Filipino boy band SB19 on taking the sounds of P-pop to the world

Ahead of their Dubai concert, group says the genre is defined by emotional attachment between artists and fans

P-Pop group SB-19, Justin, Pablo, Josh, Stell and Felip, are in the UAE to perform in Dubai at The Agenda.  Leslie Pableo for The National
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What is Pinoy pop? Is it simply a Filipino version of the turbocharged electro sounds of Korean-pop dominating arenas from Abu Dhabi and Riyadh to Australia? Or is there something deeper to the burgeoning genre, staking its claim as the next big sound coming from Asia?

Ask scene leaders SB19, and the reply is that the boy band define their craft by the emotional response to the songs rather than the way it sounds.

“I don't think there is any real difference between Pinoy Pop, K-pop and pop music in general,” Pablo (full name Pablo Nase) tells The National, ahead of the group's show at The Agenda on Wednesday. “But I think that it has a personal and emotional quality to it because we travel the world and play to many Filipinos.

“They know, even more than us, what it means to be away from home and missing your family. So when we perform these universal songs, some of them happy and others sad, they connect because they relate to us.”

Josh, full name Josh Cullen, remembers a particular exchange with a fan during the band's last visit to Dubai in 2022.

“Her name was Chantel and she told us why, at that time, she was in Dubai for seven months and hearing our music made her feel less lonely and more safe,” he says. “This kind of conversation leaves a big mark in my heart because you are inspiring fans and they inspire us with their words as well. So it is a win-win situation.”

It also means that every SB19 show has the cathartic quality of a family reunion. The Dubai concert is the beginning of the final leg of their Pagtatag! World Tour, which has visited the North America and Canada and is scheduled to conclude in the Philippines in May.

During that time some members worked on solo projects, with Justin (Justin De Dios) releasing debut solo single Surreal in February. Stell, real name Stellvester Ajero, was the winning coach on last year’s season of the Filipino version of television talent quest The Voice Generation.

He confirms he will be back to defend his title on the programme later this year. “The most important advice I gave my team on the show is to not be afraid of expressing yourself,” he says. “You need to know who you are and be confident in showing your true colours.”

It's a lesson the band has learnt after six years in the spotlight. Formed in 2018 after the members individually participated in a talent contest held by ShowBT Philippines, a subsidiary of the South Korean K-pop company ShowBT, the group grew from performing corporate gigs to become the first Filipino act nominated in the Billboard Music Awards for Top Social Artist. They were also the first South-East Asian act to enter the top 10 of Billboard’s Social 50 charts.

SB19 also halted BTS’s record-breaking number one reign on Billboard's Trending Songs chart after their 2022 single Bazinga replaced Butter in the top slot. The group capitalised on the global spotlight afforded to Asian pop artists on the back of K-pop’s success, but Stell recalls having to adapt quickly to the rigours of touring.

Where before Pinoy pop artists would organically build their fan base at home before performing abroad, he says SB19 had a global fan base almost from the beginning. “I am very grateful and love visiting new countries, but touring is also very tiring for me and it can be really suffocating,” Stell says.

It is during these challenging times that the group rely on each other, Pablo notes. “It helps that we confide in each other. We have had some times where we have had to control our emotions and learn how to react to certain situations,” he says. “We try not to waste our energy on things that ultimately don’t matter.”

Sometimes, a little bit of healthy distance from each other also helps keep the SB19 ship afloat. “Taking time out helps when you have arguments,” Justin says. “While we always talk to each other, I believe time also heals.

“Whatever emotions we feel is really because we love what we do and we basically grew up together. And sometimes what works for a specific member in the group doesn't work for another, so you just have to be the bigger person and let it go.”

With the group set to release new single Moonlight in May, their first song since 2023 hit Gento, there is much more to come from SB19.

“It is a really exciting time and this new song will be this summer's jam,” Pablo says. “After the tour we will rest and then plan for the next stage. We have our whole year planned already and we will be preparing for something big for our fans.”

Updated: April 23, 2024, 12:38 PM