Shoes squeaking against the floor, just in time to the music on the speakers, are the sounds that greet us when we entered the office of ShowBT Philippines. It is a typical scene of what we usually see in behind-the-scenes pics and videos of our favorite K-Pop idols hard in training.
But the five-member group we met are not Korean idols. In fact, the members are all Filipinos, training under Korean management. They are none other than SB19—composed of Sejun (leader, dancer, rapper), Stell (main vocal), Josh (dancer, rapper), Ken (main dancer), and Justin (maknae, vocal, rapper). Officially introduced on May 2018, the group has since been active, appearing in TV5’s variety show Aja Aja Tayo and attending several Korean cultural events in the country.
KStreetManila sat down with SB19 for an exclusive interview, in which we talked to them about their influences, their experience as trainees under a Korean management, and more.
What’s the meaning behind your group name?
Sejun: It’s a long story. In Korea, there’s this group called BNF. They are the first global group made by ShowBT. We are the counterpart—SB19, the first-ever global group made in the Philippines. Our company somehow made the decision to take SB from their name—ShowBT. Pero we had another meaning to SB—“Sound Break.” As a group, our main goal is to break into the music scene and to raise the bar for all the boy groups here in the Philippines.
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.
How did you guys audition to become trainees?
Josh: Most of us were performers before. Talagang nagpe-perform na kami from other K-Pop scenes—mga cover groups, dance teams. Siyempre, there comes a turning point noong naisip namin na from amateurs, gusto namin maging professionals. Tapos nag-open yung ShowBT ng audition. Siguro mga 200 auditionees yung mga nandoon before, so sinala kami. Tapos ayun, nakapasok most of us. Naging trainees pa kami as NARRA before kami naging SB19. [Most of us were performers before. We used to perform from other K-Pop scenes—cover groups, dance teams. Of course, there came a turning point when we wanted to go from amateurs to professionals. Then, ShowBT opened auditions, and from 200 auditionees, we were sifted further. And then, most of us passed the auditions. We became part of the trainee group NARRA before we became SB19.]
Sejun: Kasi yung iba samin, nag-perform na overseas [as part of BTS cover group Se-Eon], but it’s not enough. Gusto namin maging professional yung pagpe-perform. [Most of us performed overseas as part of BTS cover group Se-Eon, but it’s not enough. We wanted to become professional performers.]
What were your first impressions on training under a Korean company?
Stell: Personally, ako familiar with K-Pop and K-Pop groups. I know yung pinagdadaanan ng trainees para sila maging idols, para mag-debut. Naisip ko na parang mapagdadaanan ko rin yun, which is nangyayari naman. Number one rule is time management. Alam natin na ditto sa Pilipinas, sobrang traffic. Bawal talaga ma-late. Karamihan samin naglalaan ng two to three hours ng travel time. Mahirap pag na-late. [Personally, I’m familiar with K-Pop and K-Pop groups, so I know what trainees go through before they debuted. I thought that was what is going to happen to me, which did. The number one rule here is time management. Traffic is terrible in the Philippines, but we can’t be late. Most of us have to allocate two to three hours of travel time.]
Tapos ayun, pinaka-kailangan talaga namin matutunan is yung Korean culture and manners. As Filipinos, may kinalakihan tayo na normal lang, pero pag sa Korea, hindi. Kailangan namin mag-adjust doon. For example, dito sa Pilipinas, pag kakain, yung matatandaan pauunahin yung mas bata kumain. Sa Korea, pagka-serve ng food, dapat yung mas matanda yung mauna. Yung mga bagay na kailangan namin mag-adjust kasi nasa Korean company kami. [What we had to learn the most is Korean culture and manners. As Filipinos, we grew up learning some manners that are normal to us but are not to Koreans. We have to make adjustments. For example, whenever we eat, the older members usually ask us to get our food first. But in Korea, once the food is served, we have to let the older members eat first.]
Sa training naman, siguro strict talaga yung when it comes to training. Pagdating namin dito, kailangan body training. Yung ginagawa namin araw-araw is sobrang hirap. Personally, sanay na ako mag-stretching, sanay akong mag-workout, pero dito ko lang talaga naranasan yung sobrang sine-stretch yung katawan namin. Kailangan umupo ka tapos itutulak ka ng mentor pababa. [In terms of training, the company is really strict. As soon as we arrive in the company, we do body training. What we do every day is really hard. Personally, I’m used to stretching and working out, but this is where I experienced hardcore stretching. You have to sit down and the mentor will push you down.]
Justin: Siguro, overall lang din, yung impression namin since we’re K-Pop fans, mahirap yung training. Pero iba pa rin yung na-experience namin. Hindi lang kasi hard work o gusting-gusto mo talaga. Dapat may dedication ka rin. [Overall, our impression as K-Pop fans was that training is hard. But what we experienced as harder. You need to have not just hard work and passion but also dedication.]
Josh: Kailangan desperate ka talaga roon sa dreams mo. Kasi pag nandito ka, parang yung mindset mo kailangan matatag ka. [You need to be desperate for your dreams. Once you become a trainee, you have to have a strong mindset.]
