P-Pop group SB19 takes on Japan

How their music has reached a global audience

At a glance

  • While the crowd was still mostly Filipino, there were Japanese fans to people of various nationalities in the venue. Some of the fans flew in from China, Thailand, and other neighboring countries.

SB19 IN JAPAN From left: Josh, Pablo, Justin, Stell, and Felip

Last weekend, I found myself at a concert venue in Saitama, about an hour away from Tokyo’s city center. Surrounded by the lively atmosphere of fans eagerly awaiting the performance of SB19, a rising P-Pop sensation from the Philippines, it was hard not to get into the mood. As the lights dimmed and the music started, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the energy of the crowd. Amazed by the quality of the group and the way fans cheer for their favorites.

While I adored boybands as a child during the era of the Backstreet Boys, Westlife, N*Sync, and A1, I have yet to immerse myself in the fandom of the new generation of boybands. It’s quite a shame because Asian acts are really taking center stage. Maybe it’s my age, or perhaps it’s the intimidation over what it means to be a fan these days. Not only does it cost more, but the level of dedication and time consumption is something that I can only observe from afar and already feel exhausted by.

The Philippine embassy delegation, led by consuls Mary Joy Ramirez and Jan Kenneth Bolante, was composed of embassy staff and officials who took the time off a bank holiday to give support to the group. I admittedly stole my husband’s slot out of curiosity. What makes SB19 tick to the point having an army of devoted fans who refer to themselves as A’tin?

I did not need to wonder for too long as the moment SB19 took the stage, it was apparent that the five-member crew are quite the talented set. They did not fall short when it came to vocal prowess, their dance moves, and stage presence. Despite my initial skepticism, I couldn’t deny that they knew how to put on a show and it left me quite sad that I couldn’t sing along.

That is, until Stell, the group’s counter tenor belted out Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” during his solo part in the show. Looking around, it was mostly the chaperones, all above 30, who were mouthing the words. One of the younger members of the audience asked her friend if she knew the song and the other shook her head. Ouch. Was 1998 that long ago?

What struck me most was the diverse audience that had gathered for the concert. While the crowd was still mostly Filipino, there were Japanese fans to people of various nationalities in the venue. Some of the fans flew in from China, Thailand, and other neighboring countries. It was evident that SB19’s music resonated with a wide range of listeners.

A'TIN MEMBERS IN JAPAN Sisters Akina and Ayaka feel closer to their Filipino heritage through SB19's songs

Half Japanese, half Filipino sisters Akina and Ayaka who attended the concert say they found out about SB19 through their Filipino mother. “The original fan in the family,” one of them shared as they bobbed their head to the music. A Japanese fan who refused to be named was given the holiday shift that day but called in sick to attend the concert. “I really wanted to be here,” she said. “I found out about SB19 through a BL drama called Gameboys.” SB19’s “Hanggang sa Muli” was featured in Gameboys: The Movie’s soundtrack. In Japan, the biggest fans of BL or Boys’ Love series are women.

Seeing the enthusiasm of the crowd, I couldn’t help but feel proud that a Filipino group was finally getting the recognition they deserve. After all, for a country known for people who can put any other nationality to shame at karaoke, isn’t it weird that an internationally acclaimed Filipino singer or band is still quite rare?

Throughout the concert, SB19 delivered a solid performance that showcased their musical abilities and dedication to their craft. From catchy dance tracks to heartfelt ballads, each song was performed with skill and passion, keeping the audience charmed and engaged from start to finish.
Towards the end, I found myself reflecting on the universal appeal of music and its ability to bring people together. SB19’s performance challenged my preconceptions and reminded me of the importance of embracing different cultures and celebrating diversity in all its forms. Not everyone needs to be a full-on fan but SB19 as well as other P-pop groups deserve all the support for putting themselves out there and the Philippines back on the international community’s radar for good music and some killer dance moves.