Please Don’t Stop the Music

Pop music is more than just a catchy hook or a sickening beat. For the LGBTQIA+ community, it is an important safe space, a lifeline, and even a weapon (or shield) for a spectrum of identities and creative expressions.

Over dinner and drinks three weeks ago, Alwyn Mancio and Adrian de Guzman—the duo behind pop culture podcast Pop Emergency—were telling me about this tweet by American comedian Caleb Hearon about the gay gods and pop divas.

“When you turn thirteen years old daw, meron ka nang pop star na [ipaglalaban mo] at makikipagpatayan ka. The gay gods will assign you someone to stan,” they said. (He said that when you turn thirteen years old, you’ll have a pop star that you’ll defend to the death. The gay gods will assign you someone to stan.)

In Adrian’s case, the gods gave him Britney Spears. 

Nung bata pa ko, yung tatay ko, bumili ng CD nung concert nya para sa [sister] ko, pero ako yung nakinabang,” Adrian quipped, referring to Britney’s “Dream Within A Dream Tour.” (When I was young, my dad bought a CD of Britney Spears’ concert for my sister. However, it was me who benefited.) “When I saw [her] dance and set the stage on fire, I realized that I wanted to be that strong and confident.”

Similarly, it was Beyoncé’s confidence and relentless drive for excellence that made Alwyn a follower. 

“I was six years old when I saw Destiny’s Child perform ‘Survivor’ on MTV,” he recalled. “They were singing about power, but back then, I didn’t understand [yet] what they were talking about exactly. [Regardless,] I remember being deeply impressed by their performance.”

Beyoncé would later resurface in Alwyn’s life ten years after, and Queen B would astound him anew with her massive success—a beacon of Black excellence. Alwyn resonated with her story of defying the odds as a Black female artist in America.   

“I already knew at a young age that I was different. I was very effeminate, and it took me a while to accept that,” he admitted. “Moreover, I grew up in a community that celebrated fair, mestiza skin as beautiful—and there I was, a brown-skinned boy. I kept asking myself, ‘Pangit ba ‘tong kulay ko? Bakit di ko magawang maging confident about it’’” (Is my skin color ugly? Why can’t I be confident about it?)

Beyoncé’s confidence in her own skin pushed Alwyn to be unapologetic with who he was and what he wanted. Moreover, her drive for excellence—from the stage to various business ventures—motivated him to foster a solid work ethic. 

Para sa amin ni Adrian, hindi na lang sila basta idol eh. They are icons that we look up to because we believe that the way they work, present themselves, and command their lives is excellent,” Alwyn stressed. (For Adrian and I, they’re not just idols. They are icons that we look up to because we believe that the way they work, present themselves, and command their lives is excellent.)

Moreover, many pop divas have written and performed songs that made the queer community—in all its strengths and flaws—feel seen, heard, and understood, whether directly or not. 

For instance, with lyrics that go “No matter gay, straight, or bi’, lesbian, transgender life / I’m on the right track, baby, I was born to survive / No matter Black, white or beige, chola, or Orient’ made /I’m on the right track, baby, I was born to be brave,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” minced no words in preaching pride and equality for all. 

Other songs aren’t explicitly queer anthems, but they paint a picture of experiences that LGBTQIA+ folk can relate to. For example, Adrian cites Britney Spears’ “Lucky,” which narrates the life of a famous actress who seems to have it all, but is deeply lonely on the inside. 

“I’m not a star like Lucky, but we queer folk understand that feeling of showing and proving to the world that we’re okay, but deep inside we’re not,” Adrian shared. “Whether through humor, compensating with achievements, or being excellent at something, we always had this feeling of needing to prove ourselves because of our identity. In the process, we sometimes neglect our true feelings.”

I nodded emphatically as I listened to Alwyn and Adrian talk about their gay icons with conviction, though I found myself chuckling in my head at the same time. If Adrian had Britney and Alwyn had Beyoncé, the gay gods gave me Kylie Minogue. 

But unlike the two, my veneration did not begin with feelings of empowerment, though that came in later—we cannot deny Kylie’s massive impact toward the LGBTQIA+ community, after all. Truth be told, my kid self just wanted to strut and dance like her in those skimpy gold shorts she wore for the “Spinning Around” music video!

The Voice Within

Chatting with Alwyn and Adrian felt like joining them in a special episode of Pop Emergency—a feeling that proves the point of their podcast. 

“Pop Emergency was created precisely because we always felt that there was this ‘third person’ all the time who is just as passionate as we are about pop music,” Alwyn noted. “Adrian and I became good friends because of music, and we always knew that we weren’t the only ones who were venerating our idols the way that we do. That’s why we did this podcast—for our fellow fans.”

The podcast began airing amid the pandemic in 2020. It was a serendipitous debut, given the closure and inaccessibility of safe spaces where people—especially queer folk—could enjoy pop music. 

Pop Emergency hosts a variety of episodes, from hour-long discussions on pop icons, quick weekly roundups of pop culture and music news, to interviews with artists. The conversations continue on their social media accounts, where listeners chime in on their thoughts and comments on Alwyn and Adrian’s musings. 