Since you mentioned you’re K-Pop fans, who are your inspirations?
Sejun: Marami eh. Pero ako, personally, gusto ko si G-Dragon kasi all-rounder siya—from singing, dancing, rapping, and producing. Tapos good sense of fashion pa. Parang nasa kanya na lahat eh. [We have lots. But personally, I like G-Dragon because he’s an all-arounder—from singing, dancing, rapping, and producing. Plus, he has a good sense of fashion. I think he has it all.]
Josh: Same with me. Si G-Dragon din yung role model ko. Kasi ayun, nasabi niya all-rounder. Tsaka feeling ko siya yung one of the most influential artists in this industry. And yung appeal niya onstage, siya yung feeling ko may pinakamalakas yung appeal. [G-Dragon is also my role model. As mentioned, he’s an all-rounder. And I think he is one of the most influential artists in this industry. And he has a strongest appeal onstage.]
BTS din. They’re one of the most hardworking groups as of now. Parang hindi sila nagsa-stop gumawa ng music. At the same time, nakaka-attend sila sa mga schedules nila. [BTS, too. They’re one of the most hardworking groups as of now. They never stopped making music. At the same time, they’re able to attend their schedules.]
Ken: Para sa kanila, K-Pop yung gusto nila. Para sakin, si Daniel Caesar. He’s very unique. I think yung lyrics niya talagang mafe-feel mo. [They like K-Pop, but for me, I like Daniel Caesar. He’s very unique. I think you can really feel the emotions in his lyrics.]
Sejun: Mahilig kasi siya sa love songs. [Ken really likes loves songs.]
Justin: Idol ko yung GOT7. Actually, sila yung una kong na-stan na group nung nagsimula akong maging K-Pop fan. Ang nagustuhan ko talaga—bukod sa music nila—is yung characteristics nila. Pinapanood ko yung mga live at reality shows nila. [GOT7 are my idols. Actually, they are the first group I stanned when I first became a K-Pop fan. Besides their music skills, I really liked their characteristics. I like watching their lives and reality show appearances.]
Stell: Ako, I love VIXX. Ang galing nila—visual, vocal, dance. Tapos nalaman ko yung leader nila, siya pala yung gumagawa ng dance nila. Tapos ang galing ng sayaw nila, parang high-class choreographer yung gumawa. Parang doon ako na-inspire. Kung kaya nila, baka kaya ko rin gawin. Ngayon, may dance song kami, and ako nag-choreograph. [applause from members] Kahit ngayon, di ako sure kung maganda yung sasabihin ng tao, pero proud ako roon kasi kinaya ko sa sarili ko. [As for me, I love VIXX. They’re so amazing in terms of visual, vocal, and dance. And then I learned that their leader is also choreographed their dances. Their moves look like they’re made by a high-class choreographer. It inspired me to do the same. Right now, I choreographed our dance songs. And I’m not sure what others think of it, but I’m proud because I’m able to do it.]
What were are your memorable moments as a trainee?
Sejun: First concert namin. Kasi yung ShowBT nagho-hold ng yearly concert. Lahat ng artists—BNF, tapos dati NARRA pa lang kami. Lahat ng trainees nagpe-perform. It’s like the first-ever na concert na feeling ko artist na ako. [Our first concert. ShowBT holds a yearly concert in which all its artists perform. Even as NARRA, all the trainees performed at that time. It was the first-ever concert I felt I was an artist.]
Josh: Kasi noong time na yon, medyo simula pa lang kami ng career. Tapos nasama ka sa stage na yon as professional. Trainees pa lang kami, so di pa namin masabi fully professional, pero at least marami na kaming natutunan from that time as trainees.
Stell: Tapos iba’t iba pa yung genre na pine-perform namin. Tinuruan kaming mag-musical— [We were also taught various genres. We were taught musical performances—]
Josh: Parang hindi kami nakulong sa isang—hip-hop lang. So tinuturuan kami from basics of ballet or contemporary. [We weren’t limited to one genre, like hip-hop only. We were also taught the basics of ballet and contemporary music.]
Ken: I really love dancing. Gusto ko talaga sumayaw, and I’m a choreographer dati, nung high school ako. I want to be one of the best choreographers in the future. [I really love dancing. I really want to dance, and I was a choreographer when I was in high school. I want to be one of the best choreographers in the future.]
Josh: I wanna inspire people na kung paano kami na-inspire i-pursue yung dreams. Siguro mas maganda na ma-inspire sila sa amin na kahit gaano kahirap, pinursue pa rin namin yung gusto namin. [I want to inspire people the way we were inspired to pursue our dreams. It would be great if they were inspired by us who, no matter how hard, pursued our passions.]
Justin: Gusto ko mag-improve sa maraming aspects ng entertainment. May alam na kami sa dancing at singing. Gusto kong mag-pursue sa acting, sa modeling— [I want to improve in other aspects of entertainment. I already know something about singing and dancing, so I want to pursue acting and modeling—]
Sejun: Sample nga!
