“We want to be known as a group that tries to make a change,” says Sejun, the 25-year-old leader of the rising all-Filipino boy group SB19 managed by SHOWBT Entertainment. The five-piece crew, composed of other members Josh, Justin, Ken, and Stell, is a breakthrough act in the local music scene as they are the first Filipino group formed by a Korean agency and trained exactly like Korean idols.
But by no means is SB19 a K-pop wannabe group, as some would assume. On the surface, you will see the Korean aesthetic–from their pastel colored hair to their playful street clothing style. But a deeper look at their talent and guts will make any of us want to claim them as our very own–pioneers of P-pop who genuinely want to elevate Filipino artists like never before.
Almost four years ago, the paths of these young boys intersected as they all auditioned for SHOWBT’s talent search. And just like the Korean training system, they were pooled with a huge number of hopefuls, training hard every day in classes that range from voice and ballet down to personality development and body conditioning. The process included regular evaluations and evictions until they were filtered down to five, the crème de la crème who have a chance to “debut” and build a shining career just like the idols they’ve always looked up to.
It wasn’t an easy feat. After proving themselves worthy since entering the training in 2016, the group still continued to prepare and develop themselves for more than a year before debuting. Within that time, they reveal that they’ve encountered unimaginable pressure. When asked what kind of challenges they faced, the boys throw in “financial” and “family” issues. But according to 26-year-old Josh, the eldest member, it’s more about the overall stress that these pressures brought upon them. “Paano mo itutuloy ‘yung pangarap mo kung may pressure?” He elaborates, “Sasabihan ka ng family mo na, ‘Ano bang ginagawa mo? Tumatanda ka na.’ Hindi sila naniniwala sa path na ‘to kasi hindi practical.”
For Justin, the youngest, he recalls having problems balancing his time between training and finishing his college thesis. “Two weeks na lang before the deadline, pina-repeat sa ‘kin ‘yung thesis ko. And at the same time kailangan kong mag-training para makapasa sa evaluation.” Luckily, his mentors at SHOWBT were lenient enough to let him prioritize his schoolwork for a period of time.
So, with all the hurdles – both internal and external – that they had to face, did they doubt that SB19 would see the light of day? “May mga times na sumusuko na po talaga kaming lahat,” shares Josh. “Hindi na kinakaya ng utak namin ‘yung stress. Nagbe-break down po talaga kami, kasi suntok sa buwan ‘yung path na ‘to at hindi pa sigurado kung tatanggapin kami sa industry.”
During these times, the boys say that they only have each other to turn to whenever they feel those overwhelming frustrations. Main vocalist Stell relates, “Kapag nagbe-break down yung isa sa amin, sinasabi na lang namin na, ‘Ang tagal na nating magkakasama, malapit na tayo, ngayon pa ba tayo susuko?’” At this heartwarming sharing, his members fondly tease Stell with, “Uy, iiyak na si Stell!”
It seems that these guys have no problem with opening up to each other. It’s not something that you can say about young people their age. Some choose to bottle their emotions up rather than burdening others with their own struggles. Stell used to be the same way, but his group made him realize how important it is to be able to share one’s feelings with nothing but openness. “Sila ‘yung nag-remind sa akin na kaya nga tayo grupo kasi nandito tayo para sa isa’t isa, kaya dapat ‘yung problema mo, alam din namin.” He adds, “Doon ka makakahinga nang maluwag–kapag na-share mo sa iba ‘yung problema mo.”
Through the years of struggling and making it together, the group has found a sense of comfort and brotherhood in each other. But it’s not to say that they’ve always been tight from the beginning. Ken, the main dancer of the group, tells, “Ako ‘yung pinaka-last na nakapasok sa aming lima. So, at first, nahirapan akong mag-adjust. Matagal-tagal din ‘yung process bago ako naka-get along sa kanila.” But no matter how different their personalities and moods are, Josh says that they think about their relationship in a long-term perspective. “It’s for the future of our team, so kailangan din naming mag-adjust.”
