There is little historicizing and archiving of local music, and even more so popular hits that deal with teenage life and young love, undervalued as these are, and seen as nothing more than a product that feeds Filipino masses what they want: songs that celebrate naiveté and possibility, romance at its most saccharine, the better to distract us from our troubles.
As such, any list can only be a product of the limits of both memory and accessibility, though this list generated among 17 music writers and contributors provides an interesting enough start for discussing the survival of the local teen-pop song across five decades, from 1975’s “Ang Boyfriend Kong Baduy” to 2015’s “Mr. Right,” produced to launch singing careers, as entries to songwriting competitions, and as movie theme songs.
While the evident shared traits of these songs make it easy to dismiss these as nothing more than a redundancy we equate with pop culture products, there is enough diversity here to warrant multiple tangential discussions about this song’s mode of production.
One of which is the sense that we might trace the roots of the sweet teen pop song to Sharon Cuneta with her first single “Mr. DJ” in the late '70s. A decade after, more danceable versions of the same type of song would launch the singing careers of many-a-That’s-Entertainment-teen-star, from Donna Cruz to Rachel Alejandro, Sheryl Cruz to Manilyn Reynes to Kristina Paner. In the '90s Smokey Mountain and Geneva Cruz (technically we hear Geneva’s voice four times on this list) would be launched via teen love songs as well, which was the case too for Sandara Park in 2004’s “In Or Out,” as well as, arguably, Daniel Padilla in 2013’s “Nasa Iyo Na Ang Lahat.”
It’s also interesting that while it might seem like these songs generally work with the same tropes of hope and optimism and a romanticized perspective on love and life, not only does it cross genres (from upbeat ditties to sanguine ballads, funny novelty to rap and RnB, even some good ol’ disco), there is also a remarkable change in the anticipative voice in these songs. Where the persona that passively waits and wonders appears consistently, there is also a voice that is more confident and decisive about outcomes and repercussions, i.e., Geneva’s “I Like You,” Carol Banawa’s “Bakit ‘Di Totohanin,” Sandara’s “Are You In Or Out,” and the songs from the And Diary Ng Panget OST, “Kakaibabe” and “No Erase.”
It is shifts like this one, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that make lists like this a productive project. At the very least, it is an exercise against forgetting. At most, the start of a real assessment of local pop music, teen-anthems, and the changes in our collective consciousness about love and life, innocence and optimism.
30) James Reid & Nadine Lustre : "No Erase"
Composed by Thyro Alfaro and Yumi Lacsamana (2014)
Known for their clever and mathematical approach to songwriting, Thyro and Yumi made a puppy love anthem for millennials in the form of “No Erase”—the song that would solidify the partnership of then-teen idols Nadine Lustre and James Reid. One thing that sets the song apart from its cookie-cutter peers is its ability to transform one-liners into memorable hooks, with phrases like “period, no erase” or “right minus wrong, kung hindi alam wag hulaan” embracing the sheer adrenaline rush of the chorus with precision and class. (Burn Mercado)
29) Sharon Cuneta : "High School Life"
Composed by George Canseco (1981)
For every teenager, high school is a time of discovery, and since the creation of pop music, singers and composers have been compressing the entire experience into three or four-minute recollections. Released in 1981 and sang in Taglish through and through, "High School Life" was a reckoning reflection of our pop culture then. With the help of composer George Canseco, Sharon Cuneta’s cutesy pop anthem reiterates the woes and joys of high school that sound mundane at first listen, but carries a lot of weight especially to its target listeners. Its honesty ringing in every verse helped the teenage audience to confront their own realities, and be into her music at the same time. Such was the strength of her music that the lyrics didn't have to be relatively profound to make ripples. The song’s reception easily made Sharon a well-liked personal voice of an upcoming generation of jukebox hit-makers. (Yna de Leon)
28) Geneva Cruz : "I Like You"
Composed by Jimmy Antiporda (1992)
From Geneva Cruz’s debut solo album post-Smokey Mountain, "I Like You" wasn’t really her best. True, it sounded way ahead of its time when it was released back in the early ‘90s, but it’s also a pastiche of Dee Lite’s "Groove is in the Heart" which none of Geneva’s contemporaries would dare to sound like. But what made this song on the list is the nostalgia it brings to every old millennial who loved Swatch snap-ons, Sanrios, and Gift Gate in their teens. It was this song that helped the aforementioned '90s brands become a household name and launch Geneva as a modern teen-pop star. (Bonnapart Galeng)
27) Sandara Park : "In or Out"
Composed by Lito Camo (2004)
Even if Sandara Park went on to become one of the biggest K-Pop stars today, she will always be remembered as that painfully awkward yet charming reality show contestant who could barely speak any decent English or Tagalog. Her novelty dance single, "In or Out" was perhaps a direct reference to her experiences in the show. It was a torturously repetitive, tightly choreographed, hopeful love anthem that left people cheering for her more. Although virtually every moment of the song featured a compositional flaw, her Korean aegyo (cutesiness) fortunately worked and inspired some pretty fluffy, fantastic pop. (Klaris Chua)
26) Vanna Vanna : "He Loves Me"
Composed by Christian De Walden (1996)
The '90s teen pop landscape is often fondly remembered by those who were already around at the time as one that was mostly dominated not just by boy groups out to steal teenage girls’ hearts with their song-and-dance numbers, but by girl groups who went out to prove that they could very much keep up with what their male counterparts are doing. One such girl group was our very own FOJ (First of June) who had put out a moderately successful album in 1994, but then decided for some reason to change their name to Vanna Vanna roughly a year later.
While we’re still hard-pressed to figure out just what exactly led to that name change (because let’s face it, FOJ seemed like a better name for the trio of Benj, Teri, and Alana in retrospect), Vanna Vanna had put out their self-titled record in January 1996. Produced by Italian-American hitmaker Christian de Walden, Vanna Vanna was eventually distributed in countries such as Japan and Netherlands, thanks in huge part to the success of album opener “He Loves Me,” a baggy cut in which the trio overtly expresses their feelings as a single unit towards some nameless guy who is the apple of their collective eye. Thanks to empowering girl group anthems like this one, teenage girls in the '90s realized it was absolutely okay for them to display their affection towards the opposite sex. (Flying Lugaw)
25) Manilyn Reynes : "Feel Na Feel"
Composed by Aaron Paul del Rosario (1991)
Manilyn Reynes’ lilting disco-pop anthem "Feel Na Feel" became one of the monster radio hits of the early ‘90s. A departure from Reynes’ torchy "Sayang Na Sayang" days, the song took its cue from the Taglish teen-torch viral hits of the past while steering Pinoy pop music to a sonically adventurous direction. (Archie del Mundo)
24) Tina Paner : "Tamis Ng Unang Halik"
Composed by Mon del Rosario (1989)
Nothing seals teenage love like the first kiss. And no other song in this list so evocatively captures the feeling of that fleeting moment than Tina Paner’s captivating romantic ballad. Gentle and achingly beautiful, it pulls you in, draws you close and swoops in for a gentle yet steamy brush. Thirty years later, the feeling still lingers. Yes, quite like the kiss. (Ken Madronero)
23) Smokey Mountain : "Can This Be Love"
Composed by Ryan Cayabyab (1991)
One of Smokey Mountain’s biggest hits, penned by Ryan Cayabyab, is a song about first love—the feeling of wonder, uncertainty, and a bit of fear, which eventually leads to a realization that allows one to say the words out loud with much conviction. The fact that the members of Smokey Mountain were only in their early teens when this song was released made its innocence more apparent, thanks particularly to Jeffrey Hidalgo, whose still-developing voice at the time lent a particular rawness to its sound, making it appear vulnerable to a degree yet filled with bravery and hope altogether. (Ginny Palma)
22) Dingdong Avanzado : "Tatlong Beinte Singko"
Composed by Rannie Raymundo (1988)
Before his music career was eclipsed by his political ambition and marriage to jukebox revival queen Jessa Zaragoza, Dingdong Avanzado was Dyna Records’ answer to Gary Valenciano and Ariel Rivera: an ‘80s heartthrob whose success drew heavily upon his charismatic appeal and genuine talent. His biggest chart-topper “Tatlong Beinte Singko” is entry-level sunshine goodness that showcases Avanzado’s chops and versatility as a singer. It’s a love song that is theatrical yet earnest in its delivery, insistent in convincing listeners that a way to a woman’s heart is a sincere, hard-earned conversation through phone. (Ian Urrutia)
21) Geneva Cruz : "Ang Gaan Ng Feeling"
Composed by Jimmy Antiporda (1994)
Geneva Cruz’s catalog deserves respectful consideration given that it’s one of the most diverse and eclectic set this side of homegrown pop music: from the infectious charm of “I Like You” to the ethnic-inspired conscious ballad of “Anak Ng Pasig,” the lovely chanteuse has amassed a definitive retrospective of top 40 classics deserving of its own Immaculate Collection. With its magnificently breezy hooks and stripped-down acoustics, “Ang Gaan Ng Feeling” fits nicely into Geneva Cruz’s arsenal of A+ hits. The song is Geneva at her remarkably sweetest, launching into a chorus that bounces upward while showering us with some of her most nuanced, vocally affecting work. (Ian Urrutia)
20) Donnalyn Bartolome :: "Kakaibabe"
Composed by Thyro Alfaro / Donnalyn Bartolome (2014)
YouTube sensation Donnalyn Bartolome is what some ageists would call a millennial pop star. She’s young, she’s sweet, she’s bubbly, and she looks expensive. With her rap-flavored single "Kakaibabe," which first appeared on the soundtrack of Diary ng Panget, she had a runaway hit—an ‘extraordinary’ essential as far as Pinoy bubblegum pop is concerned. One of the stranger highlights of 2014, the track quickly became something kids listened to at least once a day. The older ones had to look up the word’s meaning on Google or had to peek beneath the lyrics with raised eyebrows, only to find out they had a guilty pleasure in their midst. (Klaris Chua)
19) Carol Banawa : "Bakit Di Totohanin"
Composed by Tito Cayamanda (1997)
The friends-to-lovers trope is so popular in Philippine media that this song about hoping for something more has been featured in quite a number of teleseryes and movies, but most notably as the titular song for the 2001 movie starring Judy Ann Santos and Piolo Pascual and, more recently, the American fantasy drama The Vampire Diaries. In this hit single, Carol Banawa pleads for a certain someone to stop fooling around with her and allow their relationship to progress into something real before she hurts herself from hoping. It’s a testament to the silly, often problematic views young people have towards romance, and just how befuddling it is for them to navigate through feelings at that stage. (Ginny Palma)
18) Lilet : "Kaibigan Lang Pala"
Composed by Bernadette Gutierrez / Rey Palac (1992)
Long before Ryan Reynolds defined the word, “friend zone” (from the movie, Just Friends), there was Lilet. (PR)
17) Regine Velasquez :: "Urong Sulong"
Composed by Christine Bendebel (1988)
Dealing with the disappointments of dating an indecisive would-be lover, Regine Velasquez serves up early Tiffany and Debbie Gibson pop on "Urong Sulong." The song is a testament to Regine’s versatility as a singer capable of tackling upbeat numbers with slick, modern production. (Karl Jamandra)
16) Yeng Constantino :: "Chinito"
Composed by Jed Dumawal (2013)
“Chinito” holds that rare distinction of Yeng Constantino spewing mint sweetness at the thought of being with her crush. It’s the poppiest in her catalog, the Steal My Sunshine in her otherwise competent run of introspective pop-rock anthems, the radio smash that would most likely have the most staying power on rotation. What makes it special is its effortless breeziness, one that brushes your skin like a cool seaside wind. Its fluffiness is a sonic gift. (Ian Urrutia)
15) Sam Concepcion / Tippy Dos Santos / Quest : "Dati"
Composed by Thyro Alfaro and Yumi Lacsamana (2013)
Nostalgic even beyond its title and lyrical content, "Dati," which was written by the brilliant tandem of Thyro Alfaro and Yumi Lacsamana, is a monumental teen pop song in its own right. Crafted to capture memories and leave an impression of throwback, this song succeeds in conjuring image of adolescent regret, thanks to the powerful and charming vocals of Sam Concepcion and Tippy Dos Santos, and a little help from hip-hop artist, Quest. (Karl Jamandra)
14) Timmy Cruz : "I Love You, Boy"
Composed by Mon del Rosario (1987)
Timmy Cruz skyrocketed from showbiz obscurity to a promising star with the release of “I Love You, Boy”—one of the biggest radio hits of 1987. Penned by Mon del Rosario, the easy listening ballad conveys the sentiment of undying devotion in a hurting, almost desperate pleading. The frustration in Timmy’s voice is apparent here, but what makes it cutting, and even comforting to a degree, is that it doesn’t revel in defeat. Timmy fights for dear life in the name of love, even if she loses every bit of her sanity. (Ian Urrutia)
13) Daniel Padilla : "Nasa Iyo Na Ang Lahat"
Composed by Jungee Marcelo (2013)
An Official Entry to the 2013 Himig Handog Pop Love Song competition, this is Daniel Padilla’s first original single, coming as he did from an all-covers EP. Unsurprisingly, this would also become a theme song of sorts for his team-up with Kathryn Bernardo, who appears in the song’s music video, and with whom Daniel was doing soap operas and films the same year that “Nasa Iyo Na Ang Lahat” became a hit. This song’s portrayal of the teenage-boy-in-love is shorn of any ego, where the girl is revered for her perfection (thus the title), and there is kilig and disbelief about being chosen among a flock of admirers. That this is also what’s in Daniel’s public persona added a layer of realness to the sweetness—a win-win situation for both song and singer. (Katrina Stuart Santiago)
12) Tenten Muñoz : "Kaba"
Composed by Vehnee Saturno (1991)