Sejun: Gusto ko naman mag-release ng solo album in the future. Gusto ko kasi i-explore lahat ng genre. If ever I’ll have my solo album, different kinds of genres in one album. Tapos, bukod sa music, I also want to write a book. [I want to release a solo album in the future. I want to explore all genres. If ever I’ll have my solo album, different kinds of genres in one album. And aside from music, I also want to write a book.]
Stell: Ako naman, more on dance ako nag-focus. Lately ko lang na-discover na kaya ko rin palang kumanta. Dito ko rin na-develop yung singing skills ko through training. And sa akin, naisip ko na kung kaya kong gumawa ng sayaw, bakit hindi ako gumawa ng kanta? Yun yung gusto ko i-try, para ma-express ko yung sarili ko through songwriting. At kung may chance, gusto ko maging [laughs] lead sa isang horror or action film. [I mostly focused on dance. I only discovered that I can sing. And I only developed my singing skills through training. I thought that if I could choreograph, why don’t I write songs? I want to try that, to express myself through songwriting. And if there’s a chance, I want to be the lead in a horror or action film.]
Who’s your co-star?
Stell: Kahit sino. [Anyone is fine.]
Josh: Siya yung multo. [Stell will play the ghost.]
How about your goals as a group?
Justin: We want to break into the music scene, set new standards. And then, other than that, siyempre we want to be successful here sa Philippines, since we’re Filipinos. And then, hopefully in Korea rin since we’re under a Korean management. And then, hopefully, globally.
What do you think would distinguish you from other Filipino groups here and, if ever, what would distinguish you from K-Pop groups aside from the fact that you’re Filipino?
Stell: Siguro yung long period of training. Dito sa Philippines, marami namang boy groups. Although alam kong matagal na rin sila, three years na kaming nagte-training. Talagang super nire-ready talaga nila kami bago kami ilabas. [Maybe the long period of training. Here in the Philippines, there are a lot of training. And although they have been around for a long time, we have been training for three years. The company really readies us before we debut.]
Sejun: Tsaka love and dedication for what we’re doing. Even after nag-debut na kami, tuloy pa rin ang training—eight hours a day straight. [And the love and dedication for what we’re doing. Even after our debut, training continues eight hours a day straight.]
Josh: Parang they want us to be confident. Yung tinuro nila samin na be humble lagi. Dapat keep on training, kasi kahit marami na rin kaming na-train, baka meron pa ring ibang groups na mas better, so kailangan mong mag-improve palagi. [Management wants us to be confident. They keep teaching us to always be humble and to keep on training. Even if we trained for a long time, there will always be groups that will be better. So we need to always improve.]
Sejun: Doon pumapasok yung 19. Dapat iisipin mo sa sarili mo na artist ka, pero yung mind mo parang rookie lagi. Parang gigil ka lagi na gusto mong sumikat, gusto mo mag-perform ka nang maganda at maayos. [That’s where 19 comes in. You may be an artist, but you have to think like a rookie. You always want to shine and to perform well.]
Josh: Grabe sila, may mga metaphor lagi. Lahat ng sasabihin nila may meaning. Parang nanood ka ng Disney. [laughs] [The company always has metaphors. Everything they say has meaning. It’s like you’re watching Disney.]
Justin: Of course, we’re under a Korean company. Yung culture, natuturo na sa amin, naa-adapt, especially yung punctuality. [We learn and adapt the culture, especially punctuality.]
Josh: Yung difference from other K-Pop groups—
Sejun: Yung music namin, from Korean producers, but we’re still Filipino at heart. Kahit na yung music namin is Korean, yung sound pa rin namin is collaboration between Korean and Filipino. [Our music is from Korean producers, but we’re still Filipino at heart. Our sound is a collaboration between Koreans and Filipinos.]
Any messages for your fans?
Sejun: Syempre, for our fans, sobrang thankful kami. Though hindi namin mapakita verbally or … social media-ly. Meron kasi kaming restrictions and rules. Sobrang thankful kami, naa-appreciate namin lahat ng ginagawa nila para sa amin—sa pagche-cheer sa amin every time we’re on stage, the gifts they have given us. Tapos yung iba sobrang ang lalayo pa ng bahay. For example, may event kami sa Cavite, they’re from Northern part pa, pero pumupunta sila. Sobrang thankful kami. [Of course, we’re very thankful to our fans, even though we can’t show it verbally or on social media. We have restrictions and rules. We appreciate everything they do—the cheers they make when we’re on stage, the gifts they have given us. And the other fans come from really far places. For example, we have an event in Cavite, and we see fans coming from the Northern part. We’re really thankful for them.]
Justin: At kung wala sila, parang ang hirap mag-continue. [Without then, it’s hard to continue.]
Ken: Sila yung pinanggalingan ng strength namin. [They’re the source of our strength.]
In the short time we interviewed SB19, we were amazed with how much they worked hard to get to where they are now. From cover group members and K-Pop fans who dreamed of standing on a bigger stage, their goal now is much bigger—to set the standards for Filipino idol groups. We can’t wait to see them grow as artists.
A big thank you to SB19 and ShowBT Philippines for accommodating us in this fun interview. We wish the group luck in their future endeavors!
Photos by Dana Fernandez and Elaine Lim