Records smashed and milestones made aside, we turn our attention to the robust and rousing rendition of What?, the track that stands to be the most empowering, definitive, and personal one of SB19 to date.
Just as the diffused light of the Sunday morning filtered through the glass panels of the abandoned industrial real estate we found ourselves in, the boys of SB19 filed through the eerie enclave, disturbing the languid free-fall of dust that was about to settle into the calm of the cold concrete floor. Unsuspecting and unassuming, they appeared to be fragments of what they become onstage: aggressive, balls to the wall, and exuberant. Puncturing through the stillness with pleasantries, conversations, and dregs of the high-octane performance the night before, they settle into the space at a careful distance from each other.
As the energy of the day started to pick up, with the heat index rising to a concerning mark, they just went on about their own thing: Ken doodling fashion illustrations, Pablo exchanging instructions at a frantic pace over the phone, Josh trying on chain-like accessories, Justin playing an intense game on his phone, and Stell giving Brendon Urie a run for his money with his scene-shattering version of Into The Unknown from Frozen 2 that pierced through the general quiet that draped over everyone.
For the rest of us, the assertive vocal flex was something out of the ordinary, but for the rest of SB19, it was just Stell being himself. Every now and then, the other boys would break into fractions of songs, too. One moment it is a few lines from Alab as triggered by the flames that were part of their shoot, and after a quick change, it shifted to a classic 80s hit befitting of the weekend drawl.
Obviously, their love for music runs deep, manifesting in many ways from an aching ballad to an infectious uptempo beat that soundtracked a day of sweat, grime, and heat. “Music is a big part of our lives. And to be able to work and live through our passion as musicians and performers is a dream come true for us,” says SB19. “We are glad that we get to express ourselves and share our art and ultimately inspire others to create as well.”
SB19 SAYS WHAT?
The encompassing latitude of their artistic pursuits couldn’t have been more realized in their comeback single, What? A riveting production of musical complexities and hearts worn on their sleeves, the song that heralded a new era for the quintet is more than just the anthem of Filipino pride that it has become. “Dito sa kantang ito, it’s about raising your flag and being proud and loving yourself. Kumbaga ‘pag hindi mo kasi minahal ‘yung gawa mo, hindi lalabas ‘yung tunay na potensyal or ‘yung natatagong galing mo,” explains Pablo in their The Making Film series on YouTube. “Lagi ko din ‘tong sinasabi sa members: I want them to be proud of themselves. I want them to step up and be proud of what they do, kasi if hindi mo mahal ‘yung ginagawa mo or sarili mo, hindi mapo-project ‘yung best you.”
Deceptive in its thunderous percussions, heart pounding beats, and booming bass, What? is at its most essential, an honest telling of SB19 beyond the posture of confidence. “Though ironic kasi ako, mahilig kong i-down ‘yung sarili ko. Parang lagi akong may self-hate, parang ganun. Feeling ko ‘di pa enough ‘yung ginagawa ko, pero gusto ko sana sa ibang tao, ma-push sila, maging proud sila, para naman malabas nila potential nila,” expresses Pablo, explaining how the song is not only personal to him, but also indicative of the struggles of Josh, Justin, Ken, and Stell, too. “Nung sinulat ko kasi to, I was thinking more of people in general. Siguro I was also talking about SB19 as a group kung ano ‘yung music namin or kung ano kami. Kasi in the previous releases namin, ‘yung mga nag-compose is Korean. So, ang kinontribute lang namin is lyrics and minor changes sa mga melodies. This time, solely SB19 ‘yung nag-contribute sa pag gawa nung kanta. And I believe, kumbaga naipasa naming ‘yung soul namin dito as a person, not just a Filipino.”
Agreeing with Pablo, Josh says, “Itong kanta na ‘to, ito na siguro ‘yung magre-represent kung sino kami talaga. Dito na namin ipapakilala kung sino kami.” While some might find it odd that a new voice in the landscape of music is already concerning themselves with a reinvention in an early comeback, but for SB19, this is where they redefine their sound according to them. “’Yung kanta ‘di ba, about siya sa kung sino ka man, maging proud ka sarili mo, may sarili kang bandera. And this time, ito ‘yung kanta na magpapakita nung individuality and pagiging grupo namin,” guarantees Justin.
“Bumalik ako dun sa pinanggalingan, sa roots namin. ‘Yung mga kanta talaga, connected…parang pino-point out talaga nila na may pinanggalingan kami, eto kami,” says Pablo, recalling not only how the track came to be, but how this would become their decided and definitive identity as SB19. “Dun na nagsimula ‘yung what, ano ba ‘yung pinagmulan natin?”
ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
A tapestry of many colors woven and stitched with the truths of Josh, Justin, Ken, Stell, and Pablo, What? is more than just a song that gets you going. Whether it be mouthing the delicious consonants or bars of poetry pieced together with the flow and easy of a sweet melody, the robust release cracks and reveals all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into its production.
From the vivid imagination of Justin who had to navigate the realities of creating a music video, Ken fighting bouts of fatigue to get the job done, Josh steering his focus on what he feels to practice and work on even outside the band, Pablo keeping anxiety at bay as the brains behind the single, and finally, and most gutting of it all, Stell feeling like he isn’t good enough for the rest of SB19. Allowing the tears and emotion to fall as they may, he then realizes the true meaning of the song, What? “Yun nga ‘yung tootong meaning ng song. Parang kahit hindi ikaw ‘yung pinaka magaling, basta magtiwala ka lang sa skills mo, kaya mong gawin, parang makakapagbigay ka,” he says, visibly overwhelmed and pushing back the tears. “Kasi sobrang nawalan talaga ako ng gana sa sarili ko dati. Ta’s sila lang ‘yung nag push sa akin na gawin ko pa kung kaya.”
In what would become a crucial time for SB19, this turning point in the timeline of What opened the eyes and hearts of the boys to each others own battles. Here, the band was essentially was brought even closer and built to be stronger than before. “Meron talagang magda-doubt ka talaga sa sarili mo pero kasi, ‘pag ‘di ka naniniwala na hindi ka magiging great or hindi ka magaling, hindi ka talaga magiging magaling ‘di ba? Hindi ka mamo-motivate sa gagawin mo kung iisipin mo na hanggang doon ka lang,” ascertains Pablo. Jumping off what the thoughts of their wise leader, Justin then jumps in, “Hindi mo kailangan isipin yung ibang tao, kung ano ang tingin nila sa’yo. Although nakakatulong ‘yun, hindi mo kailangan magpa-apekto ng malaki.”
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
Just like how a flag carries both the burden and the pride of the collective it bears, What? by SB19 operates precisely as that, seaming everything from the struggles and triumph of Josh, Justin, Ken, Stell, and Pablo, as well as of the responsibility of bringing P-pop to the consciousness of a greater audience in the Philippines and to the rest of the world. “We are elated that P-pop is gaining traction and is being accepted by the public. It is one of our goals to promote P-pop and Filipino music. We are happy that we get to have a platform to inspire and hopefully help further grow our local music scene,” shares SB19. “It is our goal to introduce and promote Filipino music across the world. We want to share to others how we, as Filipinos, are capable of offering an international standard to the world. We have so much to share that we feel like others are still missing out on.”
All things considered, it’s like we’re meeting a completely different band in SB19 today. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, that makes everything more exciting. In this reintroduction of sorts, we meet a more confident and mature SB19, raring and ready to show off all that they have worked on and worked hard for. With a renewed sense of passion and purpose, the true emergence of SB19 is coming together stronger and bolder than ever imagined. In the grand scheme of things, as they go on ahead and write this chapter of their story, they are not just raising their voices loud enough for the rest of the world to hear them in our language, but for each of them to believe in themselves, too.
Creative direction and styling ANGELO RAMIREZ DE CARTAGENA
Photography TOFF TIOZON assisted by KERVS ASTRONOMO
Grooming ANTON PATDU (Pablo, Stell) and JIA ACHACRUZ (Josh, Justin, Ken)
Hair RED ECHAVIA and JERICHO VALENZUELA for CULTURE SALON MNL
Shoot coordination LOUIS ESGUERRA and MJ ALMERO
Sittings editor ELYSE ILAGAN
Videography KIERAN PUNAY
Shot on location at BROOKLYN WAREHOUSE STUDIOS
Special thanks to SHOWBT