MUSIC

The ‘Gameboys’ soundtrack redefines romance in the time of pandemic

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We talk to “Gameboys’” music supervisor and composer Emerzon Texon about the songs that have accompanied Gav and Cairo in their journey. Screencap from THE IDEA FIRST COMPANY/YOUTUBE

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s a thrilling scene that’s hard to resist: Fresh from meeting each other on the crossroads of an empty city, Gavreel Alarcon (Kokoy De Santos) takes Cairo Lazaro (Elijah Canlas) to a footbridge somewhere on Emerald Avenue, where the sight of towering buildings and swaying trees bear witness to the continuation of their first romantic tryst. The newly minted lovers face each other again, only to be separated a few inches apart by an improvised ‘hug glove’ that Gav set up to ensure physical distance and safety. Captured in slow motion, they remove their masks and lock lips through the plastic barriers, while “Ngayon,” a power-pop ballad written and produced by Emerzon Texon, segues straight to the final verse and chorus.

When pop newcomer Dex Yu sings the final lines, “Ngayon, ako’y sa’yo / Malaya na tayo” in its carefree glory, transcendence ensues. For that flash of a minute, the world spins to a standstill. Not even a plastic cover disrupting the “skin-ship” would stop my favorite fictional gay couple from showing affection; it’s a reassurance that love abounds in the time of pandemic.

The thing that’s so great about the closing scene of  “Gameboys” episode 10 is how a completely obscure pop song, propelled by whirring synths and awe-inspiring melodies, not only ticks all the boxes of what makes for a pivotal music moment in an LGBT-themed web series, but fully embraces the buildup of romantic excitement in a way that is universal and relatable. The visuals on the other hand, sum up the collective frustration of our times: the need for physical contact and warmth, the fear that comes from passing or contracting COVID-19 in an attempt to keep the spark alive, and the looming uncertainty of making it out there, alive and capable of loving and being loved. It all comes together perfectly, as if it were orchestrated for us to feel things: comfort, relief, paranoia, excitement, and yearning.

Cai and Gav’s love story proves that these incredible odds are quite survivable, and in the words of “Gameboys’” music supervisor and composer Emerzon Texon, there’s a great possibility that this romantic chase leading up to the last scene, would need its very own soundtrack. “Ngayon” is that turning point when a song suddenly becomes the narrator, and Texon wasn’t even sure of the magic that he has in his hands yet with such a gift of effortless beauty. “When I got the brief, I presumed that we would need two songs for this episode, and that our existing songs would suffice,” Texon admits. “Then I got the episode 10 video and realized that the post credits scene would definitely need a new song, since the scene punctuates a new chapter in Cai and Gav's relationship. After completing the lyrics, I recorded the study and sent it to Direk Perci Intalan.”

The IdeaFirst Company executive producer Perci Intalan loved the material, but he was looking for something more melodic for the refrain. Texon says, “So I changed it, recorded the new part and sent it. After his approval, I then arranged the song and prepared the recording guide for Dex. I think the [entire] process was done in less than threedays.”

Racking up close to 200,000 streams on all digital platforms in a week, “Ngayon” sounds like something Autotelic, Ebe Dancel, or The Itchyworms would record in a heartbeat: an irresistible anthem that soars with a contagious chorus and radio-ready pop hooks. Not to mention, the lyrics are skillfully written by virtue of ubiquity and universal appeal; its rousing effect lingers before you realize it’s over.

Having done several music supervision projects and compositions, Texon has established himself as the go-to collaborator for several film and television projects, including “That Thing Called Tadhana,” “The Breakup Playlist,” “How To Be Yours,” “The Panti Sisters,” and “On The Wings Of Love.” A quick look at his IMDB profile would reveal close to a hundred composing credits under his name. Despite being prolific in his craft and winning major awards for his music scores, Texon’s work remains unnoticed in the public’s eye.

But to the few industry folks who recognize the outstanding talent that he’s put into enhancing the narrative onscreen or emphasizing a particular moment or montage, he’s a thespian with a keen eye and ear for detail. Even Intalan can attest to his impressive but underrated portfolio. “Emerzon has been a great collaborator of ours for so many of our films. My films ‘Distance’ and ‘Unforgettable’ are among the more recent ones. For a project like ‘Gameboys’ where everything is a blank canvas and there are really no set rules, it's good to be working with someone like Emerzon who dares to push the envelope further and further.”

In “Gameboys,” Texon writes, composes, arranges, and produces all the original music for the series, based on the existing content by the creative team. In terms of composing original songs specifically for the series, Texon puts the story into consideration first, and writes lyrics that would embody the essential ideas presented by the characters.

