Denise Julia’s debut album “Sweet Nothings (Chapter 1)” instantly cements her Filipina main pop girl status
Denise Julia isn’t your run-of-the-mill Filipina pop star. Ever since a young Sharon Cuneta innocently sung her boy troubles to Mr. DJ to when a sweet-faced Sarah Geronimo’s soaring vocals captivated the nation, the local pop scene has always been inundated with one specific pop girl archetype. From Jolina Magdangal to Moira dela Torre, the Filipina pop girl we all know is typically a wholesome, pa-tweetums ingénue who innocently croons cutesy riffs about the boy she yearns for.
But Denise is no ingénue. Remember how desperately Troye Sivan was looking for a “truly nasty, nasty pop girl” in HBO’s The Idol? Well, OPM has finally found her. Through her unabashed, confident embrace of her sexuality and the defiant way she explores taboo topics about love in her songs, Denise cements her position as Pinoy pop’s resident baddie.
This is not to say there is nothing sweet about her. From her breakthrough 2022 single NVMD to her newly launched debut album Sweet Nothings (Chapter 1), she has always had that voice. Smooth and silky in a way that triggers goosebumps for days, it’s one of those unforgettable voices that simultaneously soothes and titillates. Even more impressive? It’s the kind of voice that attracts 10.5 million streams on Spotify—a mere hour after her first album drops at midnight. That’s true star power right there.
Ahead, we chat with Denise Julia about what goes into producing your first album, the tight hold R&B has on her work and that Bretman Rock shoutout.
Denise Julia celebrates 10.5 million streams on her debut album, just a mere hour after it dropped
Wonder: Hey, Denise! Congratulations on the launch of your first EP, “Sweet Nothings (Chapter 1).” Will there be more chapters?
Denise Julia: Yes! It's going to be like a full book. It's just a little taste of what's to come early next year.
W: What did you want to achieve with this first chapter?
DJ: I think for this chapter, it's really all about…I don't want to be basic, but it’s like feeding my listeners. It's really more for them. I want to be able to write something that they can relate to, a soundtrack to whatever stage they're going through with love. Because you know, Sweet Nothings is like a collection of different aspects of love. It's not just a sad album, it's not a happy album. It talks about the taboo [aspects], too, one-night stands, all that stuff.
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W: You got your big break when NVMD went super viral over the pandemic. What was that journey like, and how did it bring you to where you’re at now?
DJ: I think during that [NVMD] era, I wasn't really prepared. I remember the success [my single] was able to amass, you know? It was important for me to stay grounded after that, to really go back to my roots because that wasn't really the direction that I was going for. It just happened to pop off, it wasn't in my control. So, it was important for me to have this album really show what I want to be as an artist, and the sound that I want to be known for. So, I feel like [the success of NVMD] really prepared me and made me learn what I want and what I don't.
W: So what kind of artist does Denise Julia want to be?
DJ: I just want to be real and daring, and just cross as many borders and achieve as many goals as I can.
W: For Chapter 1 specifically, did you have any specific musical inspirations?
DJ: Oh, yes. I grew up with the 2000s R&B, Y2K, the 90s. I'm an R&B baby. So of course there’s Destiny's Child, Tamia, Aaliyah, TLC. All those R&B girl groups. So, [my listeners are] gonna hear that with my tracks. [For this EP], all the vocal production came from me. It's like a total sonic bomb.
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W: Let's talk about your single B.A.D. It’s currently going viral on TikTok, and Bretman Rock even featured it on his Instagram story. How did this make you feel?
DJ: Well, B.A.D. is the first track right off of my album. It's crazy because, [regarding] Bretman, the day before he posted, I was literally talking to my creative director about him. Like, oh my god, the things he did for the beauty industry. I was telling her I want to be able to create as much impact as he did as a Filipino within my own industry. So the fact that the next day, I woke up to fans tweeting me that Bretman used my song in his story? What?! That's crazy! It's like the universe was sending me signs.
W: So, in your own words: What is a baddie to you?
DJ: A baddie to me is someone who is not afraid of what people will say. She’s someone who knows her purpose and will do everything to make it happen.
W: For this album, you collaborated with some really big names in OPM, like P-Lo and Jason Dhakal. What was that like?
DJ: It was a full 360 moment, because I started out as a fan of Jason. I would listen to his songs in high school. And the fact that, you know, he hit me up, said he was a big fan of my music and actually wanted to work with me on a track? It's such a humbling experience for me. It made me realize that there's no limit to what you can achieve if you put your heart and soul into it.
W: In creating your debut album, what are you proudest of?
DJ: Oh, the title track, Lacking. Funny enough, it was the last track that made it to the album; the last one I finished. But that song came to me in a dream. I was having one of those deep sleep dreams, and I was playing this great melody on the piano. And then I woke up. I was like, “Oh my god, I need to write over this.” So, I came to the studio with my producers, and we worked on it. And immediately, there was just so much pressure just because of how good it sounded.
W: That’s great! Final Q—what's next for Denise Julia?
DJ: What's next is the full story of Sweet Nothings. This is just the first chapter. There's a whole lot more coming your way.
Words Jer Capacillo
Photos Denise Julia
Art Macky Arquilla