A Life Less Analog, Entertainment

SB19: Filipino idol group spreads P-pop and positivity

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I’m late to the party, but I’ve finally started listening to the songs and watching the music videos of SB19 on their YouTube channel. And now I understand why SB19 is winning hearts here and abroad and conquering the Billboard Social 50.

SB19 is composed of Sejun, Josh, Stell, Ken, and Justin. They have made history as the first Filipino act trained under the Korean Idol System to debut in the Philippines. For three years, ShowBT, a South Korean entertainment company that branched out into the Philippines, made them go through the same rigorous process that every trainee in South Korea undergoes to become a K-pop idol. And when SB19 finally debuted on October 26, 2018, they weren’t a K-pop idol group clone. SB19 was a proudly P-pop boy band spreading positivity all over the world.

The Philippine scene

P-pop boy band SB19 is a constant source of inspiration to their fans, who are officially called A'TIN (pronounced as Eighteen). Image credit: SB19 Facebook page
P-pop boy band SB19 is a constant source of inspiration to their fans, who are officially called A’TIN (pronounced as Eighteen). Image credit: SB19 Facebook page

Now, I won’t be a hypocrite. I used to dislike Filipino content, particularly local TV shows and movies. Partly due to lingering resentment from my childhood, when I couldn’t use our TV because my grandma and grandaunt were religiously following “Anna Liza”.

But it’s also because for a long time, most Filipino movies and TV shows were really bad. It’s fairly recently that we’ve been blessed with an abundance of riches, particularly great Filipino indie films that we really should all support. Even our teleseryes have better production values now.

Filipino music is a different story, because we have a lot of great singers, and I have a number of favorite artists. But even so, one thing I didn’t like about mainstream music in the Philippines is that birit queens and balladeers basically dominate it. And a lot of the time, they’re just covering foreign songs when they perform on local shows and even concerts.

Korean system, Filipino talent

These days, K-pop is what I mostly listen to, and I love BLACKPINK. And the more I learned about the Korean Idol System, the more I was wistfully wondering how come South Korea is able to export K-pop globally, while our own artists struggle even here.

Which is why the incredible journey of SB19 inspires me. I think their success is proof that the Philippines doesn’t have a shortage of great talent, but rather lacks the kind of structure, training, and period of apprenticeship that the Korean Idol System provides. The band name itself shows this synergy between the Korean system and Filipino talent. SB stands for ShowBT, though the group also came up with an alternative meaning: Sound Break. Meanwhile, 19 was derived from the country codes of the Philippines (63) and South Korea (82).

Tapos yung 19 naman, it’s because SB19 is a collaboration between the Philippines and Korea. 19 because it’s the country code of Korea and the Philippines: 82 and 63. So 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.

I know there are valid complaints against the Korean Idol System, but you can’t deny that it produces highly polished and well-rounded performers who, more importantly, have earned the right to debut in public and have a humble attitude, especially toward their fans.

A different kind of attitude

As Jung Sung Han, CEO of ShowBT, said in an interview in Seoul with The Korea Times, talent, training, and attitude are responsible for the meteoric rise of the P-pop boy band.

“‘Everyone said I was insane to train them for such a lengthy period without making any money. But I launched SB19 after having the members practice singing and dancing for a song 1,000 times until they were impeccable…

“‘I highlighted the significance of humbleness and politeness to all members, believing these are the key to success,’ he said.”

That’s one reason I’m so proud of SB19. Because they have shown that Filipino talents can thrive under the rigorous and world-class Korean Idol System.

We go up

Of course, there are so many reasons to be proud of Sejun, Josh, Stell, Ken, and Justin. For one, they never gave up when their first single, “Tilaluha”, didn’t become a hit. Imagine how disappointing that must have felt after training for three years to debut. Instead of being discouraged, however, the group redoubled their efforts, and released their second single “Go Up” on July 26, 2019.

And when they uploaded the dance practice video for “Go Up” on YouTube, the world turned upside down for the underdogs. The video became a viral hit on Twitter and Facebook thanks to a Filipino K-pop fan who shared it. And from here on, there was no stopping them. They became the first Filipino act to enter the Billboard Next Big Sound chart. Then they made history again as the first Filipino act to land on the Billboard Social 50, where they would become a fixture, reaching as high as No. 2, behind only the mighty K-pop boy band BTS.

To put this into perspective, the Top 10 of the Billboard Social 50 is the domain of K-pop idol groups such as BTS, EXO, BLACKPINK, ATEEZ, TREASURE, SuperM, and The Boyz. Meaning SB19 succeeded in doing what even many US pop superstars have failed to do.

Sony Music Philippines announced last Christmas that it had signed a recording contract with SB19, and on July 31, the boy band launched their first album, “Get In The Zone!”.

It’s been barely two years since SB19 debuted, but as you can see they already have an incredible list of accolades and accomplishments.

A’TIN and SB19

But to me, the biggest reason to be proud of SB19 is their heartwarming relationship with their fans, the A’TIN, which is pronounced as Eighteen. A name full of meaning, because it’s a play on the Filipino word atin, meaning “ours”, and also because the band explained that without 18 first, you won’t even have 19.

I experienced firsthand the overwhelming love of A’TIN for SB19, when I wrote an article about the upcoming YouTube FanFest 2020 on Oct. 11, where SB19 will perform. A’TIN started reading and sharing the article on Twitter because they were so proud of their idols. I thanked them through Digital Life Asia’s Twitter account, and asked if I could crowdsource quotes from them for this column piece. I asked them to answer the question “Why do you love SB19?” and together A’TIN, via @SB19TRENDSPH, and I agreed to tweet their answers using the hashtag #SB19DigitalLifeAsia. They and @VotingTeamSB19 then helped spread the word. So many A’TIN helped, and I’m sorry that I’m unable to mention you all.

Amazing like their idols

I also thanked A’TIN because their support has made the YouTube FanFest 2020 story our sixth most viewed article since Digital Life Asia launched on Feb. 20 this year — and the article only came out on Sept. 28! A’TIN decided to promote the story even more, and as of this writing, it’s already our second most viewed article.

A’TIN are truly amazing. Just like their idols.

Do you know any other Filipino act that can inspire that kind of passionate support from their fans? On a consistent, daily basis?

The number of people who tweeted their response was overwhelming. I really wish I could post all of them here, but if I did this article would never end. You can view their responses, however, by checking #SB19DigitalLifeAsia on Twitter.

Their journey is our journey

Here are eight heartwarming reasons why A’TIN love SB19.

“I love SB19 because they are the response to the idea that Filipinos can do it too. It took a lot of trials to get here, but we finally have a group that we can be proud of.” – @TitangRobin

“I love SB19 because as an OFW here in Japan, they have been helping me cope with homesickness and stress. They inspire me to be a better person and make me appreciate music more.” – @ATinInJapan

“Simple lang kasi sila. Yung role model na dapat gayahin ng lahat, kasi sa huling pagkakataon hindi sila sumuko at binigay nila lahat para sa pangarap nila. Hindi lang panlabas nila ang maganda, pati na din kalooban kaya mahal ko sila.” – @akosililtrisha

“As a Fil-Am who lives in an area with a small Filipino community, SB19 has helped me appreciate Filipino culture more and take pride in Pinoy talent! SB19’s personalities, determination, passion, and humility are some of the many reasons why I love them!” – @ph1l45

Not idols, but friends and family

“SB19’s music has helped me in putting myself back together. More so, when I knew them individually, each has their story that touched me in different aspects. I also love them because they are so passionate, humble, and grateful — to their family, friends and us, A’Tin.” – @josh_for_jp

“They don’t think of themselves as idols of this generation. They find ways to communicate with their fans. Their talents are always on point, same with their visuals. We love them because they are not just treating us as mere fans, but as friends and family.” – @APSquad_

“I love them because they are my sunshine. They always make us feel loved and treasured. I’m afraid to show the real me, but they are the ones who helped me to come out of my shell. I gave up and lost my interest in everything, but SB19 lifted me up, telling us A’tin to chase our dreams and never give up. They never forget us. In fact, they never make us feel the idol-fan relationship. They treat us as their family. I can’t explain how much I love them and how grateful I am being their fan.” – @mxgeannaxm

“I love SB19 because I feel like they represent us well as a nation. They’re humble, determined, and extremely talented. Filipinos have the talent but are not given the opportunities, but whenever we do get it, we seize it and make the best out of it.” – @titaluhaaa

Nothing is impossible

Like A’TIN, I can certainly relate to SB19’s journey. After all, for decades now, my personal motto has been simple: Nothing is impossible.

That’s helped given me the courage to always try new things — including launching Digital Life Asia. Sure, I’ve stumbled and fallen many times. But the important thing is to always get up.

As SB19 says in “Go Up”: “Kahit pa imposible/Yeah! We gonna go up!”

Thanks, A’TIN, for sharing your love. And thanks, SB19, for inspiring that love.

How about you, why do you love SB19?