Many credited Tootsie Guevarra as the one who immortalized the song "Kaba" but not a lot knew this was a cover. This bittersweet song was originally sung by the late Tenten Muñoz from her self-titled debut album released in 1994. Penned by the great Venhee Saturno, Munoz sings about the anxiety of having a crush and first love. Tenten Munoz died of brain cancer in 1996. (Bonnapart Galeng)
11) Gary Valenciano : "Growing Up"
Composed by Odette Quesada (1984)
Mirroring the success of Puerto Rican boy band Menudo in the '80s, singer-composer Odette Quesada co-piloted Gary Valenciano's career into new terrain. Odette wrote a track that fit not only the vocal stylings of its performer, but the universal adventure of teenage years that can span from one decade to another. "Growing Up" was one of Gary Valenciano's earliest hits that established him as a chart-topping force. From his debut album and Bagets soundtrack, the coming-of-age track showed off Gary's ability to capture the energy and growth of popular Filipino music and its audience. A talented singer-songwriter paired with an up-and-coming teen idol, scoring a movie that defined their generation—everything about the song was a surefire hit. "Growing Up" became a symbol of Gary V's legacy as an artist as it prepared teenage fans to be grown-up lovers of Pinoy Pop. From that point on, Gary continued to influence young musicians looking for their sound to this day. (Yna de Leon)
10) Smokey Mountain : "Kailan"
Composed by Ryan Cayabyab (1991)
Opening with a harmony and saxophone part not all that dissimilar to a grievous wail, Smokey Mountain's first big hit, "Kailan" is foreshadowed as an ode to yearning love even before the rest of the track's story is revealed. There is much to admire in the earnest ardor it portrays; a bold infatuation that's all too relatable. Although Mr. C's words and music give a timeless intent to the song's one-sided affair, Geneva Cruz's vocal work as well as the rest of the group's back-up singing provide the inviting naïveté and wistfulness necessary to make this a true Filipino pop classic. (Ridge Tan)
9) Cinderella : "Ang Boyfriend Kong Baduy"
Composed by Joey de Leon/Vic Sotto (1976)
Listening to this classic hit again made me realize that we have been making good twee pop records since the ‘70s. It has all the recognizable elements: silky pixie-girl vocals, doo-wop harmonies, a sweet bossa nova beat, and a kitschy youthful vigor. One can’t dispel that what made this Vic Sotto and Joey De Leon-penned single extra charming (and a tad dated) is their humorous take of a dating situation told masterfully in Taglish—the official language of 70’s Manila Sound. It’s an unlikely smash that proved to be pivotal in shaping what remains of Pinoy teen-pop today. (Ahmad Tanji)
8) Sheryl Cruz : "Mr. Dreamboy"
Composed by Snaffu Rigor (1989)
There’s a sweet urgency on each line of this song that makes you remember the names you have written and crossed out (under the eternal power of FLAMES) at the back of your artista notebook. No need to deny it; you’ve fallen under the spell of that crazy little thing called young love, and this song recreates the familiar feeling with unmistakable charm. Sheryl Cruz’s wistful delivery is all it takes to bring a vibe of sunshine warmth, sustaining most of the magic while it can. (Ahmad Tanji)
7) Tootsie Guevarra : "Pasulyap-sulyap"
Composed by Vehnee Saturno (1996)
Tootsie Guevarra was 16 years old when Star Records released "Pasulyap-sulyap"—her indelible pop smash that threads the line between easy listening ballad and jukebox revival. The strength of the track lies in its ability to subvert the familiar pop narrative into a gripping showcase of female-driven confidence, somewhat a rarity during the time it was released. Truth be told, Tootsie’s debut single shares more affinity with DJ Alvaro’s "Ang Tipo Kong Lalake" and Hungry Young Poets’ "Torpe" than her mainstream counterparts, delivering an incisive honesty that allows young women to take control of social situations and express themselves freely. Sultry, dynamic, and self-assured, "Pasulyap-sulyap" is more than just your typical wishy-washy fare. (Ian Urrutia)
6) Kim Chiu : "Mr. Right"
Composed by Christian Martinez (2015)
