He may be singing a different song these days, but the beat is James Reid’s own, and the rhythm has always been the one he’s followed
The year is 2010. The location: EDSA Shangri-La Hotel. There was no such thing as the coronavirus, and people wore party clothes instead of face masks. One of the private restaurants on the second floor of the hotel was completely shut down for the debut of a former showbiz It Girl. One of the attendees of this party was no other than James Reid, the newly crowned victor of ABS-CBN’s hit reality TV show Pinoy Big Brother. Did James know the birthday girl? No, he did not. He wasn’t a party crasher either, but the plus one of PBB runner-up Ryan Bang. After being cooped up inside Big Brother’s house for months, James was finally free to take Manila’s social scene by storm.
At the party, everybody wanted a piece of James Reid. His newfound popularity made him more than a good looking Australian-Filipino adolescent, but the teen idol of the Philippines. Selfies weren’t “the thing” back then, so everyone’s Blackberry (no doubt surviving on one bar of battery) was pulled out, trying get a photo of him. Even though he was probably uncomfortable around so many strangers, James indulged them. He posed for every photo with a big smile plastered on his face. In his defense, he was only a 16-years-old boy, and people throwing themselves at him was a completely new concept. Later that evening, James found more peace at the small after party, where he was finally able to be who he really was: a normal teenager thrown into the glitz and glam of overnight fame.
You may be asking: how does our author know for sure that all of these things happened? Well, I was there that night, and was lucky enough to make friends with the young star. That summer, I saw quite a bit of him, bumping into each other at common friends’ parties, and once even had a nighttime swimming session at my house. After high school ended, I rarely ever saw him. His fame was finally beginning to rise, as he integrated himself into the crazy showbiz dream factory. Weekends became guest performances at the popular variety show ASAP, and a normal weekday for him consisted of hours and hours of taping for television soaps and movies. Eventually, the height of James’ celebrity went on an all-time high when his love team with Nadine Lustre made them the “It Couple” of Philippine showbiz.
Despite the success he finally had (all before he turned 25), James was always the same ol’ guy to my eyes. For the next seven or so years, we would sometimes bump into each other at parties or events. We’d always have a drink, share a laugh, and exchange pleasantries before he had to go back into the perpetual sea of people who wanted to take a photo with him. However, behind the blinding camera lights, the Instagram posts, the PR rounds, and mall tours, there was a passion burning inside of James that would soon be known to the country. James Reid, the teen idol, was about to embrace his inner James Dean by becoming a showbiz rebel with a very clear cause.
BEGINNING THE PALM DREAMS
James Reid sits on a makeup chair at One Mega’s studio office prepping for the next layout of what might be his hundredth MEGA Man cover shoot. It is now 2021, and he is no longer “that kid from Pinoy Big Brother”, but a respectable artist and businessman—a far cry from his early days when he was being told to what to do, where to be, and what to wear. There was a new type of confidence surrounding Mr. Reid’s aura, now that he is a self-managed act. Seeing him for the first time after a number of years, I could honestly tell that this guy had never been more comfortable in his own skin. But it was no surprise to me, because this is what happens to a person when they take full control of their life and career. For James, it all started by leaving behind the mechanical hamster wheel of mainstream show business.
It all began in 2017, when James was inspired to record his first studio album under his new record label Careless Music Manila (today, the label is simply known as Careless). Although he was already an established star in Manila’s galaxy of top showbiz personalities, James still received some hesitation from his management regarding his “new sound.”
“They told me it wasn’t marketable,” he shared with a laugh. “But I told them, this is just for me. It was my passion project! I wasn’t trying to be the biggest music act in town or anything like that, but it was really just something that I wanted to make for myself.” James eventually won them over, and he was finally able to record his first musical brainchild. In the end, the team was very impressed with the finished product, releasing it digitally and physically in May of that year. The album was called Palm Dreams.
“The reception of the album wasn’t what I expected at all!” he says looking back with a slight grin. “A lot of people were saying, “I’m not a fan of James Reid [the artista], but hey… Palm Dreams is kinda lit!” That’s when everything started to make sense. I knew I wanted to change and do better.” Inspired and bitten by a new artistic bug (and the self-made success that came with it), James was eager to rebrand his squeaky clean good boy image, and finally release more personal work. “It was a struggle,” he shared about his shift from teen idol to serious artist. “Usually, an artist would create music and get acknowledged for it. But for me, I had to do it the other way around. I started out as a celebrity, and now I [needed] to prove myself as an artist. I wanted to really be able to call myself that.”
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