If there is a co-star for each one of us in this grand—sometimes underwhelming—cinematic experience that is life, it would be time. And one thing that the quarantine and the whole pandemic have made abundantly clear is its inevitable and impartial passing. It is the same amount and rate of time that continues to pass for all of us, no matter if you’re a student trying to make it through your academic life in one piece, a corporate employee, a single parent, a freelance artist, or a multi-hyphenated superstar like James Reid.
For all of us, this period that we’ve spent in isolation is a glaring reminder that the world doesn’t stop turning for anything or anyone, and it will pass as it always does regardless if we think we’re ready to face the next day or not. In a conversation with Rank Magazine, Reid reunites with us, after yet another storied year for him, and the rest of human civilization, to reflect on time’s impact on his day-to-day life, and a longstanding career that unraveled right before our eyes in the past eleven years.
It was thirty minutes past 11 in the morning, in a studio set in a secluded and unassuming compound in San Juan where the Rank Magazine team gathered, when a soft-spoken voice greeted us, quickly cutting off Beyonce blaring in the background. “Hello,” he said, punctuated with that familiar, shy, schoolboy smile.
Reid, now a guy of 27, stood before us, in the middle of unloading full looks packed in our garment bags that are carefully chosen to go with the shoot’s theme. This was half an hour earlier than the agreed time, to which, he toyed as he surveyed the place, “Are we early?”
The singer-actor then went on to ask about the day’s outfits, where he was shown designs made for him for the shoot by veteran designer, Edwin Tan, along with pieces made by young, up and coming designer Kyle Cruz, to which he responded positively. “You can do anything with my hair, by the way,” he then stated, matter-of-factly.
During the pandemic, just like most of us who were plucked out of the business of daily life, as we know it, into an unprecedented lockdown, Reid had his hair the longest the public has ever seen it, since he was 16 year old teenager, who would then take home the biggest prize at what Philippine mainstream television would call and market as the “most famous house in the country.” And, just like the rest of us, this isn’t the only thing that has changed looking back at our pre-pandemic self.
We are all familiar with the story. Rewind to 2010: Reid would emerge the top winner in ABS-CBN’s Pinoy Big Brother: Teen Clash where he would be given a taste at stardom with small roles on television. But it was the historic pairing with fellow newcomer at the time, Nadine Lustre, in his breakout role in Diary ng Panget, four years later, tailed closely by a string of roles on the small and big screens, where he would then be inducted to the pantheon of local industry greats–lined up alongside some of the country’s most admired, not to mention, most bankable celebrities. But beyond the pomp and the glamor, a lot has changed–for the better, we have to say.
You look at him now and he still fits the part of the everyday Filipino’s showbiz hero. Tall, talented, and an Australian accent to boot–all making up the handsome charm of a leading man that could easily launch a thousand squealing fangirls on his tail. To this date, Reid remains an indomitable force–with a mystique and bonhomie that continue to draw people in. He is aloof but not alienating; quiet and reserved but warm and accessible.
But years after the surge of his celebrity, we have also seen Reid impeccably evolve into a purveyor of the local arts with his stake in uplifting and elevating the music industry growing stronger, year after year.
Back in 2017, we have seen the birth of a whole new flavor for Reid with “Palm Dreams”, significantly allowing him to graduate from sugary pop, bubblegum tracks every fan danced to the groove of at the onset of his young, blossoming career, with then reel-and-real life partner. But with the hypnotic, hip-hop and R&B record, with one entrancing track after another, we also saw the maiden voyage of what would be his meticulously-planned musical and business venture, Careless Music.
Not long after, the Careless Mixtape was launched in 2018, packed with 15 tracks from newly-discovered talent in their roster from Dubai-born model turned rapper Luke Hassan a.k.a. AstroKidd, Dumaguete-based Haissam “Massiah” Morton, and of course, the label’s A&R, Bret Jackson a.k.a. King WaW, among others.
The mixtape was proudly anchored on the brand’s ethos of putting Filipino talent to the fore, from its laidback tracks to fist-pumping anthems that then ultimately launched a pop cultural blitzkrieg that defied limits of what OPM is and is capable of. Behind it is the main man, himself, Reid, who, to this day serves as the label’s Chairman, and one of its top talents.
“Palm Dreams” served as the well-produced product of Reid’s artistic genius, laced with nods to his creative influences that ultimately paved the way to the widely-celebrated rebirth of an artist with full rein of his vision. But ultimately, we saw that this was all part of a grander plan of mounting the Philippine flag on the global musical arena.
Back in 2019, inching closer to a decade into the entertainment business, we talked to Reid about his growth as an artist and as a human being with this newfound vision. He highlighted, “I am definitely more mature now. I think when I started, I just wanted to do something in life. I just wanted to be successful—just like most young adults who want to be successful in something. But if you work hard enough and you’re lucky enough to make that happen, you will eventually start to see that that’s really not the point. You really didn’t just want to be successful at something, what you really want is to do something you are passionate about.”
