In late October, Nadine Lustre released her studio debut ‘Wildest Dreams’, which arrived with a “visual album” touted as the first of its kind in the Philippines and gained a million views in a matter of days.
This is Lustre’s debut album, but the star actually started in the entertainment industry in 2009 making bubblegum pop with teenybopper girl group Pop Girls. She later reached commercial success through soapy romance films with ex-boyfriend James Reid.
In recent years, Lustre has become the modern epitome of a Filipino stan-worthy figure: Instead of a sugary superficial persona, there’s a tastefully curated online presence and a willingness to speak her mind on politics – two rarities in Philippines showbiz.
Though the Philippine music industry expects celebrities-turned-singers to scale the charts by belting out covers or churning out processed tracks, Lustre is different. Working with her labelmates on Careless Music, she co-wrote many of the songs on ‘Wildest Dreams’ and supervised the album’s lyrics, mixing, melodies, and feel.
The 33-minute visual ‘Wildest Dreams’, directed by Dominic Bekaert, features six songs from her 12-track album. It’s a short film full of Philippine mythological references, including an arbolario (herbalist) and agimats (amulets). At one point in between tracks, Nadine portrays the folklore deity Maria Makiling. The songs also weave in ambient sounds of nature, evoking beaches and mountains, and the pop-R&B production bears touches of Filipino indigenous instrumentation from the kulintang (brass gongs) and gambal (war drums).
Lustre’s personal life is a mystery the tabloids do everything in their power to decode, and ‘Wildest Dreams’ is a look into the star’s inner monologue. The visual album opens with ‘Dance With Danger’, setting her on a journey of self-discovery: “Found myself before I lost it all / Distant voices I could hear them call / Learn to see the beauty in it all”. With its generous use of chimes, wordless backing vocals and a hypnotic beat, it’s easily one of the more memorable songs in the album.
In ‘Glow’, Lustre opens up about living in the glare of the spotlight. The video makes sure you don’t miss the symbolism: she skips through different personas, including a celebrity facing a cluster of microphones, a Botticelli-style Venus and a motionless mannequin. On the hook, she repeatedly demands “Gimme that chance to glow”, directed at those who have both cultivated her and held her captive.
Reid makes a cameo in the rose-tinted ‘Ivory’ to tease the JaDine obsessives. But their duet ‘Complicated Love’ is a much more telling tale, giving a foreboding take on the darker side of their rise together: “I don’t wanna be with no one else / But when I’m with you I’m not myself”.
Lustre breaks the downtempo streak on ‘Grey Skies’, venturing an uplifting penultimate message. The song, she’s said before, is a reminder to herself to be kind despite the many critics she’s dealt with (and shut down via Instagram stories). Lead single ‘Wildest Dreams’ concludes the film, proclaiming that she’s finally taking a leap by “falling” into this vulnerable journey.
The video is a visual trip, but the album is less breathtaking. The melodies blend too well to have their chances to individually shine, and Lustre’s fluttering vocals get carried away amidst its beats. Ultimately, one can’t help but feel the tracks serve more as set dressing for the impressive visual effects, varied sets and gorgeous costumes.
Regardless, the visual album is literally only half of the experience. Absent are standouts like the upbeat ‘Seconds’ and intimate ‘Save A Place’. The latter is Lustre’s emotional tribute for her brother, who died in 2017, its raw delivery revealing more of the person behind the persona.
Like her favourite artist Jhené Aiko, Nadine Lustre allows herself to be autobiographical through ‘Wildest Dreams’, going to unforeseen heights to distinguish herself from fellow celebrities and carve out an identity separate from who people think she is. It’s this reintroduction, more than the musicality, that leaves a convincing lasting impression.
- Release date: October 31
- Record label: Careless Music, Hyphen Music