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#FangirlGuide: SB19 is a force to be reckoned with—and their music proves there’s nowhere to go but up

By Hannah Mallorca Published Sep 18, 2022 4:02 pm

The world is ready to witness what John Paulo Nase, Josh Cullen Santos, Stellvester Ajero, Felip Jhon Suson, and Justin De Dios have to offer. Their long journey to superstardom is a thing of a distant memory, but it’s something they’ve always recalled with pride. 

The members of SB19 find an all-too-familiar companion in pain. Four years ago, they were chosen from hundreds of trainees—a difficult system that sucks the life out of aspiring stars until the lucky ones make it. They were brought together by fate but the cold reality of the spotlight hit them like a ton of bricks. 

Tilaluha was the start of their uncertain yet hopeful dreams in October 2018. The heartbreaking ballad is an ode to unrequited love, a tried-and-tested formula common to listeners. But it was met with a “lukewarm reception.” 

Every artist has to go through a struggle at some point in their career—and Pablo (formerly Sejun), Josh, Stell, Ken, and Justin eventually had their own share of doubts. At that time, P-pop was viewed as a carbon copy of K-pop. Even so, they kept themselves going with their passion for music. Even so, they’re humans, too.

“We’ve been training for almost three years. We have performed in different places, [and] different events, but we weren’t really gaining or earning money,” Pablo told MTV in November 2020. “For us, it was really, really hard to pursue our dreams because it’s really hard to live in the Philippines. You have to provide for your family, you have to provide for yourself.”

Nine months later, Go Up was meant to be their last chance. “We told each other that if this didn’t work out and if this song didn’t work out, we would be splitting up,” Pablo recalled. 

Contrary to its bright melody and hopeful lyrics (penned by Pablo), it was bittersweet that this was meant to be a form of goodbye. 

For a couple of months, it seemed that their thoughts of disbanding were coming to fruition. But after more than a thousand practice sessions and frustrating nights, two fateful posts on Sept. 2, 2019, changed their lives forever.

That was when I discovered Pablo, Josh, Stell, Ken, and Justin for the first time, too. As a longtime Hallyu fangirl, I was initially judgmental of Pinoy groups following the K-pop model to a tee—even if localizing the industry is not something new. But there’s something in SB19’s level of dedication and heart, alongside the paper taped in their practice room saying “practice will never betray you” that tugged at my heartstrings.

The viral fame was a blessing from fate after everything they’ve been through. Despite this, they forged ahead to show the best of what P-pop has to offer. And in the words of their follow-up single Alab, “now the fire in me has started, you’ll be in my zone.”

But then, the pandemic changed the world in 2020. All hope seemed lost but SB19 got to work. There’s a difference between creating to show more of themselves and creating just to release something new—and they certainly embodied the former in all its glory.

The group’s first album Get In The Zone was released in July 2020. The record is composed of nine tracks including Alab, Go Up, Tilaluha, Love Goes, Hanggang sa Huli, ‘Wag Mong Ikunot ang iyong Noo, Love Goes (EDM version), and two instrumentals. It is a powerful introduction to the group’s identity. As unforgettable as it was, the members being perfectionists knew they can do better. 

“Very play safe kami n’un. Hindi pa talaga kami all-out sa creativty na napapakita namin kasi naga-adjust pa lang kami sa mga nae-experience at nararanasan namin bilang bagong artists sa industry,” Justin revealed in a group vlog

Their growing success came at the perfect time since contemporary music, Hallyu culture, and abstract art was taking over the world. But still, they aimed to reach greater heights. Pablo, Josh, Stell, Ken, and Justin got to work—they started writing, producing, choreographing, and putting their artistic vision to the test. At that time, they were holding shows for fans, performing at different events, and releasing endless amounts of content. 

Months later, the release of Ikalawang Yugto came as a prelude to the group’s next step. And in March 2021, they dropped the explosive WHAT?—a statement of what SB19 is all about. They’re in the industry for the long haul. In the words of Josh, “Kaya ng mga Pilipino na makipagsabayan sa mga international [music acts] and maipalaganap ang culture natin.” 

SB19 has been prepared and determined to carve their path toward world domination. Groundbreaking performances, smashing records, and fashion statements aside, they’re not yet done. 

In July 2021, the group’s first EP Pagsibol was revealed to the world. The album contains six tracks namely What?, Ikako, Mapa, Bazinga, Mana, and SLMT—while each song has its own identity, SB19's brilliance stands out in every masterpiece.

Since then, things have skyrocketed for SB19. One of their most notable achievements is surpassing global superstars BTS on the Billboard Hot Trending chart in December 2021 with BazingaAnother milestone came in July 2022 after they’ve been named one of Teen Vogue’s favorite boy bands of all time. 

Yet they remained humble amid the success and widespread fame. “May door nang nagbukas. It’s a wake-up call for us to do better kasi marami nang nakatingin sa’min and we’re slowly penetrating the global scene,” Pablo said.

It seems that SB19 has made it. But for them, their work is far from done. WYAT (Where You At) is a strong message that greater things are coming—and they won’t be alone in all of it.

In the words of Stell, “Noong nagsisimula pa kami, lagi naming sinasabi namin na kung gusto nating tumunog ang P-pop at makarating sa ibang bansa, mas maganda if maraming (singers) ang magtutulungan.”

The world is now Pablo, Josh, Stell, Ken, and Justin’s oyster. We may not know what fate holds for them yet but their timeless discography, charisma, and talent prove that there’s nowhere to go but up. Their dedicated legion of A'TIN—me included—is all set to help them get to the top.

*With reports from Katelyn Alvarez