Interview by Dan Gambe / Photos by Dana Policarpio
It was almost two years ago when KStreetManila sat down with SB19 for an interview. Back then, they were preparing for their debut under a Korean company, something that was still unheard of in the Philippine entertainment industry at that time.
Their goal as SB19 was to make waves in the Filipino music scene, and while it was rough at first, the group skyrocketed to fame when their dance practice video for “Go Up” made rounds on Twitter.
And the rest, they say, was history. SB19 became constants in local music shows, received recognition inside and outside the country, and have been constantly on the trending topics, leading them to become the first Filipino artist to make it to Billboard’s Social 50 and Emerging Artist rankings. (As of this writing, they already made it to the Top 10 of the Billboard Social 50!)
A more mature group of boys
“Feeling ko ang laki ng changes,” oldest member Josh said when we asked how much they have changed since our last interview. “Kasi po kapag tinitingnan ko ‘yung hitsura ko noon …”
(Translation: I feel like there were huge changes. When I looked at my appearance before …)
“Bakit ganoon hitsura ko noon?” leader Sejun bemoaned, causing everyone in the room to laugh.
(Translation: Why did I look like that before?)
The five boys that came to the interview room that day, though, were the same five boys who we met almost two years ago. They were a little shy at first, but the Street Fighter-themed room was an excellent ice breaker.
Soon, they were more talkative, even chatting with us about maintaining their colored hair and being part of the crowd at DKFC 1 in 2013. They made puns (lots of them) that, as always, had us trying to catch our breath from laughter.
What was different, though, was that they answered more confidently, drawing from the whirlwind that was their breakthrough year.
“Maybe our mindset on performing is the same, but we’re more eager to achieve more goals for the group and for A’TIN in the Philippines,” Sejun said.
On their rise to fame
“Hindi namin ine-expect na magiging ganito kalaki ang name ng SB19,” said Josh. “Parang dati kaunti lang din ‘yung nanonood sa’min so ayun, nakakagulat at nakakapanibago.”
(Translation: We didn’t expect that SB19 would be this big. Before, only a few would watch us, so this is surprising and something to get used to.)
The sudden fame is still overwhelming for them, they admitted. “We’re very overwhelmed and honored sa state namin ngayon,” Josh added. “Parang masaya kami na naging successful ‘yung journey namin na hindi kami sigurado kasi it’s a collaboration between Korea and the Philippines.”
(Translation: We’re very overwhelmed and honored on our current status. We’re happy that our journey is successful—though we were uncertain of it at first—because it’s a collaboration between Korea and the Philippines.)
Living their dream
SB19’s schedule is packed with interviews and preparations for the rest of their nationwide concert tour. (An encore concert, plus a fan meeting and a school attack, were announced two weeks after this interview.)
Speaking of nationwide concert tour, the boys still couldn’t believe that they were able to do it a year after debut.
“Sobrang happy kami kasi unti-unti nang natutupad ang mga pangarap namin though slowly naaabot namin ang goals namin sa buhay as an artist,” said leader Sejun.
(Translation: We’re very happy because we’re slowly fulfilling our dreams and reaching our goals as artists.)
The group agreed that their favorite part about touring all over the country was meeting their fans—called A’TIN—from different provinces.
“Before kasi medyo worried ako na baka sa provinces kaunti lang manonood. Pero grabe, iba’t ibang lugar napupuno talaga tapos lahat sila may iba’t ibang pakulo,” said Sejun.
(Translation: Before we were worried that only a few would watch in the provinces. But wow, everywhere we go, the venues are packed and the fans have different gimmicks.)
Asked about the most memorable thing that has happened to their tour so far, SB19 had a hard time coming up with one. Josh mentioned that every place came with different experiences, from synchronized lightstick colors to wearing costumes.
With only a year-long career so far, things look promising for SB19. They still want to make music, solidify themselves as one of the best in the industry, and collaborate with fellow artists.
The names Sarah Geronimo and Iñigo Pascual came to mind, but the group wants to collaborate with all Filipino artists if given the opportunity.
