- Philip Cu-Unjieng () - June 22, 2003 - 12:00am
FOR SOMEONE who sings about heartbreak, jealousy and other affairs of the heart, Nina comes up with a surprising revelation: She’s never had a boyfriend! She began singing at the age of five and has done so professionally since she was 17, but in all those years, she–scout’s honor–has never been in a relationship.

"I know, some people look at me when I mention that like I must be fooling them, but it’s true," she insists. "What I do instead, since I obviously can’t force something like that to happen, is I listen to my friends, try to empathize with what love problems they may be having, and I think about the hurt I’ve received in my life, even if they were caused by things other than relationships."

But there may be nothing like experience, and who knows, if and when she does have that relationship–complete with the genuine euphoria and depression that it entails–her singing will be even more gut-wrenching. But for now, the public has certainly taken Nina to its collective heart… foolish or otherwise.

Her first music video was "Heaven", a snappy number that was very slickly produced and had people sitting up and taking notice of this new artist. But as can be expected in the Philippines, land of lachrymose and beer-binging ballads (with matching tear drenched pulutan), it wasn’t until her video "Jealous" shot up the charts with a bullet, followed by her cover of the Steve Perry song "Foolish Heart", that Nina–real name Marifil Nina Girado–became the household name she is now (no wonder she uses simply Nina!). Touted as probable Best New Artist for MTV Lokal and scheduled to have her very first headlining major concert on June 28 at the Music Museum, Nina has arrived, in an industry noted for perpetuating the veterans, and giving new names less than 15 seconds in the spotlight.

Nina recounts her foray into the world of song. "At 17, five years ago, I turned professional. Before that, I had always loved singing and my father would enter me in any and every singing contest he could sign me up for. I began with a band called Excess, moved to Big Thing, then Silk, Mymp and the Essence band. With Essence, from the outset, I told them that I had submitted a demo to Warner Music and hoped to eventually establish myself as a solo artist. They understood and supported me, and to this day, they’re the regular band I use when I do my gigs and puwestos.

"The demo I submitted to Warner comprised of three songs, ‘Foolish Heart’, ‘Breathe Again’ and ‘Against All Odds’–all ballads, (with) "Against All Odds’ sung in the style of Mariah Carey. Sight unseen, they signed me up and we have not looked back. Their plans include trying to break me in the Asian market, and if all goes well on that front, see if Warner International will pick me up to penetrate the US and European markets. If that time does come and they ask me to collaborate with one of the foreign Warner artists, my dream would be to do a song with Craig David." Move over, Sting?

While the Mariah Carey influence seems prevalent, Nina insists it’s not intentional. "She is one of my idols, but I don’t consciously copy her style or inflection. Some people comment that we may have the same range of eight octaves, but I’ve still got a long way to go to even come close to what she does with her songs," Nina avers. "The other artists I’ve always loved listening to are Anita Baker and Whitney Houston. Among the newer artists, I’m partial to Norah Jones, Alicia Keyes and Gwen Stefani of No Doubt."

Surprised by the mention of Gwen, we wonder if it sometimes frustrates her that she’s so identified with ballads, when there are, in fact, other types of songs she may want to be known for. "In my live gigs, I get to indulge in my passion for all kinds of songs. We start with the ballads, move on to the groovy songs, then end the sets with very upbeat party songs," she replies. "Your question does bring up a point though. If there is one thing I’d like to move on to, it’s to do more Tagalog songs. I only have one such song in the album. Eventually, I’d also like to showcase the songs I’ve composed. I’ve been writing lyrics for sometime now, it’s just a matter of finding the right person to team up with, the one who’ll provide the music. As for being known for ballads, that suits me fine. I do love singing them and for me, they are vehicles that can really show off one’s singing prowess."

A regular on the GMA-7 Sunday noontime show "S.O.P.", Nina finds herself in good company. Besides the established trio of Regine Velasquez, Jaya and Lani Misalucha, she’s with fellow younger artists Kyla and Karylle, among others. Her manager, Anabel Regalado, is connected with Star Records, an ABS-CBN subsidiary; and Nina is quick to dispel any contradiction in that fact. "Anabel took over as manager after I had signed with Warner and, in fairness to her, it was GMA-7 that first offered me a slot on their Sunday variety show."

As for boyfriend prospects, Nina jokes, "In my concerts, there’ll always be someone shouting they love me or that they’ll marry me, but that’s par for the course as a female performer. Some more serious ones send me notes explaining how they’ve followed my career, mentioning how they remember me from when I used to be part of this or that band. They’ll even read my thoughts and reassure me that they aren’t stalkers," Nina laughs. "There are some guys I am eyeing, but I don’t think they realize it. I am taking my time figuring out just how sincere and serious they are. Some of my friends say I’m just being too choosy or too afraid of the hurt that may ensue, but I am just taking the days as they come, enjoying myself, and perpetually pinching myself to assure that it’s all really happening."

The constant reality check is surprising–and admirable–in someone of only 22 years in an industry that in large part thrives on fantasy and escapism. "Not for anything, but things have happened at a very fast pace. I truly did not expect this much success to come so soon. I’ve seen the careers of others who are just as talented as me, and I know I have much to be grateful for. Given I do have some kind of talent, I realize just how much of a role luck also plays in how things have happened. You can package as much as you want, have the talent to back up that marketing effort, do all the publicity and promotional work, but capturing the public’s imagination is one thing you can never be sure of. For some reason, I’m blessed, and I’m very aware of that."

In her June 28th concert, Nina promises something different, novel twists on the staple of live gigs she’s been doing for the past months. "This time out, there’ll be a segment that’s acoustic, and then we’ll move into the regular section. There’ll be a selection of songs that I’ve been rehearsing, and have purposely kept from my puwesto gigs," she promises, plus "a number of ‘guy’ songs that I’ll treat with my own style and signature."

Whatever happens, the raw talent is clearly evident. If you can’t make it to her concert, keep a look out and catch her one fine night. While the TV spots do impress, they don’t come close to showcasing what this spunky little girl is all about. And who knows, maybe that boyfriend is just around the corner.

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