How do they resolve misunderstandings within the group, you may ask? “Suntukan po!” Sejun quips, and the entire group breaks into laughter. But his proper answer, though, is something that surprises us. According to the main rapper, one of their Korean teachers devised a ritual of sorts that requires them to hold hands for ten minutes, talk about their issues, and then hug it out every day. It’s when they’re able to “open” their “hearts” to each other, he says.
If you’re a K-pop fan (especially of boy groups,) you’d know that it’s quite normal for Korean idols to be touchy towards one another. From a Filipino perspective, though, perhaps we can agree that there’s a stigma when it comes to men physically clinging to each other. For a time, SB19 tried to avoid the holding hands technique, describing it as “kadiri” at first. “Awkward siya kasi siyempre mga lalaki kami eh,” Sejun comments. But as they consistently practice it, they now see its value, saying that they feel even more connected and understood because of it. Justin wisely puts, “At the end of the day, babae o lalaki, lahat naman tayo tao, merong emotions.”
Exactly a year ago, SB19 finally launched their dreams to the public as they debut with the breakup ballad “Tilaluha.” It was a point that they never thought they’d arrive at. According to Sejun, “’Nung nakapag-debut na kami, wala pa rin masyadong nakakakilala sa amin. Pero ‘yung happiness sa heart namin, hindi nawala. Ito talaga ‘yung passion namin. Kahit isa o lima lang nanonood sa amin, parehas pa rin ‘yung ibibigay naming performance.”
It was only with their second single that SB19 finally broke through the scene as a viral phenomenon. With the release of the track “Go Up” followed by a dance practice video, the barely one-year-old group took their second shot and hit the bull’s eye this time around. The internet was abuzz which subsequently got them to countless media appearances. “P-pop” was only a loose term before, but SB19 elevated this genre to new heights as they bravely run in a league that’s completely their own.
But it’s not all positive feedback, as one may expect. Among the biggest misconceptions about SB19 is that they’re trying to imitate K-pop groups. It’s understandable to a certain degree, given the fact that they’re managed by a Korean agency. But for them, K-pop is the root of their inspirations, nothing more. “We are trying to create a new kind of sound in the Philippine music industry,” Josh claims and adds that they don’t have to prove anything to their doubters. “It really takes time for people to understand or appreciate what we do,” he says. Sejun also reiterates, “Hindi naman lahat mapi-please mo. So whatever you believe in, just keep doing it.”
In the coming weeks and months, we can only expect SB19 to keep the momentum going. The group reveals that even before they debuted, they’ve already banked a handful of materials. So if their fans are waiting on new music, a full album, live tours, and even merchandise, there’s no need to worry because it’s all happening. It’s only a matter of “when.”
Now that their engines are all revved up, what’s the farthest that they imagine themselves to reach? The goal is to go global, of course. “Gusto naming i-prove na kaya ring makipagsabayan ng Philippines,” says Josh. What’s striking about them is that they don’t just believe in their group; they believe in Filipino talent as a whole. And this is why their real ambition is not for themselves but for more artists to feel just as empowered. “Kung kami lang, hindi rin namin kaya,” Sejun states. “Mas maganda kung marami pang sumunod sa amin. Sama-sama kaming i-angat ang Philippine music para mas makilala tayo sa buong mundo.” Needless to say, we’re all going up with SB19.
Photographed by Kitkat Pajaro
Creative Direction by Madel Asuncion
Art Direction by Mikka Caronan
Styled by Aldrin Ramos
Assited by Daphne Aranilla
Clothes by Forever 21, Bench, and Penshoppe
Makeup by Angeline Dela Cruz and Chuchie Ledesma
Hair by Jeff Valenzuela and Myk Feliciano
Video Produced by Deiniel Cuvin
Video Shot and Edited by Sam Aniciete
Special Thanks to The Philippine School of Interior Design
Shot on location at Hugis Atbp. Graduation Exhibit (Open until Oct. 31 at the 5th flr. of Greenfield Tower)
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