EXCLUSIVE: Fil-Am Music Director Troy Laureta And Korean-American Superstar Ailee On Their OPM Collab
Ailee is featured on Troy's first OPM love song collection "KAIBIGAN: A Troy Laureta OPM Collective Vol. 1" with her powerful rendition of Martin Nievera's "Kahit Isang Saglit"
It all started at a David Foster show.
And when David Foster is involved, you know that good things are bound to happen.
At the event was Ailee, a Korean-American superstar known for her power vocals that breathe life into big ballads, and Troy Laureta, an award-winning Filipino music director who grew up in Hawaii surrounded by the best of OPM love songs, courtesy of his mom and dad. Troy is a fan of Ailee, and Ailee had been toying with the idea of singing a Filipino song.
Neither knew each other personally, that is, until David Foster singled Ailee out and called her onstage to sing.
"I've watched all her videos, all the OSTs and her covers of David [Foster] stuff. And when she came on stage, I was like 'Korean-American? Oh my god, it's Ailee.' So, that's how we met! We played 'Stand Up for Love' at the show. I obviously was a huge fan and I told her, 'One day, I would love to work with you.'"
Little did Troy realize that that "one day" would come so much sooner than he expected, and that their first-time collaboration—a Troy-produced number and an Ailee-sung cover—would become a feat that would push musical boundaries, and then break them.
"I think it was kismet, you know? It was fate," Troy says as he looks back at the set of circumstances that facilitated their meeting. They couldn't have been any better; Troy and Ailee both got a feel of each other's style, working together for the first time when neither anticipated it.
Some time after Ailee and Troy made their way to each other's lives, Troy had zero reservations about telling Ailee that he wanted (read: needed) her to be on a passion project he was working on. He was going full sped and full blast with a little something called KAIBIGAN: A Troy Laureta OPM Collective Vol. 1, a compilation of Filipino love songs performed by Filipino singers and international stars alike. The beauty of the record was crystal clear; it was a major way to introduce Filipino love songs to a much wider audience, plus it was Troy's heartfelt tribute to the music that laid down the foundation for an illustrious career.
The record features tracks sung by Nicole Scherzinger (Regine Velasquez-Alcasid's "Pangako"), Matt Bloyd (Jay-R's "Bakit Pa Ba"), Shelea (Angeline Quinto's "Patuloy Ang Pangarap"), Cheesa (Jessa Zaragoza's "Bakit Pa"), Pia Toscano (Ogie Alcasid's "Kailangan Kita"), Jake Zyrus (Pilita Corrales' "Usahay"), and Regine Velasquez-Alcasid ("Hanggang Sa Dulo Ng Walang Hanggan"). All of which got a fresh spin from the artists Troy enlisted to be part of the project. (Read this to see our exclusive interview with Troy Laureta about KAIBIGAN: A Troy Laureta OPM Collective Vol. 1).
When it came to Ailee, he knew exactly which song to assign to her—Martin Nievera's "Kahit Isang Saglit." Not only would it be a Korean-American singer performing it, but it would also be a female voice taking over.
"'Kahit Isang Saglit' was a staple and it still is a staple in my house. My dad used to sing it all the time," Troy says.
"I loved the versions that Juris did. I just took elements of that and I really thought of a female singer... The song, lyrically, is so emotional, so gentle, and so delicate, but still powerful and that for me was Ailee," he explains.
"She sings big ballads and big songs all the time so I knew that this song needed that, that delicateness and the power of her voice. It was super cool, and obviously to hear Ailee who's Korean sing Tagalog... I was really excited and happy, especially with the end result. It was beautiful," he adds.
The two got to work in 2020 to get the wheels turning.
Even with the pandemic in the background (plus the rush of the US elections adding to the daze of things), Troy and Ailee worked their magic in the studio—and finished in a matter of hours no less, despite not being physically together!
It might seem shocking to learn that an international artist so easily pulled off a foreign language song, but not to Troy. The seasoned musical director and producer points out it was all because Ailee was a total pro and it was her efficiency and commitment to the project that really gave the song its wings.
"I told Ailee that we were going to have to do this through Zoom. So we got on it and it only took a couple of hours. Ailee is such a phenomenal artist, obviously. She did her homework, she studied everything. So when we got in there, it was just magic," Troy smiles.
But Ailee herself had a bit more to overcome before she found the confidence to step into Martin Nievera's shoes and render a performance that all Filipinos would love.
"I looked it up, and I heard some of the original work that was already popular and generally known in the Philippines. I was like, 'Wow, this song is beautiful. I have to sing this.' But I was really worried. Will I be able to sing this correctly? What if I ruin the authenticity and the emotion because of my poor pronunciation? So I think that's why I listened to the song a lot," Ailee laughs.
"I was in the studio, and [Troy] was on the laptop, fixing my pronunciation and translating the lyrics for me. It surprisingly went pretty well, but I was still scared. [I kept thinking], 'Am I saying this word right, Troy? Are you sure? Are you sure this is good?" she says as she pokes fun at herself.
At the end of it all, Troy's expert direction and reassurance paired with Ailee's willingness to listen and versality proved to be an electric combination. Troy had complete trust in Ailee to transcend her reservations and do what she does best—to tell a story via a song and sweep away audiences with her emotion—while Ailee felt the same with Troy. She knew that he had a vision for her, and with his track record that includes work with Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Andrea Bocelli, Steven Tyler, and so many more big ticket names, she was sure that his were the most able hands in the industry to mold her capabilities into the best fit for the project.
