B.P. Valenzuela (a.k.a. half-lit) Just Dropped Paradigm Shift and It’s a Raw Trip
All too rare are the occasions we sit down with our emotions. The torrent of information available suggests that there’s no economic benefit to it, while others say it’s hardly manly. Sometimes, it’s even painful tearing down to the bare bones of what’s on our minds.
But in darting away from confrontation, do we miss out on a rich dimension of our lives? Alan Watts, the British philosopher with a distinct Eastern philosophy bent, said, “Wanting to get out of pain is the pain; it is not the ‘reaction’ of an ‘I’ distinct from the pain.” So, in running away, we might be making things worse for ourselves.
What she discovers while stewing in her emotions, 24-year-old singer-songwriter and producer B.P. Valenzuela shares with millions of listeners on Spotify. Her popular electronic pop tracks “Bbgirl” (featuring August Wahh and No Rome) and “Steady” has already racked up well over a million listens apiece. They’re the sort of songs you bop your head along to, guided by a steady beat dotted with synthetic sounds and soundboard flourishes. Listeners dip into the lyrics, but their search for the words often get lost in the beat of the song. Instead, they find the song’s vibe and in doing so experience the polar unity of dancy beat and emotional encounter.
Music isn’t an accessory
Music has always been a refuge for Valenzuela.
“It wasn't just comforting but also healing, being able to describe a feeling into words, or hearing an emotion parsed into sound enough for you to really understand what it means to feel heard, whether you're on the receiving or giving end,” she tells Esquire Philippines. Valenzuela wasn't growing into an artist scribbling down snippets of daily encounters and things purchased. She was rapidly sharpening her observations on yearning, love (the healthy and unhealthy sort), and growing up.
It wasn’t surprising to find out that Valenzuela initially chose to study Sociology at Ateneo de Manila University. It’s as if the artist wanted to formalize with a title the observations on the structure and functioning of human society she’d been making throughout adolescence, when she started making music. But after a year, the artist dove back into music, pursuing instead music studies at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.
“Originally, I wanted to study and observe the relationship between people and between communities,” she says. “In some ways, music helps make those relationships sticky and acts like an adhesive between like-minded people, which I appreciate too.”
In a globalizing culture that, through hacking of all sorts, wants to achieve the maximum benefit from the bare minimum effort, we speed around juggling desires for material wealth, physical health, and spiritual nourishment. We spend inebriated nights convincing ourselves that this is how we enjoy our lives and that networking is good, only to wake up, down some sort of multi-vitamin, and convince ourselves that we’re healthy. It’s never one thing at a time, but all things at once.
Valenzuela is an advocate for one thing at a time.
“People often decorate other activities with music—studying, working out, cleaning—but I'd always just end up listening to the music all throughout and completely forget whatever else there is.”
Enter half-lit and paradigm shift
Valenzuela created a SoundCloud page for “half-lit” some time before her side-project’s first public performance in 2015. This project was a distinct departure from the sort of thing you’d be dancing to on a Friday night and a detour straight into the interiority you mellow into on the nights you’ve nothing to do, no one to meet, and just a couch to keep you off the floor (literally).
On releasing this different facet of her musical spectrum under a different name altogether, the artist says she was “just compartmentalizing things in a way. I wanted to deal with these things separately.” In the EP titled paradigm shift released last October, this compartment opens and envelops listeners in a stripped-down, intimate, even lonely sound.
It’s apt to find that Valenzuela has made much of her music from her bedroom. Sidestepping the familiar electronic, programmed sounds of her popular work, the EP jumps in and out of the rock of the 2000s—an edginess fills the six-track project with heavy guitar strums and barely there, echoing vocals. The EP viscerally transports listeners to some barely lit, carpeted room complete with warm Christmas lights and musky, cream-colored walls. There you are, stuck in a ball of enigmatic longings, with things to say to one distinct person or no one at all.
Described as “a transcript of Valenzuela’s late-night musings, caught in the throes of melancholic emotions and the awareness of her loneliness,” the EP is, ahem, a “paradigm shift” from electronica and into gentle instrumentals. Perhaps stepping out of her usual sound gives her space to be completely candid with what’s on her mind. Often it’s the things keeping us up into the wee hours that host the most encompassing shot of our mental landscapes and so our thesis on candidness finds some ballast in the rationale for the side-project’s name.
“I would write these songs in the middle of the night and sometimes record them right before dawn, when the light was close to framing things around my room.”
Finding peace with old emotions
Asked what she hopes listeners find in the record, Valenzuela weighs in. “First, just peace with old emotions—not even just nostalgia but also happiness in the fact that you've grown and changed where those old emotions and new desires can co-exist.”
The track "backspace me" was reportedly written when she was around 18. Asking questions like, “Do I seem to care too much with how I pretend not to care?” the track echoes the sort of being interested but not too interested our friends tell us to be when we’re around that age and indeed interested in someone.
Though we’ve left that sort of thing behind, exchanged the mind-games for more confident gestures, sitting with the things we once told ourselves were right, even permeated by a sort of innocence, it gives you a sort of pride. You’ve come a long way, kid.
In "23 mistakes," the persona, probably frustrated and drowning in something she can intellectually gather is unhealthy but emotionally can’t quite detach from, asks, “Why do I make 23 mistakes for every good decision?” The question is honest and relatable. In the formative years of late teen and young adult, the waves of questioning mixed with the imaginary audience seeing you through all your silly decisions weigh deeply on your already fragile self-esteem. This track humbly accepts the mistakes made, but again, as is a large theme of the collective work, regards these as steps you need to take to get you to where you are, now a little less questioning and fragile.
More than finding words to pin down our cerebral excursions, the EP underscores a sense of shared experience. Per Valenzuela's description of half-lit on her SoundCloud account: “It is something else altogether: a way to reach other people. A way to revel in collective sadness. Suddenly I’m not as lonely.”
Don’t we all spend the occasional lost minute confronted by this question: “Does getting old mean making good decisions?” Valenzuela gets to ask that on the EP’s last track, "constantly," and by the point, listeners have dipped into the growth of an individual through trials relayed with honesty.
Music is healing
Whether our avoidant behaviors jut out of a kind of machismo, time “better spent,” or fear, paradigm shift asks you to put everything aside and gently accept the funny little things you’ve done. Like a friend with her hand on your shoulder telling you that, “We’ve all been there and done that,” listening and laughing, or saying, “We’re all stupid when we were kids,” the EP is a soft stroll through the things we don’t really want to remember.
But that’s the point.
You leave the EP with a sort of “Hey, that wasn’t so bad” and the pride of having taken the trip. You’re so much better now. All that’s asked of you by the artist is that you treat the music not as an accessory to fill the dead air of your home while you sweep the floor, but that you give it a chance to move you. You’re being asked to take a trip. Take it.