Can SB19 usher in the Filipino Wave?

The future of Filipino entertainment is looking bright thanks to these five young artists

P-POP HEROES SB19 members from left: Stell, Ken, Justin, Pablo, and Josh

For context: hallyu or the Korean Wave pertains to the global popularity of South Korea’s cultural economy from fashion, food, music, television dramas, movies, and entertainment. South Korea is known worldwide for its commitment to becoming the leading exporter of pop culture.

Beyond financial returns, the East Asian country now wields enough “soft power,” the political ability to appeal or influence, that people all over the world tend to worship K-pop idols, prefer K-drama over local programs, and are big consumers of Korean goods, including albums, merchandise, beauty products, food.

Taking and immersing in and understanding the culture of other countries is without a shadow of a doubt a good thing. Filipinos, however, often get too absorbed or fascinated with other cultures to the extent of neglecting their own. This characteristic may be attributed to hundreds of years of colonialism, but that is a story for another day.

At a lunch between Manila Bulletin Lifestyle and former president of both the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the Cinemalaya Foundation, Nestor Jardin, we discussed the endless possibilities of emulating South Korea, particularly the way they are promoting the entertainment industry, as well as arts and culture.

Perhaps, there is a lack of marketing attempts to show the world how rich Filipino culture is. Then again, how could we sell ourselves if we do not believe in our own product? One thing is certain, there is insufficient support toward artists, performers, craftsmen, and the entertainment and art scene altogether.

So, what does it take to start a Filipino wave? Would a boyband do?

Enter SB19, today’s biggest Filipino boy group, multi-awarded and internationally recognized champions of Pinoy-pop. They are the first Filipinos trained under ShowBT, a Korean entertainment company that branched out in the Philippines. The group exhibits the best of both worlds, pairing the talent, discipline, and devotion Korean idols have with music that is Filipino to the core.

In the short span of four years from their debut, Stell, Josh, Pablo, Ken, and Justin, collectively known as SB19, have attained record-breaking success. For one, they are the first Filipino and Southeast Asian act to be nominated in the Billboard Music Awards under the top social artist category, where they competed against the likes of K-pop groups BTS, Blackpink, Seventeen, and American pop star Ariana Grande.

Among the noteworthy accolades the boys have reaped locally and abroad are ranking second on the Billboard Social 50, a chart that uses real-time social media data to track the most fan-engaged artists in the world, being part of Spotify’s RADAR program, which supported their borderless access to fans, and becoming the Most Requested Artist of the Year for 2020 on MTV US Friday Livestream. The band has solidified their global presence through their talent and music and, in doing so, have put the Philippines in the limelight.

SB19, despite the pandemic, has been pushing themselves to greater heights, challenging conventions in terms of producing and songwriting, creating modern sounds with anthemic lyrics that are timely, relevant, and 100 percent Filipino in theme.

Their passion to go the extra mile and excel in their craft shows in their recently released Extended Play (EP), titled Pagsibol. Roslyn Pineda, general manager at Sony Music Philippines and vice president for business development in Asia, explains that the boys have gone all-out, expanding their range by sprinkling bits of experiments with their brand of edgy pop.

Pagsibol, the Filipino word for germination, a process of growth, is a fitting name for the short album following the band’s development into the powerhouse they are today. It is a symbol of SB19’s origins, and also their constant improvement.

The EP contains six empowering tracks that revolve around Filipino themes. The sound is fantastic, moreover, they discuss important topics.


Short for watawat or flag, this patriotic song, as reviewed by Apple Music, “hits hard enough to start a street party.” It incorporates electro-pop and dance beats with elements of rap, rock, hip-hop, and EDM, all wrapped in imagery and metaphors. “What” is currently the perfect anthem to represent the Philippines on the world stage, replete with marching drumbeats, punchy guitar riffs, banging raps, and audacious lyrics. The video is well-made and worth watching too, with 12 million views on YouTube as of writing.


A portmanteau of Ma and Pa, Filipino terms for mother and father, MAPA is a tribute to parents. “With our mapa (map) we will never get lost,” says SB19 member, Pablo, who is also the chief songwriter. The piece intends to inspire people to be appreciative of parents. The touching lyrics are complemented by a soothing melody that tugs at the heartstrings. The boys did a collaboration with Filipino band, Ben and Ben, performing MAPA, at the recently reopened Manila Metropolitan Theater (MET).


Another wordplay, “Ikako” combines Ikaw at Ako (you and me), for a ballad about loving each other, made in honor of frontliners and their hard work and sacrifice amid the pandemic.


Props to the creativity of the boys for “Mana,” short for manananggal. The song is about humility, reaching high but keeping your feet on the ground. From the title to the lyrics, to the trippy rhythm, everything about the song makes a mark.


The only English song in the EP is a trap-pop production with reggaeton-infused hip-hop rhythms. It takes a swipe at the boy’s detractors and haters, and reflects on the “bashing” culture that artists experience at the onset of their career. A super cool song, with breezy beats.


The title is a shortened form for salamat (thanks). The track expresses gratitude to the group’s supporters and fanbase called A’tins. The mid-tempo tropical pop song sounds like the classic SB19, a fitting homage to the loyal community.

The group exhibits the best of both worlds, pairing the talent, discipline, and devotion Korean idols have with music that is Filipino to the core.

One of SB19’s greatest supporters is Spotify. Within just a year after the boyband joined the RADAR Philippines program, aimed to help rising talents get the exposure they deserve, their followers on the world-leading audio platform have more than doubled.

To celebrate the launch of Pagsibol, the audio streaming service unveiled the “SB19 A’TIN ‘To!” campaign, collaboration between the boyband and Spotify. This project showcases Pinoy pride and tells the story of the latest EP through audio and visual art.

“It’s been wonderful to be a part of SB19’s journey; watching their growth from RADAR artists to today reaching listeners all over the world. We are thrilled to get behind the launch of Pagsibol through this campaign and allowing fans, not only in the Philippines but all over the world, to experience their music. We continue to champion the vibrant Philippine music scene by connecting more artists and fans,” says Spotify head of music for Asia, Kossy Ng.

Head of Music for Asia Pacific, Spotify, Kossy Ng

Six Filipino visual artists were involved in designing roving jeepneys. Each of the Pinoy vehicles are uniquely inspired by the six tracks of the EP. Meanwhile, fans can look forward to exclusive SB19 content on the Tatak Pinoy Playlist. This partnership benefits not only SB19, but all Philippine talents to be discovered worldwide.

Following the group’s Global Live online concert last year, the boyband will be performing the songs off their EP for the first time live on their upcoming online concert, Back In The Zone.

The quintet will be having never-before-seen individual performances for the concert featuring original compositions that fans should look out for. Joining SB19 on stage are Alex Bruce, 4th Impact, and other surprise guests. The e-concert is this Sunday, Aug. 1, at 7:30 p.m. Only general admissions tickets are left, so hurry.

Pagsibol is out now on Spotify via Sony Music. | | |