The night had a charge so electric and every corner of Jess & Pat’s seemed to glow with possibility. It was late into January, and Rob Deniel worked his magic at the tiny gig institution in Maginhawa. He left every soul in the room bewitched by his vocals and storytelling. My friends, who had no prior knowledge of him or his music, hummed Ulap as we walked back to our car. Out of a lineup of four artists, Rob was the only one I went for.
I didn’t know it then, but it would be exactly seven months later that I would sit down for a virtual interview with him for Young STAR.
When Filipinos were first introduced to Rob, he was 16 years old, producing songs with GarageBand on his iPhone 7 and uploading them on SoundCloud. He eventually switched over to releasing his songs on Spotify, and his second single, Ulap, was the first to receive mainstream attention. He hasn’t looked back since.
Today, Rob is 20 and a rapidly rising OPM act with 2.4 million listeners on Spotify. He is on a consistent upslope, improving in every aspect of his craft with every release. On TikTok, 90,000 videos are uploaded to Ang Pag-ibig, while Sinta is used in over 34,000. He is, slowly but surely, etching his voice and words into the minds of Filipinos, producing earworm after earworm.
His entire discography so far is entirely self-written. While his voice and skills in arrangement and production are enough to put him on track to acclaim, it’s his lyrics that ensured his place on the charts. Filipinos resonate with his unsubtle hopeless romanticism. His two singles this year, Ang Pag-ibig and RomCom, are his attempts to put his daydreams into words.
He wrote Ang Pag-ibig as a response to the growing epidemic of “situationships.” “Gusto kong gumawa ng kanta na kabaligtaran. ‘Yung iibig ka na para sa walang hanggan,” he said. “Nakita ko ‘yun sa parents ko, and sa mga titas and titos ko. May mga araw na wala sa mood at ma-ba-bad trip, but at the end of the day, sila pa ring dalawa. Love pa rin ‘yung nangunguna, hindi init ng ulo.” He alluded to a specific line in the song: “‘Di na kita matiis, oh please, ‘wag nang mainis.”
Hindi tayo mapakali. Hindi natin alam minsan kung sapat na yung ginagawa natin. Ngayon, natututo ako to not take things for granted. Ine-embrace ko kung ano ‘yung meron ako.
He then sings about falling in love—as in the movies, too good to be true—on RomCom. “It’s about falling in love for the first time, na para kang nasa isang romcom.” He serenades over playful, retro pop sounds: “Minsan na lang ako magkaganito, minsan na lang ako muling mabuo.”
But as he enters his 20s, Rob wants to recenter his love—for himself. “‘Yung love ko ngayon, it’s not for someone. It’s for me and my family,” he said. “Sa kanila ako kumukuha ng lakas and inspiration to move forward and to love myself more.” He opens up that although he is still ambitious now as he comes of age, his ultimate goal is to find happiness and comfort wherever he is.
There were moments throughout our conversation when Rob’s boyishness would show through and reveal the young person underneath still grasping the enormity of what he is doing. But he’s learning, he says, to just bask in the present and practice the gratefulness he finds lacking in his generation. “Hindi tayo mapakali. Hindi natin alam minsan kung sapat na yung ginagawa natin,” he said. “Ngayon, natututo ako to not take things for granted. Ine-embrace ko kung ano ‘yung meron ako.”
Now that he’s entering such an anticipated stage—“Sobrang big deal ng two zero,” he emphasized with a theatrical flourish—does he have any words for his future self? “Keep doing the things you love,” he addresses future Rob. “And if the time comes when you feel like you’ve run out of things to accomplish, don't be afraid to try and feel new things. Also, remember to stay humble and encourage more people with the music you have yet to create.”
“Keep working on yourself, balang araw mahahanap mo rin ‘yung taong para sa’yo. Siguro ‘yung mga sinusulat mong kanta ngayong 2023, para sa kanya pala ‘yun.”