A guide to P-pop: Filipino artists to listen to, from SB19 to Sarah Geronimo

With SB19 rocking Expo 2020 Dubai, here are more Pinoy pop artists to check out

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P-pop, or Pinoy pop, may not have achieved quite the same global status as its Pacific cousins K-pop or J-pop, at least not yet, but if the adoring crowds packed into Expo 2020 Dubai’s DEC Arena for Filipino boy band SB19’s show on Wednesday night are any indication, it may be not too far behind.

For much of the 1990s and early 2000s, the Filipino music scene was largely dominated at one end of the spectrum by gnarly, in-your-face rock outfits, as any frequent visitor to Bur Dubai’s sadly missed Music Room venue could confirm, and at the other by schmaltzy love songs performed by the latest “love team” sensation from the movies.

Over the past decade or so, however, as K-pop and J-pop have become increasingly popular across the Philippines and rapid economic growth has allowed for better production and glossier stars, Pinoy pop has undergone something of a metamorphosis, shaking off many of the western influences that had underpinned its musical output for so long in place of something distinctly Asian, but also unmistakably Filipino.

Here are some of the key players in what may come to be looked back upon as something of a golden era for Pinoy pop.

SB19

SB19 are perhaps the most obviously K-pop-influenced of the current crop of Pinoy stars. The band were created by the newly formed Philippines branch of Korean entertainment agency ShowBT after an extensive talent search in 2016 – their name comes from the SB of their agency, and subtracting the Philippine’s international dialling code, +63, from Korea’s +82.

In finest K-pop fashion, once selected Josh, Pablo, Stell, Ken, and Justin were then put through almost three years of rigorous training in how to be the perfect pop stars by their mentor agency and were connected with Korean writers and producers before being unleashed on the world with their debut single Tilaluha at the end of 2018.

It was with the 2019 follow-up, Go Up, that things really took off though. A K-pop fan account using the handle @BAE_Sodu tweeted a video of the group practising the dance to the single in September, 2019 and the clip picked up almost 4.5m views.

The official music video has also amassed more that 11 million views on YouTube. The band have since achieved both Billboard Chart and award success, last year picking up an MTV Europe Music Awards nomination, and in January this year surpassing the six-week record of BTS’s Butter in the Billboard Hot Trending Songs chart, when new single Bazinga notched up its seventh week.

Zack Tabudlo

Bazinga may have set the Billboard charts on fire, but SB19 can only dream of their fellow Filipino Zack Tabudlo’s numbers on Spotify.

When the streaming platform released its annual Wrapped report for 2021, Tabudlo’s single Binibini was revealed to be the most-streamed song of the year in the Philippines. It has amassed almost 84 million streams, dwarfing the 6.4 million achieved by SB19’s Billboard-topping effort.

The track’s video, with more than 35 million views on YouTube, makes SB19 look like indie underdogs, too, and his canny recent technique of releasing collaborations with stars such as Thailand's Billkin, and Filipino heavyweights James Reid and Moira Dela Torre, suggests his fan base is only going to grow.

Ben&Ben

This list is, probably unsurprisingly, fairly pop-heavy, but it’s not only polished boy bands and perfect pop princesses who are riding the current wave of Filipino musical success. Nine-piece folk rockers Ben&Ben (who also dropped by Expo 2020 Dubai earlier in March) topped that same 2021 Spotify wrap as the most-streamed artist in the Philippines for the second year in a row.

Their single Kathang Isip alone has achieved 181 million streams, while their total streams as a band have already soared past the one billion mark, making them the most-streamed Filipino act of all time on the platform.

Sarah Geronimo

Sarah Geronimo, 33, seems like something of a wisened veteran next to some of the young upstarts on our list, but there’s no denying that the star of screen, stage and catwalk is one of the Philippines’ biggest exports ever. She even shared a stage with Pope Francis on his historic 2019 visit to Abu Dhabi.

She certainly has the respect of her P-pop peers. At a 2019 press conference in Quezon City, the SB19 boys almost unanimously identified her not only as the artist they’d most like to collaborate with, but also as their biggest showbiz crush.

MNL48

If you thought the S Club 7/S Club Juniors transformation was a cynical exercise in popsploitation, you might need to sit down. MNL48 (the MNL stands for Manila) are the fourth instalment of a pan-Asian pop steamroller that also includes Japanese originals AKB48 (Akihabara, Tokyo), JKT48 (Jakarta) and BNK48 (Bangkok) before them, and has since expanded to include Delhi, Taipei, Shanghai and further domestic sister groups in Japan, Thailand and China – so far.

There are 48 members, who must be aged between 15 and 20, and they’re selected through a TV elimination process that has older members eliminated and new blood taking their place on an annual basis.

Updated: March 18, 2022, 7:32 AM
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