gonna Be” renders its expression of infatuation in weightless, downtempo bliss. They certainly know how to create magic even with a prescribed set of limitations and themes. — IU

“Kyusi” - Zild

Zild Benitez’s “Kyusi” begins with a sample of a jeepney engine and the voice of a man saying “Para po.” While a small detail, it’s somehow majorly transportative (think: Anton Ego tasting Remy’s ratatouille) to a time pre-pandemic, when the hustle and bustle of the city were easy to romanticize as the soundtrack to a budding romance, coming-of-age film style. In a press statement, Benitez said that his second solo album was more of an attempt to overcome his fear of “telling specific, personal stories” through his music, notable because his previous release, “Homework Machine,” veered more towards the electronic-pop side of the musical spectrum. “Kyusi’s” somber sound is a fitting accompaniment to a story about his younger self experiencing a simple and innocent kind of love, but containing wisdom gleaned over the years since. — GG

“Sali Tayo” - Pikoy

“Sali tayo sa tinawag nilang buhay,” sings Pikoy in this anthemic post-punk anthem. In the 360 lyric video, she floats in a pastel void as she sneers through the verses. I also liked her eclectic cover of the Eraserheads’ “Toyang” where garage rock, sugary harmonies, string quartets, and distorted synths collide in a Frankenstein genre-blender. Pikoy brings attitude in spades, and I missed that kind of grit in this gig-less year. She leads listeners through unconventional twists and turns in arrangement, and I’m pleased to report that the results are interesting, and most importantly, fun. — MR

“Palayo” - Felip

In September, SB19 rapper Ken (as his solo persona Felip) embarked on a solo venture that teeters more on the trap and R&B side of pop. Sung and rapped in a mix of Bisaya, Filipino, and English, it’s a sensual track of a lover at the throes of a failing relationship. Felip’s baritone is highlighted in a way we haven’t seen much of in SB19’s work as a group. “Palayo” is best enjoyed while watching the music video, which features the sort of risque choreography that can only accompany this type of song, cementing his place as a true artist to watch. — GG

“Know Me” - 8 Ballin’

I had no idea what song this was until we started deliberating for this year-end list, but I recognized it right away because of TikTok. I can barely understand half of it aside from the “vash vash,” and maybe I feel old for that. But I don’t have to be Gen Z to know that there are just some songs that work when they’re 15 seconds long. Not everyone can make it on TikTok, contrary to what the platform promises. I’d have to give it credit for the infectious 16 seconds that 8 Ballin’ graces us with. Errthing sa amin, ano pa? — MR

“Kung nag-aatubili” - Syd Hartha

Indie-folk artist Syd Hartha (stylized as syd hartha) is another lyricist who’s been on my radar ever since she released the consent anthem “Ayaw” in 2019. The single “Kung nag-aatubili” (stylized as “...kung nag-aatubili”) is a worthy follow-up, still true to Syd Hartha’s folk roots, but this time her topic is more on young love and somehow the antithesis to a harana. It’s a cute and simple song about the hesitation that comes with a budding romance. — GG

RELATED: New music spotlight: Syd Hartha’s “Kung Nag-aatubili”

“Flesh and Code” - The Buildings

The Buildings have always been super good at making philosophically rich indie rock. “There’s pre- / And there’s post- / Is that all?” These lines from “Flesh and Code” strike a very specific nerve, one that speaks to apocalypse anxiety, the digital condition, and how the historical moment seems almost atemporal. It’s just three short lines but they home in on a kind of malaise that isn’t nihilistic, but just tells it like it is. The lax instrumentation makes this track feel like a yosi break meditation, the kind that stays with you for years. Mariah Reodica has always been deft at that as a lyricist, and this track from “Heaven Is A Long Exhale” is a powerful yet casual demonstration of those abilities. — JP

“Ikaw Lamang” - LONER

While UK Garage (UKG) may have been overlooked as one of the most significant trends in dance/pop music of the late ‘90s to early ‘00s, it’s certainly making a comeback in more obscure parts of the world, particularly in pandemic-era Philippines where club music is removed from its actual milieu, and much to the subculture’s dissatisfaction, stripped off its communal context. Electronic producer Loner (stylized as LONER) leads the revival with “Ikaw Lamang,” an intoxicating raver that lends the atmosphere of a packed dance floor. It has everything you need in a jam: a sauntering pulse that intertwines with a two-step beat, a chorus that sashays back to an era when Sweet Female Attitude and Artful Dodger ruled the airwaves, and a minimalism that translates repetitiveness into a transcendent form of muscle memory. Loner’s version of UKG hits the sweet spot between nostalgia and futurism, anchored with a strong visual identity that is remarkably his. On “Ikaw Lamang,” Loner finds joy in expressing his romantic desire through lush chords and vibrant, synthetic beats. Despite the absence of a club or a discotheque, he’s reviving an old form of dance music as a way to cope with survival, taking whatever’s left of its glory to ignite romance, passion, and optimism even in the darkest, smallest corners. — IU


