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The truth about P-Pop

By Ian Urrutia Published Jul 28, 2023 5:00 am

Ian Urrutia is the founder and Head PR strategist of NYOU, a Manila-based music consultancy startup who’s done campaigns for P-Pop artists like SB19, KAIA, 4th Impact, YARA, and Mona Gonzales. Here, Ian details P-Pop’s beginnings, what we get wrong about it, and what the future holds.

Looking back

The term P-Pop started floating around in the late 2000s as an attempt to ride the coattails of K-Pop’s growing popularity in the global music scene. Viva Records even came up with a sub-label of the same name, replicating the aesthetic appeal of K-Pop and J-Pop while infusing it with modern OPM sensibilities.

Pop Girls.

The first iteration of the genre yielded few considerable bops from artists such as Pop Girls and XLR8, but for some reason, it didn’t achieve the commercial success that was initially predicted. It certainly lacked the production polish and meticulous discipline expected of idol groups; a lot of listeners also saw them as inferior copies of Korean pop groups, and there was just not enough industry support to harness its growth and potential.

Fast forward to 2019, P-Pop’s branding became more appealing to its target audience. Filipino groups SB19 and MNL48 put high value on talent, perfectionist sheen, and visual package. SB19’s dance practice video of Go Up in particular garnered significant attention from the press and the public, mainly because it drastically raised the bar on performances.

SB19 was among the first groups to embody the virtues of pop idol culture with an artistically accomplished vision.

They were the first groups to embody the virtues of pop idol culture with an artistically accomplished vision: they write and co-produce their own stuff, they sing and dance seamlessly and harmoniously as a group, they have a compelling story to back up their talent, and they respect the form and craftsmanship of the genre. It was a cultural reset that forever changed the way people see P-Pop.

To further understand the recent boom of P-Pop, one has to look at how it’s being marketed. Social media has accelerated the popularity of P-Pop here and globally, making it easier for fans to engage with their idols. P-Pop, just like its foreign counterparts, is a fan-driven industry that relies heavily on driving conversation and engagement online.

SB19 at the Manila stop of their PAGTATAG! World Tour.

In my experience doing marketing and publicity work for P-Pop groups, it’s important to come up with captivating storylines and unique concepts as a framework to promote a specific campaign, be it an album rollout, a single release, or a concert. The promotional strategies are carefully planned and structured to build hype, strengthen visibility, and sustain the popularity of a particular product in the long run.

A lot of these campaigns are also centered on building a community for fans, who in return are working with the artists and labels in carrying out coordinated efforts to boost sales and streaming figures and keep the artist’s name at the center of social media conversations.

Looking closer
BGYO wearing Balabal-Hari.

What makes P-Pop interesting is its openness to blend the groups’ oriental pop influences with Pinoy culture. Most people are not aware that P-Pop is a game-changing genre slowly moving away from its pre-conceived global influences.

For example, we can take a look at how styling plays an integral role in image-building. The group BGYO, in one of their videos, wears a deconstructed Balabal-Hari, or a silk robe worn during the pre-colonial period. This look aims to unearth part of our heritage and share it with the rest of the world.

“In a way, P-Pop is a convergence of K-Pop and OPM influences, taking the best and worst of both worlds. It is slowly unraveling its own identity.”

There’s also Alamat, a group constantly proving that culture is not stagnant and very much open for crossover. Their styling blends modern K-Pop and hip-hop with regional Pinoy elements.

Boy group Alamat.

Beyond styling, P-Pop groups often make music that asserts their cultural identities or reflects the distinct expressions and experiences of Filipinos. SB19, for one, wrote Mapa to honor their parents who have sacrificed so much for them – a message that resonated with Filipino listeners. Artists like Alamat also have members singing and rapping in Tagalog, Ilocano, Waray-Waray, Bicolano, Kapampangan, Hiligaynon, and Bisaya as a way to minimize systemic othering and promote our local languages to the international audience.

In a way, P-Pop is a convergence of K-Pop and OPM influences, taking the best and worst of both worlds. It is slowly unraveling its own identity.

Looking onwards

Thanks to the fans, P-Pop has the power to break chart records in the Philippines and all around the world. P-Pop artists are set for bigger things like holding their own concerts in massive venues and waving the Filipino flag in global music markets. I really hope the government realizes P-Pop’s soft power potential because it has so much to offer here and abroad.