By Christmas last year, the big reveal was made.
Ailee singing "Kahit Isang Saglit" was shared with millions and millions the world over, and reactions to it have just been phenomenal.
Filipino listeners were in awe of Ailee's performance. It didn't sound like a stranger lost to the language and spirit of Filipino love songs on the mic; Ailee showed up and boy did she deliver.
Key changes, vibrato, high notes, and pronunciation—all of it was on point. A standing ovation is in order.
Both Troy and Ailee were blown away by how it all culminated, so much so that Ailee might just be singing some more Filipino songs sooner than later. Now that she's proven to herself that she can make the lyrics soar, notwithstanding language barriers, and with the positive reception of her Pinoy crossover, Filipino music is something she'd like to explore in the future.
"Kahit Isang Saglit" won't be the first and last of its kind.
Besides, even with their different backgrounds—with Ailee, a mainstay in the Korean music industry and Troy a behind-the-scenes player—they boldly agree on the message that a collaboration like theirs sends to the world: music is without boundaries.
For Troy and Ailee, there's no such thing as K-Pop artists being limited to Korean-language songs, or that Filipno OPM ballads are just something Filipino listeners can relate to. More and more, these delineations are being eroded and both of them are more than happy to speed up the process by partnerships like this. The reality is that the power of music not only lies in its words, but also in the emotions, the experiences it can evoke in its listeners—and the latter can never be held back by geographical differences.
Troy and Ailee make a second, but no less important, point: that it's about time that people embraced music from all corners of the world. Talent that deserves a global following isn't limited to what's produced in or marketed by the west, and for Asian performers especially, they're more than deserving to share the spotlight. Slowly but surely, Troy and Ailee hope to pave the way for this wish to become reality.
"There are so many great talents in Korea, of course, Ailee, so it's great. It's good to see more of that because when we're united, as Asians, as proud Asians, we can show people what we can do and celebrate our music, so it's really cool. I think it's a powerful thing that Philippines and Korea came together for this," Troy says.
In fact, the newly-formed powerhouse duo tease at a future project.
First, Troy reveals that a second volume of KAIBIGAN is on the burner and ready to simmer, and that he and Ailee specifically are working on more material. Everything is top secret for now, but really, all we need to know to be excited is that something is brewing. We'll hold our breath.
Ailee, on the other hand, has a lot going on for her outside of her projects with Troy.
The pandemic wasn't kind to her 2020 touring plans (her "I am: Connected" tour was cancelled), but she's glad to be able to look forward to picking up from where she left off this May.
Ailee's biggest projects at the moment include completing her album trilogy, and then staging a pandemic-safe show. The first album in the trilogy, titled I'm, was released in October last year, and she's set to come out with the second installment Loving this spring.
"I wanted to give off a very spring, light, and breezy kind of vibe throughout this album so the songs themselves are very much like that as well... It's very good to listen to in the springtime, especially when you're driving in your car with great weather. I have a lot of songs being placed into the album, this time for the spring album. I have two title tracks, called 'Make Up Your Mind' and 'Spring Flower,'" she tells Metro.Style.
As for her upcoming show, it's going to be held on May 7 in Korea, and it's got a pretty cute name: "ShowTok."
Ailee explains that it's going to be an incredibly new experience for her, as well as her fans familiar with her concerts. If, pre-COVID, Ailee's concerts were known to have high energy, a ton of dancing around, cheering, and singing along, this time, it'll be all about intimacy and keeping things calm and collected.
"We're doing our concert with all the pandemic regulations. So, one seat apart per person, nobody can sit next to each other, no screaming, no singing along. Only clapping is allowed," she shares.
But what's bound to make it truly special is because of the messaging app the show is going to be centered around.
"We have this messenger application on our phones called Kakaotalk... It's like iChat and just like text messaging but we call it KaTalk for short, right, so it's a show talk," Ailee says.
"We'll be communicating through the app throughout the show. We're going to have a huge group chat going on for the people who are at the show or not at the show, and they can just live chat with me while I'm on stage. There's going to be a lot of conversations, and hopefully a lot of participation from the crowd so that we'll be able to discuss a lot of things," Ailee describes.
As she looks even further into the future, Ailee hopes to get back to touring normally as soon as possible—which includes a possible visit to the Philippines. She's only ever performed for a Filipino audience once, and she'd love to come back, what with her new connection to her Filipino fans after her collaboration with Troy for "Kahit Isang Saglit."
Physical limitations, language barriers, cultural differences, and yes, even a global health crisis—when something big is in the works—none of these things can ever stand in its way.
Troy and Ailee's work is a testament to what can be accomplished in our new normal, and in what will hopefully be a new and better world when the current struggles of today have come and gone.
Music is and will always be a means for people to connect, remain optimistic, and focus on what makes us the same rather than what sets us apart.
Ultimately, Troy was right to name his first OPM collection what he did. Music is all about kaibigan, a dear friend to all, and a companion in love.
Watch our exclusive interview with Troy Laureta below:
Photos courtesy of Star Music / Additional image from @troylaureta