COVER STORY

Tracing the origins of P-pop

From The SexBomb Girls, to Sarah Geronimo, to SB19, we dive deep into the origins of OPM's newest movement.

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In 2003, a catchy novelty track called “The Spageti Song” sparked a nationwide dance craze ages before TikTok challenges made it trendy to do so. The song, produced by Lito Camo and sung by a girl group known as The SexBomb Girls, contained lyrics that doubled as instructional choreography. The lyrics “Spageti pababa, pababa nang pababa/ Spageti pataas, pataas nang pataas” triggered many a dance showdown at birthday parties and other social gatherings.

At the time, SexBomb had already risen to fame as backup dancers on the noontime show “Eat Bulaga,” where they performed in the popular segments “Meron o Wala” and “Laban o Bawi.” “Spageti” was their second novelty hit, following the almost equally popular “Bakit Papa,” a single off of their 2002 debut album “Unang Putok.”

Originally assembled in 1999 as a dance group of back-up dancers for “Eat Bulaga,” their manager Joy Cancio thought of the project more as a way to help “the less fortunate have a life,” and support their families using their talents.

The group’s rise to fame was not planned. “Nagkataon na they were hired to promote a song and it became phenomenal, yung Tom Jones na "Sexbomb,” and nagkataon din yung dance resonated with the masses,” said Cancio’s son John in a video call interview.

Pushing dancers to the next level of fame was also a goal, though it was one they didn’t think they could achieve right away. Many of the original SexBomb members entered Cancio’s agency because of their passion to perform, but at the end of the day, the gig was just a job; a way for them to put food on the table.

READ: A history of The SexBomb Girls, according to their founder and former manager

Though initially dismissed by the larger Philippine music industry because of their place as a novelty (a.k.a. gimmick-led) group, SexBomb’s success is notable in many ways — chief of which are the career heights that the artists of today can only dream of. These include becoming multi-platinum recording artists (“Unang Putok” got a PARI platinum certification only a month after its release, meaning that it sold at least 40,000 units), top-billing on a record-breaking TV show with a seven-year run on a major network (GMA’s “Daisy Siete” had an average of 22% TV rating according to AGB Nielsen at the height of its popularity), multiple film cameos, and sold-out concerts.

And of course, who can deny the greatest achievement a performing artist could ask for: a permanent place in the Filipino cultural psyche. Ask anyone from here what “The Spageti Song” sounds like and you’re likely to get an immediate response, complete with the moves to boot.

The PH entertainment training system

A meme post that circulated on social media last year said that SexBomb’s sales records within Asia were only broken when K-pop girl groups 2NE1 and Girls Generation came onto the scene, and while the claim has yet to be proven by an official entity (Cancio and former Sony BMG boss Narciso Chan confirm the PARI achievements, but cannot remember the official sales counts — former Focus Entertainment boss Butch Pura says it is because they “were not that particular with those things during those times”), it isn’t a stretch to say that they may as well be considered as one of the highest selling female groups in the Philippines, considering how massive the SexBomb Girls became as a pop cultural phenomenon.

The two aforementioned K-pop groups came three to seven years after the success of The SexBomb Girls, when "I Don't Care" (2NE1) and "Genie" (Girls Generation) were almost as ubiquitous here in the Philippines as "The Spageti Song." The rise in popularity of 2NE1 and Girls Generation can partially be explained by the trajectory of the K-pop industry, which was on its second wave at the time.

2NE1 and Girls Generation were a product of the Korean idol training system that transforms young talents into huge stars. In her book “Idol Trainees’ Sweat and Tears,” pop culture expert Lee Jong Im observes that K-pop superstardom often involves a significant financial investment and a harrowing pre-debut training process in which young talents are prepped for the stage. The combination of both, plus significant support from their government, is the reason that they’ve been able to achieve worldwide recognition.

“The media continue to perpetuate the narrative that a star is born by chance, and many people still believe that. But I realized the opposite is true,” said Lee in an interview with The Korea Herald about her book on the Korean training process.

