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2021 will be the year of Multilingual Pinoy Pop, and SB19 will lead the charge

By Ruanni Tupas Published Dec 31, 2020 7:56 am Updated Jan 06, 2021 10:25 pm

No one is talking, but it has to be said, 2021 is going to be the year of multilingual Pilipino Pop. 

It is difficult to pin down what Pinoy Pop music is. As ‘PPop,’ it is a fast-evolving sub-genre of catchy, relatable, and rhythmic music which takes on the emotional and grounded sensibilities of OPM (Original Pilipino Music) with a slice of visually charged Western and KPop music drops.

SB19 leads the pack of PPop groups in 2021. 

What is Multilingual Pinoy Pop?
Call it any other way and it will be just fine for as long as it refers to Filipino groups and individual artists who make eclectic, relatable and contemporary music immersed in everyday Filipino life. 

Multilingual Pinoy Pop in a straightforward sense is pop music delivered through the languages of the Philippines. Some songs use one language, but other songs shift between different languages in the Philippines.

It could also be a sub-culture of its own, similar to Stan Twitter where fandoms create new highways of translingual communication where languages are used alongside Filipino and English.

For example, SB19’s Ken Suson posts random messages in Bisaya to thousands of fans, most of whom do not understand the language. Such posts, however, generate patterns of translingual communication that defy so-called language barriers. 

SB19 is a five-member Filipino boy band trained by a Korean entertainment company

Bisaya speakers translate the posts, while non-Bisaya speakers seek help from family members or friends who speak the language. Some go for Google Translate and ask others to confirm the meanings of the translation. There are exchanges about cultural differences in the way certain local words are used, while some draw on their knowledge of other languages to get a general sense of the posts. Multilingual Pinoy Pop culture embraces the use of different languages for communication. 

Its subtle message is: we can understand each other even if we speak different languages. 

There are many reasons why 2021 will be the year of Multilingual Pinoy Pop.

Songwriters from the regions
The opening salvo comes from PhilPop, the country’s premier songwriting competition dedicated to promoting and strengthening original Filipino music. 

It has recently concluded its search for outstanding songs after what it says has been fruitful months of engagement with brilliant songwriters and interpreters from different regions of the country. 

The recurring theme that has emerged from the selection criteria, interviews and news articles is loud and clear: regional heritage with global appeal. Melvin Morallos of the North Luzon Cluster selection group says, “Personally, it's all about the totality of the package, and how it would best resonate to a diverse but broader listening public: from students to adults, regional folks to international music fans.”

The winner of the competition, chosen by a distinguished selection committee headed by National Artist Ryan Cayabyab, was the song ‘Suyo’ written and interpreted by Filipino indie pop music duo Reon, young artists from Ormoc City, Leyte, Noah Glynn Alejandre and Reanne Julia Borela. 

The bilingual song which playfully moves between pop beats and reggae, is a light-hearted, subtly contemplative but culturally nuanced chronicle of two lovers trying to win each other back after an argument. 

The bantering flows fluidly between Tagalog and Bisaya suffused with suyuan and lambingan feels. This was the first time a Bisaya song won the grand prize of the competition which began in 2012.

Aikee’s “Bestiny”, performed by Jr Crown and Kevin Yadao, and Sherwin Fugoso’s “Pahuway,” interpreted by Ferdinand Aragon, won second and third places respectively. ‘Bestiny’ deploys R & B beats to convey the frustration of unrequited love for one’s best friend. 

‘Pahuway’, another song in Bisaya, is an intriguingly restful but faintly painful ballad which speaks of feelings of contentment before one’s desires are fulfilled.

The songs from Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon are wide-ranging and diverse in terms of music influences and use of language, but collectively they carve out an evolving niche in music-making in the Philippines where everyday, youthful and inter-cultural dispositions are meshed with contemporary and popular beats, stories and interests.

SB19 goes for 'roots'
In 2021, SB19 will remain unstoppable. 

It is the only Southeast Asian act to have made it to the top ten – and at one point number two behind BTS – of Billboard Social 50, a global chart that tracks the world’s most engaged artists in social media. 

This group of five multitalented Filipino young men has dropped multiple but cryptic messages about its much-awaited comeback album in 2021.

SB19 writes their own songs drawn from their personal experiences and observations. However, since its practice video of "Go Up" went viral in September 2019, the group has struggled to define its artistic identity. 

Trained under a Korean company by doing covers of KPop songs, the group self-consciously characterizes their music as PPop even as some casual listeners frame them through the lens of KPop.

Increasingly, the group has worked toward sharpening their collective identity as a Ppop group. Their unreleased songs are stunningly raw in their capture of everyday fears, hopes and joys, including young people’s angst about life. 

The rap duet, ‘Akala’ by Sejun and Ken, written by Sejun and his brother Josue, is a riveting exposition on finding hope in the lowliest depths of one’s life, performed with gripping but melded voices at the low and high ends of the musical range.

PPop social media is peppered with split-second drops of Ken’s original songs in Bisaya that defiantly confront the dark side of stan culture—obsession with looks, cowardly and irresponsible bashing.

In a distinct departure from their past song and dance routines, they have recently worn traditional and vibrant outfits in Filipino handwoven fabrics as they performed their popular songs ‘Go Up’ and ‘Alab’ against the backdrop of iconic Manila sites including Luneta Park.

No one knows for sure what the comeback album will exactly look like. But it will be about going back to one’s “roots” as Justin once revealed in an interview. 

Sejun has also made references to raising the Philippine flag and taking pride in one’s own identity and heritage.

Given that the group has repeatedly made known their desire to conquer the world through their music, what they allude to as their ‘new music’ in 2021 would be an exciting fusion of vibrant and rich relatable music solidly grounded in cultural sensitivities that mark them as distinctly Filipino.

MTV Friday Live Show describes SB19 as ‘the Kings’ of the show, having been ‘the Most Requested Group in the history’ of the program. They have also won numerous awards including the rare triple feat Best New Artist, Best Artist and Best Song of the Year at the 2020 Wish Music Awards.

Although they have proven their worth as talented and bankable Filipino artists, SB19’s music in 2021 – whether or not one is a fan of PPop – will make its mark on the heterogenous character of Pinoy Pop. 

An upcoming multilingual Filipino idol group
This upcoming nine-member boy group under Viva Records is set to debut in 2021. It has a well-defined and coherent vision that aligns perfectly well with multilingual and multicultural Pinoy Pop.

The nine members of the group speak different Philippine languages and come from various parts of the country. 

Their multilingual cover of "Hindi Tayo Puwede" by The Juans features several Philippine languages, namely Bikolano, Bisaya, Ilokano, Kapampangan, Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray and Yakan. 

Their social media presence is filled with discourses on diversity and eclecticism, from music to food, from skin color to dance.

Even its mascot, Aki Alamid, an Asian pal civet, is a cultural statement with its use of a tabungaw hat from Luzon, Lapulapu’s salawal/bahag from Visayas, and the flower waling-waling from Mindanao.

Alamat promises a debut song that is original and sung in different Philippine languages. 

If it is true to its vision, it will have a youthful and contemporary vibe deeply rooted in the stories and traditions of the everyday Filipino today. 

Even just for its brave experimental approach to pop music-making, Alamat is an intriguing addition to 2021’s most awaited OPM debuts.

Why multilingual Pinoy music?
Pinoy music represents – or should represent -- the cultures, languages and stories of all Filipinos.

Multilingualism in the Philippines is unequal. Yet some languages are valued more than others, as some art forms, music, literature and stories expressed in other languages are devalued or mocked.

We have been taught through multiple colonizations that our own languages, traditions and cultures are inferior to that of the colonizers. Multilingual Pinoy music is – and should be – an advocacy.

We have been taught through multiple colonizations that our own languages, traditions and cultures are inferior to that of the colonizers.

Multilingual Pinoy music is – and should be – an advocacy. 

It should permeate everyday Filipino life for it to help transform linguistic and social injustices in the country.

Let the many languages of the country tell the story of who we are through music that embraces the world from the foundations of our homes, streets and dreams.