With a chorus that goes “ikaw na ba ang icing sa ibabaw ng cupcake ko,” "Mr. Right" winsomely captures an irrepressible form of infatuation through the lens of a young teenager. Christian Martinez understands the essential ingredients of a good teen-pop song: the unabashedly silly lyrics that would end up being immortalized in memes, Kim Chiu’s saccharine vocals that give the record enough character for better or worse, and the simplistic sentiments aimed at a younger demographic. Sure, it’s teetering on the cringe fest, but it pulls the heartstrings in the most delightful way possible. (Ian Urrutia)
5) Jolina Magdangal : "Chuva Choo Choo"
Composed by Vehnee Saturno (1999)
As one of the most omnipresent figures of the ‘90s, Jolina Magdangal has built a legacy that goes beyond film, television, and music. She has secured her status as a pop culture icon whose impeccable blend of camp aesthetics and playful visual quirks remained relevant to this day. "Chuva Choo Choo" inarguably her most popular single to date, is the first great wink to her signature cutesy. While the production lacked the essential polish to compete on a global scale, Jolina’s bubblegum fodder has brought upbeat numbers back to pop’s forefront, ushering in a resurgence of novelty jams that proliferated the decade after. (Ian Urrutia)
4) Sarah Geronimo : "Sa Iyo"
Composed by Medwin Marfil (2003)
At a time when singing contest champs dominated top 40 radio with power ballads that require vocal acrobatics and melismatic runs, Sarah Geronimo proved to be a refreshing anomaly, stepping out of her cocoon with a dance-pop tune that suits her wholesome personality. For the first time, Viva Records’ most-prized talent got it right with an age-appropriate vehicle that would eventually solidify her place in the canon of teen-pop greats. Composed by True Faith’s Medwin Marfil, "Sa Iyo" transcends the experience of young love with distinctly effervescent edge. That it thrives on innocence makes its appeal more luminous: Sarah singing about crushing is the right thing to do when you’re a 13-year-old newcomer trying to make a dent in Philippine showbiz. But unlike the teenage sensations that came before her, the perennial popstar didn’t need to embrace a fictionalized alter ego to drive a point. Just by being natural, Sarah made every teenage hearts beam and swell, a quality that proved to be effective in her other multimedia ventures. (Ian Urrutia)
3) Sharon Cuneta : "Mr. DJ"
Composed by Rey Valera (1978)
"Mr. DJ" came out in 1978, which in many ways makes it a more important song than we care to admit: it was a dose of youthful sweetness during the time of Manila Sound and disco, and it launched the career of a 12-year-old Sharon Cuneta, politician’s daughter. This song is anthem for the unfinished and lost loves, speaking as it does of remembering and nostalgia, which is strange considering that it’s a kid singing: “At sana’y nakikinig siya / Naaalala kaya niya / Ang love song namin noon / Na niluma na ng panahon.” The wholesome sweetness of Sharon though is what resonates, easily the peg for many of the light and fluffy ditties (and female singers) on this list. (Katrina Stuart Santiago)
2) Rachel Alejandro : "Mr. Kupido"
Composed by Vehnee Saturno (1989)
With its frivolous lyrics and tantalizing tune, "Mr. Kupido" encapsulates the yearning of teenage Gen Xers by presenting more daring romantic expressions—thanks to Rachel Alejandro’s dreamy voice and confidence. The Vehnee Saturno classic would inspire one of the longest running rom-com anthologies thereafter. (Archie Del Mundo)
1) Donna Cruz : "Kapag Tumibok Ang Puso"
Composed by Aaron Paul del Rosario (1991)
For a certain generation of Filipinos there is no listening to this song without seeing the dance steps and neon outfits of a teenage Donna Cruz singing about the futility of resisting love: “Wala ka nang magagawa kungdi sundin ito / Kapag tumibok ang puso / Lagot ka na! Siguradong huli ka!” Yet unlike the teen anthems where girls wait passively for love, here young love is dealt with confidently, if not with resolve: “Puwede ka bang makatabi? / Kahit sandali lang! Puwede ba? / Sana’y pagbigyan! Sige na!” While deceptively simple, there is a balance between innocence and persistence here that is buried in the layers of pa-cute and that undeniably catchy tune. For a generation of us, this is apparently what a teen pop anthem makes. (Katrina Stuart Santiago)
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