“From that ‘third person,’ the conversations extended to a bigger group of people. Seeing how other fans were passionate about their icons and the things we were talking about kept us going,” Adrian shared, noting how their listeners have always picked up on the duo’s fervent dedication to pop. “These moments remind us that pop isn’t shallow—there is meaning and value to be derived from it.”

But Pop Emergency goes beyond veneration. For instance, Alwyn notes that the platform is a prime opportunity for fans and the general public to be more critical and well-informed about societal changes and political correctness, for instance. 

“There were pop artists from decades ago who got away with what we would consider now as cultural appropriation, or offensive slurs that were considered ‘okay’ before. Through the podcast, we can shed light on these things, get the opportunity to ‘unlearn’ them, and accept that the world—and pop, for that matter—is changing,” he says. 

“Pop isn’t just Britney and Beyoncé for us, after all. With so many new artists, identities, and creative expressions today, there’s so much to unlearn and learn,” Alwyn adds. 

While Adrian shares that the podcast serves primarily to put music on the spotlight and spark discussions, he emphasizes that these conversations serve as a safe space where queer voices can be heard and amplified. 

“We understand that feeling of wanting to be heard, to be understood, and to be accepted for who we are and what we like. For us, the podcast becomes a platform for us to do just that—not only for ourselves, but for fellow queer folk as well—through music,” he said. Zeroing in on the podcasting community, Adrian explained further that there isn’t as much content on queer stories, hardships, and passions—something that they seek to address with their podcast.

“Pop Emergency is intentional, purposeful, and authentic to its audience—for the gays, by the gays, ika’ nga,” Alwyn quipped. “We’re using music to relate to our audiences and create a space for them. Music, especially for queer folk, is a reliable shoulder to lean on—it doesn’t judge, it never discriminates, and it amplifies exactly how we feel.”

I found myself nodding passionately again as they told me these things. Had I known about Pop Emergency ten years ago—back when I was a confused fifteen year-old who waited until past midnight, when everyone else at home was asleep, to dance to Kylie Minogue (albeit with low volume)—I wouldn’t have felt as lonely and scared of judgment as I did before. 

Get the Party Started

However, much as Pop Emergency gave music fans and queer folk that virtual (read: auditory) safe space over the lockdown, Alwyn and Adrian knew that nothing matched enjoying iconic pop hits on the dance floor a la late nights at Today x Future, for instance. 

So, six months after debuting the podcast, they launched a Zoom party—a celebration of pop music aptly called “Future Nostalgia.”

“At the beginning of the lockdown, most of us resorted to video calls and virtual hangouts with friends, but admittedly, that soon became tiring,” Alwyn shared. “With Future Nostalgia, we wanted to create that space where people could hang out, feel safe, and enjoy their favorite music together—albeit online.”

Admittedly, while Future Nostalgia’s premise was simple, I found it odd at first. It took me a good while to enjoy the first installment because I couldn’t imagine that satisfaction from grooving to a pop hit in front of a webcam, let alone a live digital audience. It only took Kylie Minogue’s intervention —thank God for “Spinning Around”—for me to feel uninhibited. Before I knew it, I turned a few square meters of condo living room space into a dance floor.

“In the comfort of their homes, people were doing all sorts of things in Future Nostalgia. As expected, people were drinking and dancing, but there were others who ate dinner and even microwaved food on camera!” Adrian recalled. “Others even took the opportunity to perform and lip sync to the songs. It was a great deal of fun.”

Crazy as the gatherings got (at least, by Zoom dance party standards), Alwyn and Adrian kept that same spirit of intentionality and purposefulness in Future Nostalgia that they espoused in Pop Emergency. More than hosting a safe space for queer folk, the Zoom parties also raised funds for a variety of causes: typhoon relief efforts, fundraising for the Golden Gays, and even financial support for a people’s campaign during the elections. 

“Without a doubt, the show was very gay—it was definitely something for the gay agenda,” Adrian laughs. “But just like how we believe in pop as something beyond itself, we thought that we could use Future Nostalgia to be of aid or service to others. And the community delivered—donations just kept coming in while we were all having fun.”

Dance Floor Darling

If there’s anything (or anyone) to blame for the crazy shenanigans that happened at Future Nostalgia, it’s the careful curation of songs by DJs Jer Dee and Marky Saavedra. The pair used to avidly play iconic pop songs at Today x Future, where Alwyn and Adrian were regulars as well. 

“Those two guys have great taste in music. We believe in their talent, so that’s why we thought of them when we were building Future Nostalgia. They pay attention to the people who attend their events, and they curate the music accordingly. They get to carve a space for everyone,” Alwyn noted.

As the four worked together to create banging Zoom parties, talks about bringing the Pop Emergency experience live eventually surfaced. Two years and four Zoom events later, Future Nostalgia finally gathered the community at Tipple and Slaw in Katipunan last June 18, 2022. 