Cancio didn’t know it at the time, but the dance training system that she developed for the SexBomb members was similar (albeit significantly less rigorous) to what was also going on in South Korea’s SM Entertainment with first generation K-pop groups like S.E.S. and H.O.T, who both debuted two to three years prior. “Never nag-stop ang jazz class namin kahit they had ‘Daisy Siete’ already, and lots of shows [on their schedule]. Part pa rin. [The girls had] to do warm-up, and training.”

Interestingly, if there is anything that the Filipino entertainment industry has had a grasp of without having to look to the K-pop industry, it’s that a little bit of training and tweaks to a person’s appearance can do wonders for their image. Oftentimes, budding stars were discovered through nationwide talent searches and televised competitions like “GMA Supershow,” “Starstruck,” and “Star Circle Quest” (Fun trivia: 2NE1’s Dara actually got her start from this very show, back then known as Sandara Park).

Talent scouting is something that provided the bread and butter of major television networks, through legendary talent managers such as the late German “Kuya Germs” Moreno in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Johnny Manahan in the ‘90s to early ‘00s, and Laurenti Dyogi in the 2010s. The three are usually credited for having the midas touch when it comes to finding the next big thing. Moreno, Manahan, Dyogi, and even SexBomb's Cancio have said that an eye for talent is one thing, but what's even more important is that the candidates they pick are trainable.

Speaking on The Howie Severino Podcast last September, Manahan explained his gut feeling when it comes to stars and the concept of the “X-Factor” that goes beyond physical looks and can be brought out through training.

“Initially it’s a physical thing… may classification system sa ulo. Maganda ‘yan, gwapo ‘yan,” he shared. “‘Yan muntik na maging pangit pero maganda. And then you have a feeling about these people, meron na silang magic. But you wanna validate it so you send them to the workshops, you send them to dance instructors. And then after a certain time, you say, 'How did that person do? That's when they say, 'Direk, may magic 'yan. May garbo 'yan.' So you validate it."

Finding the place of the singing/dancing group in OPM

Despite the clear presence of a training system in the Filipino entertainment industry, one major difference is that talent agencies usually applied it to forming all-around celebrities and showbiz personalities (labeled teen or matinee idols) instead of primarily music and dance-focused artists.

Looking at the history of OPM, Filipino pop musical acts who made a successful career out of writing, singing, and dancing their own original songs were few and far between. As far as the mainstream crowd was concerned: if you weren’t an actor or TV personality who could also sing and dance, you were either just a singer or a dancer.

Some groups that fell under the singer-dancer hybrid were Ryan Cayabyab’s co-ed groups Smokey Mountain (‘80s; responsible for the smash hits “Kailan” and later on, “Da Coconut Nut”) and 14K (‘90s; also where Jolina Magdangal originated from).

In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, there was also a move towards the Western concept of a pop group. On the girl group front was Fruitcake, most famous for the dance hit “Whoops Kirri” and were compared to UK R&B group Cleopatra, while the boy group JCS featuring a teenaged John Prats, Carlo Aquino, and Stefano Mori was a teen favorite meant to be a Filipino counterpart of the American band Hanson. Other ‘90s groups include the hip-hop-leaning Streetboys (of “Boom Tiyaya” fame), R&B trio Vanna Vanna (formerly FOJ), and WYRD.

RELATED: WYRD’s ‘Scream’ and a queer coming of age

While these groups were far from one-hit wonders, they didn’t enjoy the lasting success that their soloist contemporaries still enjoy up to today. Gary Valenciano, Donna Cruz, and Jolina Magdangal (and in latter years, Sarah Geronimo, Sam Concepcion, and Julie Anne San Jose) are all classified as pop artists, and yet they’ve enjoyed decades-long careers. At some point it was also common for pop-leaning soloists to try to make it big in the international scene, such as Billy Crawford, Jay R, and Jake Zyrus.

Part of this may be because while groups are seen as whole units in the eyes of the public, there’s a high possibility that individual members have different trajectories set for themselves. From the groups mentioned, most of the girls ended up living lives outside of mainstream showbiz, while the boys (like Prats, Aquino, and Streetboys’ Vhong Navarro) who were already teen idols at the time of their fame continued to pursue the artista route, with music at the backburner.

Even SexBomb wasn’t exempt from this — in Cancio’s 11 years of handling the group, she witnessed many members come and go for different reasons, with others getting married and starting families, and some even moving to rival networks.

Up until recently, no other song and dance group in the Philippines had reached (and maintained) the level of commercial success that SexBomb had in the early to mid-aughts. But there have been a few attempts to do so in the past using K-pop as a peg.

In 2008, Viva Entertainment’s head honcho Vic Del Rosario reached out to record producer Marcus Davis — then known for his skill in creating pop music with a Pinoy touch (most notable at the time were the ABS-CBN station ID “Star ng Pasko” and “Kembot”) — to help him create groups comparable to the K-pop groups popular in the Philippines at the time.

“Boss Vic reached out to me and said ‘Ok, I have this idea to start a record label. We're gonna do Tagalog stuff but with a foreign sound to it, kind of modeling after the K-pop stuff,’” says Davis to CNN Philippines Life.

The two ended up co-owning the Viva Records sub-label called Ppop, short for Pinoy pop. As creative director, Davis signed three groups: Pop Girls (of which pre-JaDine Nadine Lustre was a member), boy group XLR8, and co-ed group RPM. All three went through the regular training expected of Viva talents, with a special emphasis on their vocal and dance training.

But when they started releasing music, they were criticized for looking and sounding dangerously close to the Korean groups that they were supposedly inspired by. Copying, Davis says, was common in the local music scene at the time, but wasn’t part of his original vision for the Ppop label.

“Our goal was, ‘Hey let's really establish ourselves in the Philippines and make these young artists matter and make the music matter and make the creators behind the music matter in the hopes that that's enough for this country to rally behind itself,’” he adds.

Three years after the Ppop label was launched, Viva realized it wasn’t a profitable venture and decided to shutter it. “What we found [was] that the groups were getting more popular than the music, because the music was just copies of stuff they had already heard. So that was working but we still never really found our own sound.”

By then Davis decided to strike out on his own as a producer, but the label continued to produce pop groups with a similar formula.

The proto P-pop sound and soloist experimentation

Music writer and Nyou Philippines founder Ian Urrutia thinks that P-pop is a suitable term “to describe this recent wave of Filipino pop groups that are carving out a space in the global music market.” Urrutia has been observing the industry for more than half a decade, having also co-founded live events platforms The Rest is Noise and doing marketing for Gabi Na Naman Productions. He currently handles PR for clients like Sony Music Philippines and Philpop Foundation.

As in any music industry, the sound of popular music in the Philippines has gone through several shifts over time. Rampant piracy and declining CD sales in the mid-’00s pushed record labels to play it safe. Davis recalls how the mainstream labels’ approach to pop music in those times was resistant to experimentation, designed to minimize any financial risk.

“What the [mainstream] record labels would do is that they would go to the cheapest producer, cheapest studio possible, and make the cheapest product possible, put the biggest celebrities face on it, and have them make the rounds,” says Davis.

“The reason why [covers] did so well was because the formula was simple: let's get a big star and a popular song, and put them together and that's the safest option. It worked very well but it's glorified karaoke and it can only last so long,” he adds.

Despite the negative reception towards the dance pop-leaning groups of the time, there is no denying that the 2010s was a seminal time period for Pinoy pop.

2013 onwards were also breakthrough years for both budding artista-musicians and already established talents who wanted to experiment both visuals and genre-wise. In August 2013, Sam Concepcion, who rose to fame as a teen heartthrob after winning “Little Big Star,” released “Infinite” with an accompanying futuristic music video for the carrier single “No Limitations.” It was also this time that Sarah Geronimo, dubbed “Popstar Princess” after winning the singing contest “Star for a Night” in 2002, released her 10th studio album “Expressions” in 2013 featuring “Ikot-Ikot” and “Tayo,” which signaled a move towards a more holistic view of pop stardom.

These shifts can be attributed to producers and composers as much as they are to the performers. And in the 2010s, chief among those were the composer duo Thyro & Yumi and the producer Jumbo “Bojam” De Belen. Thyro & Yumi were responsible for kickstarting Geronimo’s new sound direction. In an interview with CNN PH Life, Lacsamana, shared that the “Perfectly Unknown” lead single “Kilometro” was a gamble for Geronimo and Viva when they first released it. According to her, the label initially wanted to stick to the power ballads that the singer was known for.

“Sugal siya. Suntok sa buwan. Pikit mata lahat talaga kami. Even the label. Alam mo 'yun? Na, ‘Ok. Let's just trust the song and Sarah's stature sa industry na sana pakinggan,’” she shares.

It was after that song’s success that Viva trusted Thyro & Yumi with more projects to add their signature style, which was R&B-pop leaning at the time. Alfaro and Lacsamana, together with De Belen, are credited for albums that are known for refreshing local mainstream pop, including James Reid’s “Reid Alert” (featuring “Randomantic”) and the “Diary ng Panget” OST (featuring “Kakaibabe” by Donnalyn Bartolome).

READ: Yumi Lacsamana on composing “Dati,” “Kilometro,” and other Pinoy pop hits of the 2010s

Riding on the success of “Perfectly Unknown”, Geronimo ventured further into dance pop territory. With “The Great Unknown” era in 2015, she amped up the performance factor with more choreography in the album single, “Tala.” The song went on to become a successful dance challenge in 2019, with success reaching the same level as “Spageti.”

Geronimo’s efforts to experiment earned her (Lacsamana says, “nagulat kami na Spotify recognized "Kilometro" as the song of the decade sa Pilipinas”), multiple PARI platinum certifications and sold out concerts, and even a Netflix concert film. They also earned her recognition globally at the MTV EMAs, being nominated for the “Best Southeast Asian Act” twice and winning once (SB19 is now nominated for the same award). She also won the Best Asian Artist Award at the 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards, a highly-awaited Korean awards show in which the biggest K-pop groups perform.

After the Ppop label’s dissolution, it should be noted that other networks and agencies began assembling their own groups as well. There was the MCA Music group 1:43, which became one of the top 10 best selling OPM albums at record stores such as Odyssey, Astroplus, and Astrovision in 2011. Viva also had the five-member group Chicser, who rose to fame from a dance video of the popular song “Teach Me How to Dougie.” 2016 also saw an influx of the group concept, thanks to televised talent competitions such as such as ABS-CBN’s “Pinoy Boyband Superstar” which produced BoybandPH, as well as TV5 and Viva’s “Born to Be a Star,” which produced the groups Nitro and UGG (U Go Girls). Meanwhile, ABS-CBN’s Star Music also followed through, with groups like Gimme 5 and the “It’s Showtime” dance-only groups Hashtags and GirlTrends were composed of Star Magic talents and PBB alums.

This move towards a group formula continued well into 2019, when Viva continued to launch girl groups such as the 45-member PPop Generation and Charmed, even partnering to manage SexBomb’s offshoot group, SB New Gen — though lackluster views and streams showed that they didn’t seem to hit the mark with the general public. All these groups experienced the same criticism that Pop Girls and XLR8 experienced during their times; facing backlash on social media for being “copycats” of K-Pop and J-Pop, as well as Western pop.

P-pop today

P-pop became the buzz word to describe this new movement when boy group SB19 was thrown into the limelight in September 2019. Previous attempts to market the movement as such, as in the case of Viva’s attempted sub-label and a 2011 article on Vera Files, never really stuck.

Like Pop Girls and XLR8 before them, Pablo, Josh, Ken, Stell, and Justin were performers hoping to translate the K-pop formula to the Filipino setting. But this time, they also adapted the discipline of the Korean training system, which led to their performances being just as refined and synchronized. It was a management decision by their company, the Korean owned and operated, but Philippine-based, ShowBT.

READ: Why SB19 is the Pinoy boy group to watch out for

And because of previous experiences with the way K-pop and other foreign-influenced groups were treated, they didn’t expect the public’s reaction to be positive at all in the beginning. “Kasi kabaliktaran po, na mas madaming mag-bash sa amin, kasi alam naman natin na dito sa Pinas, parang ayaw nila sa K-pop na dating kasi it looks very feminine sa kanila,” said Ken in a 2020 interview with CNN Life.”

He added: “Natatakot din ako kasi bago yung music namin na dinadala dito, diba? Bagong type of sound. Hindi ko alam kung paano sila maga-adjust, yung mga Pinoy. Kasi nakasanayan natin na medyo Western yung dating, heavy yung beat, medyo bouncy. Hindi ko talaga in-expect na ganun siyang tatanggapin ng mga tao.”

Other groups have since debuted after. "Naging inspirasyon talaga ang K-pop phenomenon para sa pagbuo ng mga groups, BINI at BGYO," said current Star Magic head Dyogi in a 2021 documentary about the two groups’ journey to debut. "ABS-CBN has always dreamed of creating artists for the global market.” He said that talent comes naturally for Filipino, but "kulang tayo sa disiplina."

Just this November, the two groups held a joint concert in which they performed a mix of original songs and covers. Both groups also went viral for their sharp synchronization during their Sarah Geronimo performance medley, which included “Tala” and “Kilometro" during the concert.

Girl group MNL48 is another example of a Filipino group co-managed by a foreign agency and trained using a similar Japanese training format. Formed as a Southeast Asian sister group to Japan’s AKB48 franchise in 2018, the members were chosen during a segment during the noontime show “It’s Showtime!” before SB19’s rise to fame. The group has also garnered significant support from fans here and abroad.

This widespread acceptance of groups can be attributed to the shift in dynamics of the way music is marketed these days. Urrutia also observes that social media gives fans more power than ever before.

“Twitter, TikTok and YouTube have all contributed to shaping the industry’s growth, while empowering fans to rally behind their favorites and pull some strings to change the trajectory of their idol’s trending placement, chart performance or streaming numbers. This shift in dynamics, where fans make or break a career, is what makes this industry alive and kicking,” he says via email.

Davis sees the Philippine fan culture as something that can be very advantageous to the music industry as long as artists do them justice. “To have that base of fans just in this little place, from just the Philippines… that's huge, that speaks volumes for how dedicated and how committed fans are to backing their own,” he adds.

Though obviously patterned after K-pop, J-pop, and Mandopop, Urrutia believes that the P-pop movement “has nurtured a kind of discipline that promotes remarkable consistency in all fronts — music production, choreography, aesthetic value, branding — name it.” Fans coming from stanning artists in those countries are now very aware of what kind of quality is possible, and this has taught them to expect better and in effect be more critical of the media they consume.

At the same time, Urrutia says that “P-pop has cultivated a sense of identity that subverts antiquated notions of authenticity and aims for something that is uniquely Filipino but globally ready.”

He cites SB19 — whose members were involved in the group’s song and visual production process from the very start — for reflecting “distinct sensibilities that can only be attributed to Pinoy culture.” He also looks to the Viva group Alamat as another innovation because of the way they “have integrated indigenous music elements with modern hip-hop, pop, and electronic music.”

With the latter’s debut song “kbye” written in different Philippine languages, Urrutia says that we’re a step closer to reversing “the white-washed, Oriental-leaning or Manila-centric standards imposed by the powers that be.”

"Hindi nating kailangang hubarin yung identity bilang Pinoy para makilala sa buong mundo. Kasi diba, kadalasang ginagaya natin ‘yung sa ibang bansa para sumikat? 'Yung sa amin naman po, niyakap natin ang sariling atin," said Alamat member Mo in a previous interview with CNN PH Life.

The positive response to the group also indicates a cry for more regional representation in Pinoy music.

What makes P-pop “pop”?

“P-pop for me is kung ano yung uso, nagkakaroon tayo ng expression, nagkakaroon tayo ng lingwahe,” says StarPop Executive Rox Santos. Santos is well acquainted with the shifts in the industry, having started his career as an in-house producer for ABS-CBN Star Music 15 years ago and is currently the head of its Gen Z-oriented sub-label.

When asked what factors make up a hit song, Santos points to a common thread in the records that have done well regardless of time period. “Kasi ibang iba na yung music compared to yung OPM before noong '60s and '70s. Yung OPM kasi noon more on ballads,” he says via video call from the label’s HQ. That slow, heart-wrenching style of music typically features a relatable (usually sad) narrative, making up the foundation of classic OPM. It’s a style that earned the industry its name in the 1960s and 1970s and continues to be used today.

Rather than a specific sound, he says it’s the lyrical content that carried over from classic OPM to all forms of mainstream Pinoy music, regardless of era. “Nagiging effective ang kanta kung base sa totoong experience, or kwento. Nagiging patok din siguro ang song kung ang Pinoy napapa-move sila — napapasayaw sila, naiiyak sila, nagiging masaya sila. Parang, kung napapakinggan nila, nadadala sila sa ibang dimension,” says Santos.

This, he says, is also the reason why baladeers like Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, Regine Velasquez, Lani Misaluscha, and Jaya continue to be revered as local superstars.

The shift to digital in the mid-2010s was an industry game changer, both sound and content-wise. Lacsamana observes that she and her songwriter friends have posed the question of what makes this current generation of listeners different from before. “Matatalino sila ngayon. Yung sound ngayon, second na lang 'yan. Yung concept naman mismo, 'yun yung pinariringgan nila — na, [what is] the song is about?”

Davis echoes his statement. “If you take an act like Ben&Ben, they're writing the soundtrack to some kid's high school senior year. They're writing the soundtrack to someone's first kiss, someone's first love. Here in this country — not anywhere else,” says Davis. “And that's something I've been preaching to other local artists: stop trying to do something global. Do something for your people and they will make it global. Not you. You will make it local, you have to make it so local that 107 million people see themselves in it.”

He uses a collaboration he brokered between Inigo Pascual and American-Canadian boy group PrettyMuch as a great example of how it’s possible to make Pinoy culture look cool on the world stage. “I was in LA and I was in Simon Cowell's Syco entertainment headquarters. They were showing me this boy band they had called PrettyMuch and when they found out I was from the Philippines, they were like ‘Hey, we have a question. We just noticed that whenever we release stuff, there is so much Philippine traffic. What is that about?’” recounts Davis.

The label was looking for ways to get their numbers up in Asia, so Davis showed them Pascual’s Instagram count, which had twice as many followers as their group’s. The deal went through, and the product was “Love” featuring Inigo Pascual. The video, which is now at over 1.5 million views on YouTube, shows the group and Pascual hanging out and eating Filipino food like halo-halo and lumpia.

“We have to represent [our culture] like we know it's cool. And if there are people all over the globe looking, they [might be] thinking, ‘I wanna do that,’” adds Davis.

A move towards appreciating the craft

Above all, the important factor for P-pop to truly take off is to treat music as an art and to respect the craft rather than treating it as a mere marketing tool for celebrity image.

Lacsamana, who participated in Ryan Cayabyab’s Elements Music Camp at the same time as Moira Dela Torre and Ben&Ben’s Paolo Guico, believes that the reason popular music in the Philippines was able to evolve was because of certain organizations and individuals who never stopped supporting the artists, producers, and songwriters.

“[Songwriting competitions like] PhilPop and Himig Handog — 'yun 'yung mga bagay na, kung itong mga tao behind these record labels and itong mga foundation na naniniwala sa mga singers, songwriters na bago, kahit sila bumigay sila or naniniwala sila. Hindi sila nag-produce ng kung ano mang mga camps and songwriting competitions, babagsak at babagsak lahat. Pero nandito sila eh. They believe na the industry, the music industry is not dead.

Apart from creating a distinction on groups, there’s also been an interesting shift happening genre-wise within the pop umbrella, as more soloists are experimenting with other pop sub-genres.

Notable acts include KZ Tandingan, whose work leans more towards soul and pop rock. Last year, we witnessed Nadine Lustre, who went from Pop Girls to ½ of the JaDine love team, release the pop R&B album “Wildest Dreams” (complete with individual music videos for each song, Beyonce style). Her label, the James Reid and Bret Jackson-founded Careless Music, produces artists that also deviate from the typical pop sub-genres, instead choosing to venture more into hybrids of R&B and hip-hop — sounds closer to the music created by 88Rising artists. PBB alum Ylona Garcia and Kiana Valenciano, themselves signed to 88Rising’s Philippine sub-label Paradise Records, are also coming up with their own work.

Streaming has redefined what counts as the mainstream in this day and age, and while it is a highly debated measure of success in the industry, there’s no denying that it has democratized the playing field to a certain extent. The digital shift in music has allowed for much heightened exposure for independent artists, as well as soloists and groups from smaller labels and international ones. And while there is still no aggregated music chart that can track, independent accounts like Chart Data PH and Music Artists PH have dedicated teams to compile data from Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes.

Streaming has redefined what counts as the mainstream in this day and age, and while it is a highly debated measure of success in the industry, there’s no denying that it has democratized the playing field to a certain extent.

On Spotify’s Top 50 - Philippines playlist, which is updated daily with “the most played tracks” in the country, local names like Arthur Nery, Nobita, Zack Tabudlo, and Ben&Ben currently occupy top spaces in between international acts like Adele, Blackpink’s Lisa, and Coldplay featuring BTS. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the most famous artists in the country, but it certainly indicates a shift.

“The streaming numbers in the Philippines are getting bigger each year, especially during the pandemic,” says a representative from Chart Data PH.

“During these times, lots of streaming records were broken (like Sarah Geronimo's ‘Tala’ becoming the most viewed OPM music video in YouTube history, Moira dela Torre and Ben&Ben surpassing 1 billion streams on Spotify, Arthur Nery's ‘Pagsamo’ became the first OPM song to breach 500k daily streams on Spotify). We also witnessed how some small artists struggled on streaming in their early years but now, their numbers are huge, like [with] SB19, Arthur Nery & Zack Tabudlo.”

For now, it seems that other talents who started out in the “artista” system are also beginning to find their voice and direction as musical artists. Young celebrities-turned-budding soloists like Maris Racal, and Maymay Entrata are examples of stars continuing Geronimo’s holistic view of pop stardom.

Racal, whose latest releases feature verses sung in her native Bisaya, started writing at the beginning of the pandemic, when she realized the joy of creating catchy songs while listening to new releases from artists like Lady Gaga and Itzy. “Ang dami kasing ideas, and that's the beauty of releasing pop music,” said Racal in a video call with CNN PH Life. “It's a bunch of ideas and you're putting it into one genre, one theme, one album. It always starts from one song and then nanganganak ng ibang song.”

But even though these big artists are backed by their respective agencies and labels, they are not exempted from the limitations caused by the lack of support from the industry as a whole. While the situation varies per label, Racal says that she co-produced her own music video for “Ate Sandali,” providing some of the budget and reaching out to the creatives involved in the production herself. “I think sa age ko and sa mga ka-age range ko, ang pinaka-importanteng investment is yourself kasi your older self will thank you for it,” she says.

WATCH: Maris Racal on Vispop and her pop star journey

“Budget talaga siya. Medyo struggle sa totoong buhay, pero we're getting there kasi may effort na makikita mo naman talaga,” adds Santos, who is also handling Entrata’s music projects.

For P-pop as a movement to progress and possibly reach the heights that K-pop groups have worldwide, Cancio, Lacsamana, Santos, Davis, and Racal emphasize the need to value the craft of music making and invest money for more quality output.

They also emphasize that the South Korean government’s support for their entertainment industry was one major factor that pushed the K-pop industry to the heights it has reached.

Davis gives a more pointed statement: “I think the most important thing we can do, aside from everything I've said — to help the industry evolve, we have to support the creatives,” he says. “That's one area where we fall short and we will never compete with America, K-pop, or Europe, or Spanish countries until we support the creatives directly. The stars, the celebrities can't be the only ones making a living in this system.”

***

Cover design by KITTY JARDENIL

Photos of SB19 by JL JAVIER

Photo of Sara Geronimo from VIVA RECORDS/YOUTUBE

Photo of Pop Girls from VIVA RECORDS/FACEBOOK

Photo of Alamat by NIKO FRANCISCO from ALAMAT/FACEBOOK

Photo of The SexBomb Girls courtesy of JOY CANCIO

Photo of Inigo Pascual from INIGO PASCUAL/FACEBOOK

Photo of Maris Racal courtesy of BALCONY ENTERTAINMENT

Photo of MNL48 from MNL48/TWITTER

Photos of BGYO and BINI from BGYO/FACEBOOK and BINI/FACEBOOK

Produced by GABY GLORIA