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SB19’s continuous growth is my fave underdog story

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WTF is P-pop? Is P-pop a thing again? 

These are the questions I asked when I came across SB19. At first glance, they look like your average boys pulling off that K-pop aesthetic. It’s safe to say my expectations were low. Growing up, P-pop groups felt like they were trying too hard to emulate a foreign act instead of embracing their roots. 

But those doubts disappeared when I saw the dance practice video for “Go Up.” As Twitter would say—the talent indeed jumped out. 

From striking vocals to performance precision, SB19 shattered notions on what P-pop should be. Mainstream audiences may not have loved P-pop groups completely when they first came out but with Josh (Josh Cullen Santos), Sejun (John Paulo Nase), Stell (Stellvester Ajero), Ken (Felip Jhon Suson) and Justin (Justin De Dios) around, they’re proving with every track and live performance that P-pop’s future is as bright as them. 

“‘Get In the Zone!’ is about our journey and experiences [expressed] through the lyrics. Lahat po ng emotions na pinagdaanan po namin, doon po namin i-nincorporate sa album.”

Trained by Korean company ShowBT Philippines, SB19 debuted around late 2018. They weren’t exactly a hit when they first started. From their first single to their on-stage shows, the group received lukewarm reception (at best) from audiences. “There was a point when we thought SB19 would never see the light of day. We had sacrificed so much and trained for so long, but nothing was happening,” said Sejun in their South China Morning Post interview.

So when these underdogs rose to the charts with “Go Up,” they saw it as their redemption track. It didn’t hit them that it predicted their bright future.

After “Go Up,” SB19 garnered a lot of firsts in P-pop history. The boys maintained a steady position on the Billboard Social 50 list and Billboard Next Big Sound chart. They were the first Filipino boyband to achieve these feats. That’s why international media brands like Forbes have got these boys on their radar too.  

“In-e-expect lang po namin at least makilala lang po kami sa [“Go Up”]. Ngayon, umaabot na siya sa international levels kaya very thankful kami. Beyond our expectations ang nangyayari,” says Josh at our virtual press conference. “It’s more like a dream. Nangangarap lang kami na ‘sana ganito, sana ganyan.’ Unexpected talaga na nangyari ang mga pinapangarap namin,” adds Justin.

Now that their debut album “Get in the Zone” is on the horizon, we sit back and chat with the boys of SB19 about their first album, how they’re dealing with success and why A’TIN is the best fandom they could ever ask for

What can you tell us about “Get in the Zone?”
Sejun:  Ang plano po is supposed to be the journey of SB19. It’s about our journey and experiences [expressed] through the lyrics. Lahat po ng emotions na pinagdaanan po namin, doon po namin i-nincorporate sa album. Kumbaga, meron pong mga kantang malungkot, masaya, hopeful at inspirational. Nandito po lahat ng pinagdaanan namin as trainees. Gumawa kami ng mga kanta based sa mga naramdaman namin [at the time].

Josh: Itong upcoming album namin, ’di po siya ‘yung per song namin i-re-release. Isang pultahan siya since it’s our first full album. In-include na rin ‘yung iba naming songs from last year at mga bagong [unreleased tracks] na kasama sa first full album. 

Can you tell us about the songs on the album? What should the fans expect?
Sejun: Most ng mga kanta dito sa album na ‘to, na-release na po. ’Yung mga bago naming songs na ginamit namin ay  “Hanggang sa Huli,” which is a ballad, and “Love Goes,” which is supposed to be our debut single. Mas naisipan po namin na on a later date na lang siya i-release.


Among the songs that we’re releasing, “Hanggang sa Huli” para sakin ’yung may pinakamagandang lyrics na nasulat namin as a group. Talagang dito niyo makikita ’yung pagkagusto ng Pinoy sa ballads.

Could you walk us through the track selection process for the album?
Sejun: ‘Yung mga iba po naming kanta, tapos na before kami gumawa ng ibang kanta. Doon naman sa case ng “Alab,” ito talaga ‘yung kantang una naming ginawan ng lyrics at prinoduce. Pero sa tingin namin, dapat namin unahin ‘yung “Go Up.” ’Yung track ang introduction at istorya po ng grupo namin. Sa “Tilahula” naman po, gusto po naming ipamalas na kaya naming kumanta.

Josh: Binabagay rin po namin sa taste ng mga Filipino kasi meron pong baka maging cringey ito ‘pag sinulat namin.’ Kaya tinatry po namin salain ‘yung mga demos ng songs. Doon namin paplanuhin kung kailan namin i-re-release ‘to. Naaliw po kami dahil nagbabatuhan din po kami ng mga ideas.

“Para po sa [frontliners], gusto po naming i-cheer up sila, mabigyan sila ng peace of mind at talagang malaki ang pasasalamat sa kanilang lahat.”

Now that you’re reaching international levels, do you guys have a dream collab with a K-pop group or with homegrown artists?
Sejun: Pag nag-training po kami, normally pinapatugtog namin mga iba’t-ibang artists. Depende rin sa mga ginagawa naming trainings po. Nadadaanan namin ang iba’t-ibang mga genre.

Josh: Siyempre, number one kung K-pop, BTS. Kumbaga, isa rin sila sa mga inspiration namin before. May mga Western influences rin po ako like Post Malone.

Justin: It’s something new kung mag-collab tayo sa band like Ben&Ben. Madalas rin namin silang makasama sa mga events. Nakikita namin sila sa mga shows at nilolook up din namin sila. Lagi naming pinapakinggan ‘yung songs nila. It would be something new na isang boy group na sing and dance and isang band ang gumawa ng collaboration.

What does it feel like to drop your debut album during quarantine?
Justin: Halo-halo siya. Although ito ‘yung sitwasyon, makakapag-release kami ng album, excited kaming makakapag-inspire ng tao. At the same time, medyo malungkot kasi may nahihirapang ibang tao ngayon. The least we can do is inspire through what we can do.

Sejun: Siyempre po, ’di lang po ‘yung mga frontliners ‘yung nahihirapan. Pati rin po ‘yung mga to nag-stay sa mga bahay-bahay nila na merong anxiety at depression ngayon. Lalo na ’yung ibang family members nila na frontliners. Para po sa kanila, gusto po naming i-cheer up sila, mabigyan sila ng peace of mind at talagang malaki ang pasasalamat sa kanilang lahat.

Now that your first debut album is finally here, how did your fans impact your journey so far?
Josh: Grabe po ‘yung impact po nila sa buhay namin. Kumbaga ‘yung mga simpleng kanta, simpleng ginawagawa po namin, in-a-amplify po nila. They’re always there to support us in what we want to do. Lahat po ng bagay nakasuporta po sila. Hindi kami makakaabot sa Billboard charts o makakakuha ng awards kung wala sila. Hindi po namin makukuha ‘yung ganong bagay kung hindi dahil sa kanila.

“Feeling ko mas magugulat ‘yung buong mundo at makikilala pa ‘yung Pilipinas dahil sa mga fans, sa mga A’TIN.”

Sejun: Kumpara po sa mga ibang grupo, mas kakaunti po ‘yung followers namin pero sobrang dedicated nila kaya naiiaangat ‘yung grupo namin. Sila po ‘yung dahilan kung bakit nakikilala po ‘yung grupo namin, ’di lang dito sa Pilipinas pati na rin sa ibang bansa.

Josh: In the future, ’di lang yan ‘yung kayang ipakita ng fandom. Feeling ko mas magugulat ‘yung buong mundo at makikilala pa ‘yung Pilipinas dahil sa mga fans, sa mga A’TIN.

Justin: Dahil sa kanila, mas nararamdaman namin na kailangan mas maging responsible pa kami. Nakikita rin namin ‘yung mga sinusuggest nila at kung ano ‘yung in-e-expect nila. For us, gusto namin mas mag-exceed ng expectations. Mas na-cha-challenge kami as a person, as a group. They help us improve.

Pre-save “Get in the Zone!” on your digital/streaming platforms.

Read more:
SB19 on their new album and why “Go Up” is so important
SB19 makes history by landing on Billboard Social 50’s 10th spot

Art by Jan Cardasto


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