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How History Shaped SB19 into the Breakthrough Kings of P-Pop

SB19 have been dubbed the "Kings of P-Pop," but who are they, and why is everyone talking about them? Let us tell you a story. Once upon a time, there were five boys who dreamed of world domination through performing. They were students and employees and K-pop cover performers who had the same crazy dream – even when everyone said it was impossible. They each have their own stories before they came together under ShowBT Philippines.

P-Pop group, SB19 in a photo from their WYAT World Tour PressCon

The Alpha

P-Pop artist, Pablo of SB19 in a pre-debut image

Of the five members, Pablo was the first to arrive at ShowBT Philippines. No stranger to hard work, Pablo earned his bachelor's degree in English from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Working as a data analyst after graduation, he always knew something was missing. Since childhood, he'd carried his love of music with him, constantly singing and taking part in talent competitions. When the opportunity to audition for ShowBT arrived, he took that leap. While training, Pablo also joined Powerhouse Philippines, the cover group that later became Press Hit Play (PHP)(11). He's not only the leader, but the composer, songwriter, lead singer and main rapper of the group. Persevering through the difficult and seemingly impossible early years of SB19, Pablo is now the undisputed leader of SB19.

The Rapper

P-Pop artist, Josh of SB19 in a pre-debut image

The kuya (big brother) of SB19, Josh, has always been

open about both his past and life behind the camera. On his private YouTube channel, JoshCullen, he shared about his painful history in a Q&A vlog. Raised by a single mother, he never met his father. At a young age, he suffered from anxiety and trauma and was even forced to drop out of school in the 3rd grade. None of this stopped Josh, who always had the drive to succeed. He got his degree through an alternative high school program and found work as a call center agent(3). During this time, he developed a passion for performing through K-Pop cover group, Se-Eon. He found his way into the dance troupe, which was a saving grace for him. With Se-Eon, he competed internationally and developed his unique skills as a performer. When ShowBT opened auditions, he and fellow Se-Eon dancer Stell were among the auditionees. Today, he is SB19's lead rapper and unofficial spokesman. Josh's intense natural charisma and skills are an undeniable asset to the group.

The Heavenly Voice

P-Pop artist, Stell of SB19 in a pre-debut image

Stell and Josh have the longest friendship among the members of SB19, having danced together in Se-Eon, but Stell's history goes back farther than that. He was never one to shy away from his responsibilities, so while studying in high school, he also pursued his passion for dance. While studying Hotel and Restaurant Management at STI College Makati, he also struggled to balance performing as a dancer and working to pay for school. The pressure took its toll, and Stell was hospitalized with the beginnings of pulmonary edema(1,2). That was the moment he had to reevaluate his goals. He spent 6 months in Japan with his aunt, recovering and saving money before coming home to the Philippines and continuing his dancing career with Se-Eon. His hard work paid off. Se-Eon won seven international dancing competitions, including the 2014 KPOP Festival held in Incheon(12). He auditioned for ShowBT with his teammate, Josh, and SB19's Heavenly Voice was found.

The Creative Director

P-Pop artist, Justin of SB19 in a pre-debut image

The bunso (youngest) of the group, Justin, had his own unique journey to joining SB19. Often the first to admit that he didn't have the same early life struggles as his co-members, Justin used his hard work and empathy to uplift others(1,2). Like Ken, he was a student before starting training with ShowBT. Justin majored in Multimedia Arts at De La Salle College of St. Benilde and acted in several student productions. He also created several animated productions and excelled in painting and art. It's no surprise now that he had a passion for performing. It was Josh who recruited him to ShowBT after they performed together in the cover group, Zero to Hero, which was Justin's debut stage. He graduated with an honorable mention in July 2018 after balancing studying and training with SB19 for years. It was only 2 months before their debut. Today, he acts as the creative director for their music videos, concerts and many of their photoshoots. Originally billed as the group's visual, Justin is much more than just a pretty face.


