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HILLARI On Coming Home and The Meaning Behind “Loyal”

Hillari, Loyal
James Francisco

HILLARI has quite a unique story compared to other Filipino acts on the international scene. It’s unusual to hear of a bubbling Filipino artist in Norway, as opposed to the bright lights of Hollywood or the glamour of Broadway. The 19-year-old is making a name for herself in the Scandinavian country, with singles like “Brenner” sung entirely in Norwegian, and “Loyal”, where one version features fellow Norwegian singer Isah. 

But even with the difference in time zones, HILLARI’s sound is familiar to Filipinos; sultry and soft, crooning about the trappings of love and relationships. So in her brief return to the Philippines, the Bacolod native introduced herself to the local scene with stripped-down performances in the Metro and collaborations with Jolianne and Denise Julia.

Complex Philippines caught up with HILLARI to talk about her homecoming, making noise in Norway, and being hopeful for modern-day relationships.

HILLARI Option 1


Hi HILLARI, welcome home! How are you?

I feel very blessed and happy. I’m back in Bacolod, where I’m really from. I’m glad to reconnect with my roots and be around family. My original plan was to stay here for three days, but seeing them after five years made me extend it.

How do you go from Bacolod to Norway?

I was born in Noway. People think I’m half-Pinoy, half-Norwegian, and I’m like, “No guys, full Pinoy ako.” I lived in Bacolod when I was around 3 years old, then returned to Norway when I was 8.

I then had to relearn the values, language, and culture. It was a tough period. But this was also a time when music became my haven.

Given the language and cultural barrier, how does a Filipino act make a mark on the Norwegian music scene?

The thing is, I didn’t intend to be an artist in Norway or in general. I was working on my craft in my bedroom and I just graduated from a business course in high school, so I’m still pretty fresh to the game.

But everything was organic. [My career] happened through social media and a bit of networking, but I guess this is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. The R&B and Soul scene isn’t big in Norway, so people felt they found something special.

I’m also very proud of my ethnicity—my values are Filipino with some Norwegian influence. And I’ve never seen a Filipino-Norwegian artist, so winning awards like  “Årets Urørt” (Rookie of the Year) is an honor. It’s the first time it’s happened in [Norway’s] history.

HILLARI Option 3


“Loyal” is probably your biggest hit, with multiple versions since its release. Is it about a past relationship?

No, it’s not *laughs*. I wish. Everybody thinks that, but the funny thing is I’ve never been in a serious relationship like that. It’s more of an observation of the people around me.

“Loyal” is me being disturbed by our beautiful generation that has a lot of trust issues. We have a tendency to doubt, and we’ve kind of idolized this feeling. The song is a reminder to me that we actually have the option to trust each other even when it’s difficult. 

So are you jaded about finding a concrete relationship nowadays, or are you still hopeful?

I’m actually optimistic because I’m aware enough to think of relationships in a somewhat different light. And we’re 7 billion people on this planet; there has to be someone out there who also thinks the same way as me.

You have three versions of “Loyal” with Isah, Jolianne, and RINI. How was it like working with them?

Isah is a Norwegian artist and he’s like this R&B King in Norway. R&B/Soul is somewhat non-existent in the country, so for us to provee that these genre is still alive is an honor and I’m very happy that I got to be a part of it.

What’s so special about Jolianne is that we worked on her version digitally through Zoom. Even if we had never met each other in-person, we connected because of our love for music. I sent her an open verse, and she replied at once and I was like “Wow she’s fast. She’s so talented and she did an amazing job.”

RINI was so much fun because I’ve been a fan for so long—every Filipino knows him and his desire to represent the Philippine flag, which I love. People would always comment “Do a collab with RINI” when I was promoting “Loyal” on social media, and I though it was too far-fetched because he was out of my level. But then he reached out to me on Instagram, saying he loved my stuff. It was a super genuine connection, and it’s such an honor.

HILLARI Loyal feat. Jolianne Single Artwork

Art for “Loyal” feat. Jolianne

So you’re going back to Norway, but what can we expect for your next visit to the Philippines?

I love that question, thank you so much for asking. It’s very important to represent that flag and I’d want to do it all the way through. For this trip, it was only me, my acoustic guitar, and piano. It’s a very raw, stripped down concert, with the intent to reconnect with my roots and have this genuine connection with fans who have given so much love for me.

For next time, I’d really like to do it all the way through, maybe with a bigger stage and show because I usually play with my whole band. I’d love for my community to experience that, and also continue establishing my name and connect within the culture here.

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