He added, “Music, definitely, is at my core. It started out as something that I just love doing but I believed and I knew that there’s more to making music than just letting out a single or two, I’ve always wanted to do something that would redefine mainstream music in the Philippines.”
Now, with a year as storied and life-altering as 2020 that has just passed us all by, the change, according to Reid is even more profound.
As an artist who has constantly been on the move for 11 years now, Reid credited his sanity amid this pandemic-induced pause to constant communication with friends and family, and staying in tune with his craft with Careless Music, providing him with the perfect avenue to pour and explore his creativity and exercise his productivity during long dark days of uncertainty—and it is this very hunger for the creative process that got him through it.
“[During quarantine], days felt really long. For me, if I wasn’t working on something I was passionate about, I felt like I wasn’t doing anything. So, it really made me appreciate time.” He adds, “In fact, I’ve realized how much time I take for granted, and I wasn’t actually making use of, even just by staying at home.”
With a career built on constantly drawing from his own life experiences to create powerful scenes in drama, and moving lyrics in music, it’s almost unsurprising when Reid revealed to have hit a wall during the first days of quarantine. For someone who is so used to writing from experience, the difficulty to find inspiration when you’re doing and seeing the same old things, day in and day out, was more pronounced. Resurfacing from this rut, he revealed a marked development and evolution not just in his artistry but in his person.
“It’s definitely gone more towards perspective. How I see the world, how I started to see myself, and trying to share that perspective with other people.”
This shift in focus and process eventually led to the birth of Reid’s latest track, “Soda.” In fact, he believes that it’s the anthem of his life right now, promoting a spirit of being present and in the moment, and hurdling obstacles with the right mindset. It’s a message that aptly resonates with a lot of us at this trying time–all about letting darkness be our teacher.
“I just really wanted to start the year with something fresh. This is a new sound for me that I’ve been working on since 2020. Compared to my music before, from the very beginning, it was more R&B and hip-hop. Now, I’ve moved more towards a mix of pop, electric, soul and funk,” he shares in a press conference, about his foray into new sound amid the pandemic.
“I wrote [Soda] because of the [kind of] situation we were in. It was my way of expressing that perspective that there’s going to be ups and downs, twists and turns. It’s really just about being present enough to realize how to make the most out of life’s many surprises.”
As he put it, surprises, curveballs, struggles and failures are just some constant things we have to deal with in life through our day to day routines. It’s how we bounce back, and deal with these changes that define our moments of success.
But what is success for the 27-year old who has spent more than a decade and, in actuality, spent his years growing under the spotlight?
For someone who has enjoyed constant praise and celebration surrounding his ventures, navigating the ins and outs of the industry, one would think that he has the answer to that question down. Given the fact that his face is on the billboard of most major streets in the country, his songs played on local radio stations every few hours, and his movies always proved to be box office hits. But when asked about his formula for success, he shared that he thinks it might never arrive. “I don’t know, I don’t think that will ever arrive. There’s always going to be another project.”
“Whenever I release a project, it’s one of my problems. I have a hard time just enjoying the success of it because I’ve already set my eyes on a bigger dream. It’s good, it keeps me driven. The satisfying part is when you’re doing it… You really just want to get back into it and ask yourself what’s next?”
It was Martha Graham who once said, “No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
And there it is again: James Reid’s constant hunger for the creative process. It’s what got him through this seemingly unending time of isolation, but it’s also what’s gotten him through 11 years of show business and feeling the passage of time through an accumulation of projects under his belt. These projects have created this life of creativity and artistry around him—a life he admitted to never even dreaming of when he was just starting out, and even before that fated audition for the reality show that launched him into stardom.
“If you asked 16 year-old James that what I’m going to do is perform in front of thousands of people and making music, running a label, and acting, I’d probably piss my pants.”
But now, eleven years later, his laser-eye focus on the next big project and endeavor continues–allowing him to never grow in arrogance from his loud success, but to constantly nurture a spirit of discovery and exploration in his craft, and beyond.
Now that we’re well into the New Year, James Reid’s “what’s next?” mindset is fully coming out to play, as he reveals the growing urge to make things happen. And from his words, it sure looks like there’s a lot to look forward to with his own music, and that of other Careless artists–with new talents coming in, a new album by the end of the year, and a promising creative venture with Los Angeles-based talent management, Transparent Arts.
Circling back to the now, we leave you with a quote from Reid that perfectly encompasses this strange time of lockdown, and the constant pressure and hunger to do something, all the while being in danger of losing our focus on what really matters, “Getting through quarantine is a feat in itself. But if you can get through quarantine, and also somehow be a better version of yourself? Then that’s legendary.”
Truly, a legend he has become with his constantly evolving music and craft. But more so because of his relentless desire to be a better version of himself, and his insatiable thirst for what’s to come.
And so we eagerly ask, to 2021, and beyond,What’s next?
Produced, creative direction, and styling by Leo Balante
Grooming by Mac Igarta
Shoot assistant and cover layout by Bhernn Saenz
Videography by Christina Zabat
Special acknowledgments: Careless Music/Brooklyn Industries