The idea of collaborating with bands came up, and the group lightened up at the mere mention. “‘Yung song po namin parang ang sarap i-perform kapag may live band,” said main vocalist Stell.
(Translation: It would be really cool if our songs were performed by a live band.)
Asked which bands they want to collaborate with, they mentioned Kamikazee, Parokya ni Edgar, and Ben&Ben.
Of course, when it comes to K-Pop, they never run out of dream collaborations. BTS is at the top of the list, and other dream collabs include BIGBANG, Zico, Dean, iKON, IU, and Chungha.
The power of A’TIN
Of course, the conversation wouldn’t be enough without mentioning A’TIN, who had helped SB19 gain recognition thanks to daily Twitter parties and regular attendance at events.
“Parang hindi sila natutulog,” Josh remarked.
(Translation: It’s as if they never sleep.)
Sejun admitted that he’s always surprised whenever he checks Twitter and sees that there’s a different trend for their group every day. Not only that, but there is also more than one hashtag for their group, sometimes trending simultaneously.
Josh supposed that it was A’TIN’s way of showing their love, especially those who come from afar and couldn’t attend their events.
Youngest member Justin mentioned that A’TIN do their best to contribute to the fandom. “Some of them have roles online, like someone makes fan art.”
A’TIN who attend events assign themselves as someone who cleans the area, distributes food for other fans, takes photos and videos, and even acts as human barricades for the group.
At least, for those experiences, SB19 agreed that they were glad that A’TIN found friends in each other for being their fans.
Asked about memorable fan gifts, they weren’t exaggerating when they said they appreciate everything given to them by A’TIN. “We try to use [the gifts] as much as possible,” Justin said.
As a matter of fact, almost all the clothes they were wearing were gifts from fans, from their “Alab You” shirts to Justin’s bucket hat. They even try to wear fan-given keychains and pins during performances.
Josh shared that A’TIN’s letters give them strength. “Minsan kapag we’re having a bad day. Ang dami namin letters diba. Kuha lang kami ng isa tapos tignan namin. Nakaka-lift ng mood kahit papaano. Kahit pagod na pagod ka na basta babasahin mo lang ‘yung mga letters … grabe.”
(Translation: Sometimes when we’re having a bad day, we’d pick a letter and read it. It lifts our mood somehow. Even if you’re tired, just read the letters … it’s something.)
The longer path ahead
Even though SB19 achieved an unprecedented level of fame, they believe they still have a long way to go, especially with changing people’s impressions that they are a “K-Pop” group.
“Maraming [tao] nako-confuse nga … kung ano ba kami—kumbaga, OPM ba kami o K-Pop?” Josh shared.
(Translation: A lot of people are confused whether our music is OPM or K-Pop.)
They shared that some people still dub them as K-Pop copycats. But even though their music was produced by Koreans, all lyrics, rap, harmonies, and choreography were solely done by the members.
Sejun also addressed the “ownership” of a genre. “I believe that [no one owns] a genre of music. Or maybe, sila ‘yung sikat kaya nababansagang sa kanila ‘to. Pero sa totoo lang talagang pinaghihirapan namin ‘yung craft namin. Days, weeks, and months ‘yung ginugugol namin para mabuo ‘yung craft namin. Ang bigat lang po sa pakiramdam na after everything na pinagisipan [at] pinagtalunan namin, sasabihin na copycat ka.”
(Translation: I believe that no one owns a genre of music. Or maybe, [an artist] is popular which is why they’re dubbed as the owner of a certain genre. But the truth is, we worked hard on our craft. We spent days, weeks, and months to create it. It’s a heavy feeling to be dubbed as a copycat after everything we’ve thought of and argued about.)
For now, Sejun said that they accept the “copycat” comments, but they hope that another wave of artists would arrive that would help form the P-Pop sound SB19 is slowly building in the country.
Thanks to SB19 and ShowBT Philippines for accommodating us for the interview. Stay tuned for the video version of this interview, as well as exclusive content, soon!