“While playing with the lyrics, the song structure is being formed so the words should syllabically fit in the rhythm I intend to accomplish, and rhyme with other words that I think would work,” he says. “When I have a working melody going, everything else follows. My goal always is to come up with one strong verse and refrain. All the additional verses and refrains are usually easier to finalize.”

Perhaps the reason why people are drawn to the “Gameboys” soundtrack is because the songs understand the complexity of our present conditions and the need to escape from it once in a while. As a progressive Boy’s Love (BL) series that earned global recognition for challenging existing tropes and subverting problematic representations of the LGBTQ+ community, “Gameboys” is fully aware of the milieu that it represents. It dabbles into pop songs that touch on the broad aspects of the human experience. By pulling the audience outside of its market while taking advantage of the wide-ranging appeal that it fosters, the show raises awareness of the struggles of marginalized voices.

It’s easy to predict the theme that binds these songs: finding romantic connection to ease self-imposed isolation, using the metaphor of gaming to document the transition from complete strangers to lovers, and serving the director’s vision of kilig with precision and indelible pop sensibility. There is nothing innovative about the production or even groundbreaking on its songwriting, but it doesn’t make sense to overlook the fact that these music moments offer delightful giddiness in the face of unprecedented challenges or capture the beauty of emotional fragility of a particular scene.

“Panalo Ka,” an enjoyable upbeat number with electronic, disco, alternative rock, and ‘80s glam rock influences, will probably end up as the song that catapulted “Gameboys” OST onto the forefront of the pop soundtrack canon. Parts of the track are used twice in parallel scenes that show excitement and confusion on Cairo’s face as he meets Gav for the first time: one in episode four where he waited for Gav to show up in person, but failed to do so because of lockdown restrictions, and on episode 10 where he’s about to finally physically meet the love of his life in person, outside Zoom calls and Facebook messenger chats, in the middle of an empty street where there’s only the two of them in sight.

With its sunny harmonies and power pop arrangements, the song takes listeners to a reassuring place where surrendering to one’s romantic feelings is as good as being free.

“After the release of the music video of 'Isang Laro,' fans were requesting for an upbeat tune,” Texon recalls, overwhelmed with the fact that his work is slowly gaining traction in the BL community. “To get me started, I used the actual score from episode one as an intro, and wrote the lyrics with Cai's POV in mind. I did it without knowing what a bop is. I just stuck to the basics: a catchy hook to blend well with the lyrics, coupled with an upbeat vibe. When the music video came out, that really gave the song an initial boost. Now I'm just grateful it has made it to a lot of people's playlists.”

There’s no denying Texon’s flair for impeccable pop songcraft. He’s on the level of Thyro and Yumi in terms of expertly weaving the accessibility of the narrative with mathematical technique and rhythmic effortlessness, while taking notes on the contemporary trends that define the current crop of hits. “As a composer and music producer, you have to open your ears and mind to the evolving music as each generation changes,” he says. “You have to welcome these changes, and still be mindful of your personal preferences and taste in music as you attempt to create your own work. As much as I can, I try to listen to what's playing on the top of the charts to keep me updated.”

When it comes to collaborating with other artists, Texon makes sure to leave room for their own creative input or execution. On the novelty ditty “Angel of Peace,” he allowed Elijah Canlas to write his own rap and deliver an apology with a star-making performance. Texon also wrote and produced the clubby, house thumper “My Kind of Love” for Elora Españo. I remember that scene where Gav’s best friend Pearl admits in the Zoom call about her frustrations of being confined at home, wanting to dance the pandemic away. The sassy and upbeat character got Gav and Cai grooving to Españo’s quarantine jam and dancing together as if no one’s watching. Somehow, the song takes on an entirely new meaning in the context of strict lockdowns: To borrow Steve Holden’s line in his review of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” “it represents the precise moment on the dancefloor when you have to get your desperation, frustration and sadness out.”

Texon knows how to turn these uplifting tunes into powerful statements of young love amid troubling times, and he’s not afraid to blend in the background and give way to the story first and foremost. “When the viewers make Cai and Gav's story their own, that's when everything becomes bigger, including the music,” he says. “As a part of the team, I have to challenge myself to create something that would make the existing good story better through all-original music. The way the characters have touched the fans, including myself, sets a perfect space where music can fit perfectly.”

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Check The IdeaFirst Company YouTube page or Emerzon Teoxon's Spotify artist page for the Gameboys OST