Dubbed “Future Nostalgia Volume V: Pride and Power,” the event brought not only the music that we sorely wanted to dance to—it breathed new life into these tracks through hair flips, stunts, and energetic choreography performed by the queens from Drag Playhouse PH. Queer artist Kumare Harvey also got the crowd pumped up with his performance of social media star Sassagurl’s newest single, “Kabog.” 

For pop music fans and queer folk, the event was a long coming. Lady Gaga fans like Alwyn and I, for instance, still vividly remember when she dropped Chromatica, her sixth studio album, on May 29, 2020, and how we imagined how epic that drop in “Rain on Me” would be like on the dance floor. 

Suffice to say, when we finally heard that song and saw how everyone at Tipple and Slaw jumped and danced their hearts out, gay heaven graced the earth.

“Thinking about moments like that made us excited to go live,” Jer said. Future Nostalgia Volume V was his and Marky’s first live event—and the first that they co-organized from the ground up—since the pandemic began. “That energy you feel when you see the look in people’s faces as they dance to the songs that you mix? It’s unlike any other.”

“Honestly, after what happened in Future Nostalgia V, Zoom parties won’t work anymore,” Marky admitted, agreeing with that unparalleled energy that Jer was describing. “However, we have to mention that virtual events were definitely fun and fulfilling too, especially with the fundraisers and the community that consistently attended all four parties. It kept us motivated to continue what we were doing.”

We’re All In This Together

The music and partying did not stop at Future Nostalgia V. Just a week after their first live event, Alwyn and Jer brought the Pop Emergency at the biggest LGBTQIA+ stage in the country: the 2022 Metro Manila Pride March and Festival in Pasay City. 

“I remember shouting ‘Totoo ba ‘to?’ (Is this real?)  when I first heard the news,” Jer admitted. Apparently, Alwyn and Adrian only pitched to Metro Manila Pride around ten days before the march. 

“When we announced Future Nostalgia V by end-May, it blew up. The tickets sold out around an hour after we uploaded the first poster,” Alwyn recalled. As they posted more teasers leading up to June 18, the duo kept receiving inquiries about reservations and standing-room only tickets. 

“We were overwhelmed by how interested people were about the event. We figured that there was something special there, so we thought, why not go for it and push for what we have been manifesting for the longest time—to take on the Pride March stage?” Adrian shared. 

Things came together like clockwork afterward. The pitch succeeded, and days prior to the march, event posters bearing the names of Pop Emergency, Jer, and Marky appeared. For them, it was surreal.

“Those opportunities just don’t get handed to you. When your name is on that poster, it means that they took the time to consider your body of work and deem it worthy of being on that stage,” Marky stressed.

“It’s amazing to think that we started by doing gigs for fun—using only our laptops!—at Today x Future, and now we’re spinning at Pride March. More people now ask when my next gig is. I can finally add ‘professional DJ’ to my bio now!” He quipped.

Jer echoed Marky’s sentiments—he even admitted that he only recently considered himself as a professional DJ when he got his gear, and of course, after he spun for the march. 

“I was both thrilled and scared when I got up on that stage,” Jer recounted. “However, I told myself to focus on my work and deliver the set that I painstakingly prepared for Pride March.”

While Jer said that it was exhilarating to feel that energy live, he couldn’t exactly see what was happening on the ground until he saw photos and videos online. “There was this particular moment when I played ‘We’re All In This Together,’ from High School Musical. Apparently, people began forming this huge circle and spun around the field! It was heartwarming to see them all enjoy our efforts.”

“These opportunities—Future Nostalgia V and Pride 2022—inspired me to come up with more engaging sets,” Marky noted. “Finally seeing how people respond to the work that Jer and I do, we’re driven to create more moments like this.”

Please Don’t Stop the Music

“Honestly, it’s quite unconventional for a podcast to transform into an event. Normally, content creators take the influencer route,” Alwyn and Adrian noted. “For us, we just go back to our core, our purpose: it’s all about the music and how we use it to create that safe space for everyone.”

Acknowledging those who have come before us—iconic pop divas, queer activists and luminaries, and staunch allies of LGBTQIA+ folk—to make spaces like Pop Emergency and Future Nostalgia possible, the duo stressed that they’ll continue to make authentic, purposeful, and quality content and events that will resonate with the community and increase queer visibility. 

“Of course, we’ll keep on being passionate about pop music and culture in our podcast. And we’ll always look back at Future Nostalgia V as that pivotal moment that will push us to do more. It’s an event wherein we could confidently say, ‘yes, we did that.’”

While Future Nostalgia VI is still up in the air, Alwyn and Adrian will keep on producing quality episodes for Pop Emergency. On the other hand, Jer and Marky have a few DJ gigs lined up—they even teased that there’s something in the works to look forward to. 

And as for myself, I’ll patiently wait for the next dance party where I could live my teenage fantasy of spinning around like Kylie Minogue. Maybe I’ll finally wear those gold short shorts, just like her—but we’ll just have to wait and see.

MANTLE RECOMMENDS