Another Duterte is making headlines outside the Philippines. Her name is Melina Duterte, the prolific bedroom-pop musician who performs under the moniker Jay Som. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter takes pride in creating a significant impression overseas, co-headlining a North American tour with acclaimed bands Japanese Breakfast and Mitski, reaping major accolades for her new album, Everybody Works, in the process.
The latter plays a crucial role to her gradual ascent as one of the most promising voices in indie-rock, with online music authority Pitchfork describing her work as a “careful, wise, and excellent album that expands the borders of a genre” and Spin Magazine championing her bold efforts in “resisting the clichés of bedroom pop while holding tight to its introspective melancholia.”
Born to Filipino parents, Melina Duterte is accustomed to cultural values and traditions that are endearingly familiar to our own. She grew up in a household that considers karaoke a favorite pastime, the very same place where it’s impossible not to find local staples such as halo-halo and lumpiang shanghai on the dining table from time to time. The family’s penchant for singing karaoke eventually influenced Duterte to become the musician that she is now. “If you have someone in a household who is always singing and who’s always doing karaoke, you’re gonna pick that up,” she tells Shred Magazine in an interview.
Like Spazzkid’s Mark Redito and Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick, Duterte is part of a new wave of Filipino-American music acts whose ingenious production style and distinct storytelling have somehow contributed to shifting the cultural narrative of contemporary indie music and further amplifying voices that are rarely championed in a scene dominated by straight white men.
“I think this is a very sensitive time where we should be thinking about people who don’t have as many opportunities as the typical white indie band,” Duterte asserts in an interview with Out Magazine. “As a female-identified musician and a queer person, you have people constantly telling you the world isn’t made for you.”
Most of her songs on Everybody Works defy classification, but its intimacy isn’t limited to the personal; Duterte finds connection in being part of a marginalized group, and she writes about it in her own introspective and defiant terms. On the album closer "For Light," she takes your hand for a walk and assures you that everything will be fine, that despite being slapped by life’s harshest challenges, you’re not one to back down. “I'll be right on time/ open blinds for light, won't forget to climb,” she sings, her voice fighting for life as the instrumental buildup reaches for a climax, never allowing her sentiments to get drowned in the process.
But in moments of crushing vulnerability, the San Francisco-based artist captures a sense of emotional defeat like no other. Songs like "The Bus Song," "One More Time Please," and "Baybee" document a relationship on the verge of collapse. The title track examines her fumbles as an ordinary person trying to make a career out of music, even if it means living on negative ten dollars and working on the side to make ends meet. There’s something about Melina Duterte’s songs that invite you to a place of riveting self-discovery. She reaches out to us with relatable stories that are uniquely her own, steering it to a direction that knows no particular destination.