#TBT: Lea Salonga and Menudo, the Ricky Martin Years

#TBT = Throwback Thursday: The opportunity to share information via social media that is a ‘throwback’ to an earlier time.

Dateline: The Philippines, 1987.

Seventy-five percent of the population was under 25, and teen pregnancy and sexual responsibility were issues of concern.

Following the success of the Tatiana and Johnny videos in Mexico and Latin America, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs (JHU·CCP), led by then Deputy Director Jose G. Rimon II, embarked on a similar path for the Philippines. JHU·CCP’s USAID-funded Population Communication Services (PCS) project set out to pair an up-and-coming female teenage pop star with a teenage male pop star partner to deliver a social message of sexual responsibility.

Selecting the right artists that can both entertain and arouse emotion from the audience all while delivering a positive health message is fundamental to the success of any entertainment-education project. After a series of focus groups with 12-24 year olds in the Philippines, along with surveys to schools in metro Manila communities, the Philippine Young People’s Project (a joint effort between the Population Center Foundation in the Philippines and PCS) selected Lea Salonga, then a young, pretty, up and coming Filipina singer who became not just the female lead for the musical effort, but a spokesperson for the message as well.

And for the male part of the equation? Menudo: the internationally known Puerto Rican singing group that in 1987 counted a young Ricky Martin as a member. The pairing was ideal; Lea Salonga as the local artist and Menudo a highly popular group with a huge following among teenagers in the Philippines.
After vetting by numerous focus groups, two songs were produced: “That Situation” a danceable song featuring the Menudo group and Lea and “I Still Believe,” a duet with Lea and Menudo’s Charlie Massó. Both songs appealed to the target market on an entertainment level, while asking teens to take a thoughtful approach to decisions regarding sex and not jump right into “that situation”.  “That Situation” was recorded in English; “I Still Believe” was sung in a combination of English and Filipino (or ‘Taglish’) to appeal to lower income groups.

At the outset, the songs were promoted as regular commercial endeavors, with Lea’s discussion of the messages as a ‘soft sell’. This campaign was larger than two songs and videos. Through television, radio, music videos, and a telephone hotline linked young adults to youth assistance agencies, called Dial-A-Friend. Lea helped promote the hotline through TV ads that encouraged youth to say no to peer pressure, respect the values of others, and share responsibility for sexual behavior.  As in any social and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaign, the ‘call to action’ in the form of the hotline was a crucial intermediate step in the continuum of behavior change.

These songs were chart toppers, in addition to resonating with the audience.  According to a survey of young people in Metro Manila, 92% recalled “I Still Believe” – and 90% liked it. The songs were popular AND persuasive. Fifty-one percent of youth surveyed said the songs influenced them to talk about sexual responsibility with friends or parents. The use by Lea of excerpts of the songs to promote Dial-A-Friend also boosted calling into the hotline.

In throwback Thursday style – where are these stars now? While he may better known NOW, Ricky Martin wasn’t even the star of Menudo at the time the way he is a megastar international star now. Charlie Massó, who joined the group at the peak of its popularity, continued to record music into the 1990s and 2000s, and has acting credits as listed here in his IMDB entry.

Lea Salonga is now an internationally known, award-winning singer and actress. She won a Tony Award for her performance in the lead role of Kim in the musical Miss Saigon (she also won the Sir Lawrence Olivier in London, and Drama Desk, Outer Critics and Theatre World awards for that role in New York.)  She was the voice of Mullan in the Disney movie of the same title. She is one of the best-selling Filipino artists of all time. But most important of all, she continued her championship of reproductive health issues by being one of the celebrities who supported the passing of the reproductive health bill in the Philippines in 2013.

That Situation

I Still Believe

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