P-Pop artist, Ken of SB19 in a pre-debut image

Ken proved to be the missing piece for SB19. Hailing from the far-flung province of Cagayon De Oro, Ken grew up in a very different environment than the others. He often speaks of his childhood as simple, having grown up with his grandparents. They had no cell phone service and slept on sleeping mats or banig(1,2). His family did have a love of music and playing instruments, which Ken inherited. He was a student studying Architecture at the Technological Institute of the Philippines and only discovered his natural talent for dance when he was forced to join a dance team for his grades. Not long afterward, Ken began joining K-Pop cover groups and national competitions. He met Josh, who knew him as a formidable opponent during this time. Josh could think of no one better to join them at ShowBT; after a single virtual interview and audition, Ken traveled across the country to complete SB19(4). Today, he's not only the main dancer, but has a budding solo career and clothing line, earning him the affectionate title of 'The CEO' from his fans.

And Then There Were Five...

For all their effort and hype, Go Up was nearly SB19's swan song.

ShowBT Philippines (SBT) became home for the 5 young men. SBT is the Philippine branch of the Korean entertainment company of the same name. They began auditions on August 23, 2016, for a performance group consisting of Filipino singers and dancers after observing the immense talent of many Filipinos and the uniqueness of their fluency in English and Filipino(8,9). After several rounds of auditions, the first batch of thirty ShowBT trainees emerged. The training wasn't for the faint of heart. Following the same system as Korean entertainment companies, the members were known to train 9+ hours a day for minimal wages. Over time the trainees dropped out until the SB19 we know today was born.

P-Pop Group, SB19 promotes their debut single, Tilaluha

Despite their current success, even after their debut, they still struggled. It was a full year between their debut single, 'Tilaluha' (Stop Crying), and their sophomore single, 'Go Up'. For all their effort and hype, Go Up was nearly SB19's swan song. They had decided to give it until the end of the year, and if the single hadn't gone anywhere, they would have disbanded.

Building Momentum Amidst Trials

Overnight, SB19's swan song had become their redemption song.

Everything changed when a viral tweet about their 'Go Up' Dance Practice drew attention to the Filipino boy group. In September 2019, their YouTube channel gained more than 500,000 new subscribers. 'Go Up' Official Music Video went from 50,000 to 1 million views within a week. Overnight, SB19's swan song had become their redemption song.

Nothing could stop their momentum after 'Go Up', not even a pandemic. While the world was quarantined at home, SB19 was working. They released regular content that had been filmed and held back since before the pandemic. They did live broadcasts from their homes. They posted TikTok videos and Instagram pictures. They released a single. 'Ikako' (You and I) was recorded during the total lockdown in Manila. Each member rehearsed and recorded the song from their homes on their personal recording devices. When the music video came out, it featured clips of frontliners from all over the Philippines as a gift to bring hope and comfort. Thanks to their lighthearted natures, they became a comfort to their fans and everyone who stumbled across their content.

Another project from their Get In The Zone album was released during this challenging period. 'Hanggang Sa Huli' (Until the End), a plaintive song about love and acceptance, was a complete surprise, mostly because of its music video was done in the style of an anime. Originally intending to star the members as characters in the music video, the pandemic brought the idea to a complete stop. Instead, Justin conceptualized the animated version that brought together 3 timelines, 5 individual love stories, and dozens of Easter eggs plus hidden meanings. It eventually won Justin a nomination as creative director in 2021. It also started a practice for the group to include hidden messages for A'tin to find.

What? Happened in the New Era

P-Pop group, SB19 in their comeback music video, What?

Their successes continued through the second year of the pandemic. In 2021, they released their comeback single, 'What?', which racked up an astonishing 1.7 million views in 24 hours, making it the fastest OPM video to ever reach 1 million. In the wake of the success of their comeback song, they continued with their Ikalawang Yugto (New Era) with the release of 'MAPA', which became a runaway success. With the release of their first EP, Pagsibol, and the music video for 'Bazinga', 2021 was a year of success after success for the five young Filipinos.

SB19 is poised to achieve that now-not-so-impossible dream of world domination

Since their 2018 debut, they have released one album, one EP, nine singles, five musical collaborations, and thirteen music videos. They've headlined seven live concerts, four online ones, and two hybrid concerts, and their own world tour. As relative newcomers to the music scene, their growing portfolio of work and an impressive tally of awards are matched by few other groups, P-Pop or otherwise. They've set standards and broken records, proudly owning their titles as the first Filipino group to enter a Billboard chart and the first Southeast Asian act ever nominated for a Billboard Music Award. Though they are just getting started, SB19 is poised to achieve that now-not-so-impossible dream of world domination, and P-Pop has a bright future ahead.

(Check out our research and read a bit more)


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