Sublime, uplifting, and romantic. What we hear in “Oh, Bleeding Hearts?” (stylized as “OH, BLEEDING HEARTS?”) — aside from an earnest lyrical bid for collective hope in contexts of crisis — is a honing of the artistic sensibilities demonstrated in previous single “Fall inlove!” (stylized as “FALL INLOVE!”) and Ena Mori’s (stylized as ena mori) 2020 EP. Exquisite vocals, thoughtful lyricism, and mint production make this single a quintessential pop specimen, which is to say, who else is doing pop quite like Ena Mori? This is the kind of music that falls under the quarantine release sub-category of, “This makes me feel delighted to be alive, despite everything.” — JP

READ: Ena Mori makes vibrant pop music that cuts to the feeling

“Disko Forever” - Blaster

Blaster Silonga is right: disco is far from dead. It continues to live on and offer marginalized communities a shared sense of cultural belongingness. To some, disco means escape, freedom, or sex. Others like Blaster, treat it like a playground for the uninhibited, latching on its pleasure instincts to create meaningful, personal art. His 2021 single “Disko Forever” (stylized as “DISKO FOREVER”) works as a tribute to the subversive genre that once propelled his older band, IV of Spades to music stardom, and deservingly so, speaks to his commitment to ambition and nostalgia. It’s no coincidence that the 22-year-old musician’s version of disco is more retro-modern in a David Bowie sense: groovy yet cosmically charged, echoing Ziggy Stardust with theatricality that extends beyond face value. And like his idol, Bowie, Blaster isn’t afraid to reject conventional standards of masculinity for something that is gender-bending and non-conforming, future-forward but intimate. On “Disko Forever,” he gives us a taste of what disco sounds like, if it were made to soundtrack the spade odyssey. — IU

“Golden Arrow” - Bini

Right off the gate, you know exactly what Bini (Stylized as BINI) is trying to achieve as a girl group. There’s no insistence to explore introspective lyrical themes or breakaway from their bubbly, youthful sound. Their music is defined by immediacy and excess, brushing comfortably with the defining mood of Gen Z pop culture. “Golden Arrow” best represents this aesthetic terrain: a disco-pop anthem that sparks a renewed interest in girl power and empowerment, all while altering the way fun works in times of upheaval. Sliding between singing and rapping, the eight-member Filipino group captures the lost days of pre-pandemic normalcy, back when it’s okay to “dance ‘til midnight” and people “got nothing to worry about.” “Golden Arrow” offers a refreshing reprieve from an awfully stuck year in pop music — thanks to its meanest hooks and knockout melodic punches. — IU

“Silaw” - Barbie Almalbis

Co-written with her husband Martin Honasan, Barbie Almalbis’ “Silaw” is the very feeling of indoor respite, pure love, domestic bliss, in the form of song. Delicate arpeggios accentuated by tiny harmonics, plus Almalbis’ beautiful vocals and sun-dappled production makes this mellow track stand out in “Scenes from Inside,” an album where this feeling of comfort is abundant. In this pandemic, there are scant moments of peace that, if we encounter them, we smuggle them for safekeeping because we know they’re rare. “Silaw” feels like such a moment, stolen and held. — JP

RELATED: ‘What if it’s all gone?’: Barbie Almalbis on being a musician during the pandemic

“R Rules” - DNY

These are exciting times, to watch P-Pop find its own identity and stylistic footing, with new groups forming and coming out with bop after bop. Formerly known as Japh Dolls, R Rules (Riyo, Ruri, Reina, and Risa) step forward as the act to lead the artistic charge. Their breakout single “DNY” (which stands for “Don’t Need Ya”) is rambunctious and pugnacious. It channels K-pop group Blackpink, the way the beat and horns come in like the stomping of a marching band, while the girls yell belligerent gang chants. R Rules might just be the key to us putting P-Pop on the Pan-Asian map. — JP

“On a Loop” - Bird Dens

Howard Luistro mastered the art of jagged interlocking riffs, pushing the guitar’s capability of being a rhythmic, textural instrument as a member of indie rock band Oh, Flamingo. It’s a pleasant surprise to hear him dial back in this muted, reflective number of his solo project, letting his allegiance to the Paul McCartney school of songwriting shine. He knows just when to step back as a guitarist and let a vocal melody take center stage. — MR


Here are our favorite albums and songs that we wish made the list:


“Best in Class” by Scandal Jenner, “Kapitan Kulam” by Kapitan Kulam, “Sleep Kitchen” by Sleep Kitchen, “Heaven is a Long Exhale” by The Buildings, “Adolescent Assemblage” by WAX, “Sun Valley” by Ivy Hill, “Make Noise” by Loner, “Pebble House, Vol. 1: Kuwaderno” by Ben&Ben, “Dead Girl” by Noa Mal, “Huminga” by Zild, “Soft Limit” by Soft Limit, “Haranasa” by Kiyo, “Pagsibol” by SB19


“Bedhead” by Charity Work, “Crash and Burn” by Calix, “Mukha Mo” by Sleep Kitchen, “Mali” by Munimuni, “Coney Reyes on Camera” by Ice Pop


Listen to a playlist of all the songs mentioned here: