SB19: Champions of Philippine Music & Lore

SB19 (From left to right: Stell, Josh, Pablo, Ken, Justin)

Back in my teens, I was mostly updated with music. Music channels like MTV and Myx, which were available on free TV, and radio stations like NU 107 made it possible. But as I got older and priorities changed, my appetite for new music waned. I just listened to what I grew up with or whatever I came upon by chance, and what I found would set the tone for the next few years or so. I have had phases of folk, 90s hip-hop, and K-pop, but never OPM.

My relationship with OPM was not as strong as I would have liked. For instance, my pre-teen mind shunned OPM rock at its height in the 90s. Then when I developed a respect for its artistry, music began to change its course. Many new releases were either formulaic, low-quality songs or just not my type of music. So my OPM playlist was sadly stuck in the past. That is until SB19’s 2021 EP Pagsibol.

Boy Bands

A friend once asked what my guilty pleasure was. I told him I liked boy bands. Western pop groups rose in the 90s, and being a teenager then, it was unavoidable. Groups either excelled in dance, vocals, harmonies, or rap. A few were composers as well. The outstanding ones could do all.

When it came to these groups, I preferred those with great live vocals and harmonies. That was one of the reasons I was initially repulsed by K-pop, which had a reputation for lip-syncing during live performances. Thankfully, I found some authentic vocal groups.

The Philippines is especially known for singing and dancing, so it was baffling how pop groups never really got a foothold in the local music scene. Don't be mistaken though, our country has been producing pop groups ever since they became the norm in the West. We are, after all, influenced by them. Nevertheless, none of the former groups ever sent shockwaves strong enough to carve a path. This generation finally got one right.


SB19 is a Pinoy pop (P-pop) boy band formed by ShowBT Philippines, a subsidiary of a Korean entertainment company. Composed of Pablo (formerly Sejun), Josh, Stell, Ken, and Justin, the boys, who have undergone the same kind of training as K-pop idols, gained overnight fame after the dance practice video for their second single Go Up went viral in September 2019, a year after their debut.

SB19 - "Go Up" Dance Practice

I checked them out around the same time, and I remember getting excited about what it could mean for the future of OPM. They were well-rounded and felt genuine and relatable. But most importantly, not only do they have great vocals, they can do harmonies as well—live! Also, it is not every day that Mindanaoans, like me, get representation in Philippine music.

Their songs were composed and produced by Koreans. But the fact that the lyrics SB19 wrote for the music worked meant that they had the skill for writing. Still, I did not pay much attention to them for the next year, except for the times they entered the Billboard charts.

Pagsibol (Growth)

The release of What? in March 2021 signaled a new era of going back to their roots and defining their own identity. This time they were given more creative freedom. Sejun, the leader who also composed the song, rebranded himself as Pablo. The song itself is an anthem of self-empowerment laden with patriotic imagery.

SB19 'What?' Official MV

My first encounter with the music and video was one of awe — I got goosebumps just from the quality of the production — and confusion. Songs with distinct sections are rare, and there's something satisfying about how those parts find their way back to the hook. In What?'s case, the quiet gaps in the video added to the surprise. It was addicting, too, and I fully appreciated it after several repeats. I also found out later that the members were hands-on with the whole process, with others leading different aspects of the entire production. See, this is what we get when people invest in our local talents—quality. (I showed it to my brother and he immediately got the reference to Ghost Fighter. I totally missed it!)

Then our house was flooded again, I got covid and severe anxiety at the same time, so I missed out for the rest of 2021. It was only last May that I had the chance to really listen to Mapa, and here I am now.

SB19 'MAPA' | Official Lyric Video

Released in May 2021, the second single Mapa is reminiscent of classic OPM songs about family. Freddie Aguilar’s Anak particularly comes to mind because of its worldwide impact and universal message. Inspired by a lullaby sung by Pablo’s mother, Pablo’s knack for wordplay and metaphor becomes evident here (although we’ve had a glimpse of that in What?, a play on watawat, the Tagalog word for flag). In the song, Mapa stands for a map, but it is also a portmanteau of Mama and Papa, and mata (eye) and paa (foot). I was not about to cry while watching the lyric video, but I made the mistake of reading the comments! I immediately shared the song with my parents, who now know the names of the members.

After Mapa, SB19's first EP Pagsibol was released in July 2021. Pagsibol consists of six cleverly-titled tracks, three of which were previously released songs What?, Mapa, and hopeful Ikako. The other three songs were SLMT, whose video I have already seen, Bazinga, which spent weeks on the Billboard Hot Trending Songs chart, and Mana.

Dark Themes and Folklore

Mana was the last song I heard on the album. I know, it was the third track, but that’s just how it happened. Dark and mysterious, this song crept up on me when I least expected it. Days before I listened to it, I thought Mapa had the best recall, but Mana proved me wrong.

There was a K-pop song from Pentagon that I liked called Naughty Boy. Hui, leader of the group and writer of the song (sounds familiar?), was inspired by a traditional Korean folk tale about a disobedient frog who later regrets his ways. How I wished then that someone would also write a song incorporating elements of our rich oral history. Well, it finally came true!

SB19 - 'MANA' Egg Dance Challenge

Mana is short for Manananggal, a Philippine mythical creature that separates from its lower body and takes flight at night to look for prey. Who would’ve thought this beast could be a source of something so profound? The song is a metaphor for humility — staying grounded no matter how high you soar.

SB19’s penchant for folklore does not end there, and this is what really sets them apart for me. Earlier this year, Pablo released his first solo single La Luna, and the music video shows his inner struggles using werewolf symbolism. Simply put, the song is about breaking free from the chains of social expectations.

FELIP - 'Bulan' Official MV

Then just this May, Ken (as FELIP) paid homage to another Philippine myth, that of the Bakunawa and the moon deities, particularly Bulan and Haliya. Bulan, which means moon in Bisaya and other Philippine languages, is Ken’s follow-up to his debut solo track Palayo. By the way, Palayo showcased his native Bisaya language, a move that would hopefully make Visayas and Mindanao Pop more mainstream.

The production team of Bulan wrote, in a short disclaimer, that “the goal for this release is to encourage the youth to dig deep, discuss, and keep this aspect of our memory alive for generations to come.” The viewers’ response was overwhelming. The Aswang Project, in a Facebook post, said that based on its website’s analytics the “video has sparked a new and HUGE interest in Bicolano mythology!”

All in all, I love the direction SB19 is going as a group and as solo artists. Yes, they dream of bringing Filipino music and culture to the world. But it is even more meaningful that they are reintroducing forgotten tales of our past to us fellow Filipinos. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) made the right decision when they named SB19 Youth Ambassadors last year.

Before I end this already long post, I would like to go back to Pablo. As the primary composer for Pagsibol, he has almost single-handedly established the SB19 sound. His lyricism and storytelling may be one of the best, if not the best, of his generation. But while Pagsibol is more about the group’s journey, his solo work is more personal, raw, and vulnerable. He has a particular fascination with the moon because it does its job well despite only borrowing light from the sun. In his own words, “You don't always have to be great to be able to do meaningful things.”

PABLO - ???

From Pablo’s set, my current favorite is the teaser to La Luna (uploaded as ??? on his YouTube channel). Short and bare, it is a prime example of his mastery of storytelling in music. The acoustic piece's powerful vocal interpretation and clever use of distortion are enough to evoke emotions of sentimentality. It stands on its own, yet is also strangely connected to La Luna.

Another fan favorite is the unreleased track Kumunoy (Quicksand), an analogy for what one feels when everything looks hopeless. As someone prone to anxiety, this song is a strong reminder that we don't ever struggle alone.

Final Thoughts

The immensity of talent in SB19 is undeniable. They have set the standards for professionalism and character that new P-pop groups are trying to emulate. Pagsibol’s cohesiveness is proof of their growth. Seriously, it is rare for albums to contain consistently good tracks. I wouldn’t mind if SB19 makes music few and far between, as long as it is excellent every time.

This is probably the longest blog post I have ever written. I wasn't even sure about finishing it because I keep discovering new things every time I revisit their music. I'm not a natural writer so it takes a lot of effort to process and organize my thoughts. But SB19 inspired me to do this.

I have renewed interest in OPM, thanks to them. This may or may not last because, as I’ve said, I have my phases. But for now, I’m just going to enjoy their music and the rest of my favorite OPM.



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