What does SB19 mean for the local pop industry?

What does SB19 mean for the local pop industry?

A K-Pop stan investigates.

During lunch today, I decided to re-watch viral pop group SB19’s dance practice video for Go Up. My dad, who by now is already jaded towards my fangirling tendencies, didn’t even bother asking about it at first. 

Eventually, he snuck a peek at the screen. One look at the camera set up — displaying a white-walled studio, faced at five boys with dyed hair, decked out in trendy clothes, moving along perfectly in sync to the beat — and he asked me: “Ahh BTS ba ‘yan?” A few notes in and the song lyrics finally registered — “Wait nagta-Tagalog ba sila?”

I’m sure we all had that same confused reaction after seeing that dance practice video for the first time. It uses the same setup that seasoned K-Pop stans know all too well. Their vibe — from the way their videos are edited down to their makeup and style — is K-Pop through and through, but they sing in Filipino.  


SB19 who? 

SB19 is managed by a Korean entertainment company called ShowBT and is meant to be “a collaboration between Korea and the Philippines.” SB comes from their agency’s name, while 19 is a play on numbers— in an interview with K-Street Manila, leader Sejun mentioned that it’s based on the country codes of South Korea and the Philippines. “If you add 8, 2, 6, and 3, it’s 19. And if you subtract 82 and 63, it’s also 19. So the bond is strong talaga.”

The group debuted in 2018 and has all the roles you’d find in a typical K-Pop group, and is composed of Justin (vocals, visual, maknae/bunso), Sejun (lead vocal, rapper, leader), Ken (main dancer, vocal), Josh (lead rapper, dancer), and Stell (main vocal, lead dancer). All were already performers prior to joining, with a couple of them even excelling in K-Pop cover groups prior to training with the group. 

They follow the rigorous Korean training system, which explains their precise formation and sharp moves. The catchy debut single Go Up was produced by RealBros, the guy who’s also done work for Stray Kids, TVXQ, and Wanna One, and the members have said that they produce and write their own songs. 


“Gusto po naming unahin yung Pilipinas. Sana dun makilala kami, hindi lang sa buong Pilipinas, pero globally. Na meron kaming ganitong talento.” 


Unlike the controversial acts EXP Edition (that experimental group of caucasians who tried to make it in South Korea not signed to an agency), or Lana (the Russian K-Pop soloist who debuted just last June), SB19 has no intention to record Korean songs. They’re staying local, writing songs in Filipino and focusing on promoting here in the Philippines.  

At their press conference last July, member Stell said “OPM po yung genre namin. Gusto po naming unahin yung Pilipinas. Sana dun makilala kami, hindi lang sa buong Pilipinas, pero globally. Na meron kaming ganitong talento.” 


Ok. So what about it? 

Mainstream-wise, it seems that we’re seeing a trend in pop groups ditching the Western formula and turning to East Asia for inspiration. But let’s be real here: is this a good thing? Yes, it’s still another case of adapting the style of a culture that isn’t our own, but I see it as a chance for us to heighten the standards of our showbiz industry, training-wise and quality-wise. 

If you look at our recent Pop Music history, you’ll see that stan culture revolves around solo pop acts (shoutout to the Popsters out there), if not actual celebrities. Think about it: what local fanbases have followers as powerful as K-Pop stans? That’s right: love teams. It’s the KathNiels, AlDubs, LizQuens, and JaDines that, well, get all the love. Only in the Philippines will you see reel/real relationships garnering a network of fans as devoted as their overseas counterparts. That’s the way things are and have always been here. 


[READ:The five kinds of love teams you encounter in PH TV and cinema]


While mainstream talent agencies have debuted a fair number of pop groups over the years, the lack of a clear concept or proper support for them cause many to come across as half-baked. It doesn’t help that most of them are dance-based or formed from their pool of artistas who can’t devote as much time to practice due to their busy taping schedules. Just look at It’s Showtime mainstays Girl Trends and Hashtags, both comprised of young actresses/actors and PBB alums, both always on the receiving end of criticism for only being pretty faces. 

Other groups, like Boyband PH or Pop Girls, succeeded to an extent but have yet to reach the level of success experienced by non-pop acts. On another end of the spectrum are the Viva Hot Babes or the Sex Bomb girls — really more of a spectacle than a musical group.


[READ: #YSObsessions: SB19, Mochamilk, The Tablo Podcast, smart home living, and cracking clay ASMR]


K-Pop and J-Pop fans are usually drawn by the quality of work of their faves’ concepts. Aside from the amount of discipline and practice this sort of training system requires, a lot of thought goes into planning a group’s overall concept, performances, music videos, and more. These are luxuries that the current local industry lack — probably because of lack of budget and the uncertainty of it working out. Why would anyone invest time and effort in something that they’re not sure will pay off, right? Now that we’re being promised the content of that caliber, it’s no surprise that local audiences are rooting for it. 


Walang imposible 

As of this writing, the Go Up dance practice posted on YouTube and the song’s music video (shot on a rooftop along P. Burgos) have since garnered over a million views and counting. Each. Wild, right?

Meanwhile, SB19’s social media pages have been blowing up with messages of support from fans. Prior to the viral video, they’d already uploaded loads of content on YouTube and Facebook, including their very own variety show called Show Break, complete with English subtitles and makulit editing and captions. The guys even end their captions with hashtags of their names (hello #SB19_JOSH).

Instead of hate (y’all know how toxic Pinoy comments sections can get), the feedback so far has generally been all heart and sparkle emojis, with everyone congratulating them and commending their talent. Many fans are happy SB19 is providing an avenue for them to support OPM and fight the stigma of K-Pop fans only liking foreign music and not being nationalistic.

Lots of fan pages have been popping up, too. I’ve already seen a couple of line distribution and SB19 crack videos going around — truly a sign that you’ve made it in the stan world.

A common argument that people throw around about K-Pop is that our very own countrymen can do better. “Ah mas magaling ang Pilipino kaysa diyan!” Sure, SB19 had a lucky break by way of viral video, but they’ve also got the vocal and dancing chops to live up to that statement. 

While it’s too early in the game to tell if this new breed of pop groups will succeed beyond viral success, so far they’ve managed to prove that talent can shine through over visuals. Stable vocals and synchronized dance moves on Showtime (and beyond?) — what A Concept. 

When nugu (rookie) K-Pop groups show potential but don’t seem to hit the mark just yet, we still choose to stan and see how they fare in future promotions. Based on what SB19’s shown us so far, I’m willing to offer the group the same. Support like this is crucial because it means more funding, which could eventually effect real change in the industry as a whole. 

Being Filipino, SB19 might not have to subscribe to the stringent demands of a regular Korean agency. Looking at where they’re at now, I’m hoping that they eventually grow out of the K-Pop shadow and find their own sound in the process.  

The local music scene is thriving in many ways, and the rise of this sub-genre could occupy the space of mainstream feel-good dance-y pop music that has yet to be filled. It’s exciting to think of how these groups could pave the way for that in this fast-growing, wildly diverse landscape of OPM.  

Much of the future is still up in the air for SB19 and the groups like them, and I have many questions that can only be answered in time (one being: are we really sticking to the term P-Pop? It’s a genuine question, guys.). If the fact that Go Up has been stuck in my head since last week is any indication of what’s to come, then I guess I’m here for it. They’re ready, they’re not gonna stop, and they’ve got nowhere to go but up.

#culture #music

Share this: