For years, South Korea’s pop music scene has been the buzziest in Asia, with K-pop acts regularly charting internationally and touring worldwide. Now, Filipino boy band SB19 is hoping to bring P-pop to the rest of the world, and taking some pages out of K-pop’s book to do so.
The company behind SB19, ShowBT Philippines Corp., is the local arm of South Korean company ShowBT, founded by Seong Han Geong (also known as Robin Geong). Formerly a comedian, Geong shifted his career from being an entertainer in South Korea’s media industry to entrepreneurship over a decade ago, and has been integral in attempting to apply the K-pop paradigm to SB19 in the hopes of the group achieving major impact across the globe.
“When I first visited the Philippines for market research five years ago, I noticed the Filipino fans’ enthusiasm and energy for K-pop,” Geong says. “That, plus the advantage of them being fluent in English, opened an opportunity and possibility for overcoming K-pop’s weaknesses. Although the K-pop model is already well established, I wanted to create a new culture mixed with P-pop. So, SB19 is a new idol group with a unique style that is a result of localization.”
The group that ShowBT eventually formed handpicked its five members from among Filipino star hopefuls, many of whom were fans of K-pop artists. SB19 trained for three years, then released their first single “Tilaluha” back in 2018. They have been growing steadily since, with a handful of songs under their belt, including their coronavirus-inspired comfort song, “Ikako.”
“We have a sense of universality and we take something and utilize it to make something better out of it,” says SB19’s Sejun, about the group learning from K-pop artistic training and promotional elements. “What they have been doing in Korea, the K-pop idols there, they have this intensive training where you have to make your moves synchronized, you’re singing while you’re dancing and it’s really hard. To utilize that here in the Philippines is really great, because there are lots of talented Filipinos that are not given opportunity, so that we can show the talent of the Philippines all over the world.”
Though they’re run by a Korean company and draw inspiration from K-pop, SB19’s identity as a Filipino act is important to them, and they hope people recognize how distinctly Pinoy they are and not just an imitation of what a K-pop group could be when singing in another language.
“People have misunderstood us as a K-pop band, not a P-pop band,” says Josh. “But I think what’s more important is how our soul gets into our music. That’s what I think is the most important thing, how we express our music into the P-pop industry. There are a lot of Filipino talents that are under the radar, not just us, but there are a lot of Filipinos who deserve recognition. Maybe we can be one of the stepping stones where we can present Filipino talent to the entire world.”
Localizing the K-pop model isn’t necessarily new, with many South Korean entertainment companies launching acts aimed at the japoneză sau chinez markets over the years, but SB19 is the first based in the Philippines to see success, in part thanks to its social media presence, which has made them a regulat on Panou’s Social 50 chart, which is nowadays dominated predominantly by K-pop acts — and SB19. To maintain their buzz in social media spaces, the act regularly shares new content on their social accounts, and borrows from K-pop’s mention parties, or menpas, on their Twitter account, where fans can interact directly with them during a given time.
They’re still in their early days, but SB19’s already struggling, and the members have even spoken about breaking up at times. But they’re determined to move forward together, with the hopes of achieving their dream of bringing Filipino music and culture to the global media mainstream.
“Every country has their own culture of pop,” Sejun says. “What differs us from other countries is the soul we put in it. Everything that we’ve experienced in life, everything that influences us as an artist, our culture, our language, that’s what we [as SB19] put into our music, and we want to show that to the world.”