K-pop? Try P-pop: from SB19 to Ben&Ben, 4 Filipino artists challenging South Korea’s dominance of Asian airwaves

Alecsandra Tubiera, South China Morning Post

Posted at May 17 2021 04:29 PM

Filipinos have a notorious, and often well-earned, reputation for being good singers – even Google’s first search recommendation for “why are Filipinos …” auto-completes with “ … good at singing”. Whether at karaokes or internationally acclaimed singing competitions, Filipinos will rarely back down from a chance at the mic.

Popular Pinoy singers that have achieved recognition overseas in years past include Lea Salonga, Rachelle Ann Go, KZ Tandingan and Journey’s lead vocalist Arnel Pineda. But with a new generation of artists is on the rise, so who are the young Filipino voices bringing pride to the country through their music?


Trained under media company ShowBT Philippines, five-member boy group SB19 is one of the Philippines’ most popular acts – bringing Original Pilipino Music (OPM) to the world through the emerging subgenre of Pinoy pop, or P-pop.

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Members Josh, Pablo, Stell, Ken and Justin got their big break in 2019 with their second single Go Up after gaining attention for their dance practice video. Since then, SB19 became the first Filipino act to appear on the Billboard Next Big Sound Chart and the Billboard Social 50 Chart, reaching No 6 on the latter by the end of 2020.

SB19’s Ken is also the first P-pop idol to have a birthday ad at one of South Korea’s subway stops. Recently, the group was nominated for the Billboard Music Awards’ Top Social Artist along with BTS, Blackpink, Ariana Grande and Seventeen – marking several firsts for the Philippines: the first nomination for a Filipino artist, the first Filipino group to be nominated, and the first Southeast Asian act to make it to the BBMA list.

Their new single Mapa just dropped on May 15, and hopes are high it can match, or even exceed, the success of March release What? which has clocked 10 million YouTube views and counting.


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The folk-pop band has been making its name globally through their soulful songwriting. Ben&Ben, formerly a duo called The Benjamins, expanded into a nine-member band in 2017, and consists of twins Paulo and Miguel (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Poch (lead guitar, backing vocals), Jam (drums), Agnes (bass), Patricia (keyboards), Andrew (percussion, backing vocals), Toni (percussion, backing vocals) and Keifer (violin, vocals).

Their music not only resonated in the Philippines, but also internationally, and they ranked as the most streamed Philippine artists on Spotify for 2020.

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The group has been getting so much traction in South Korea that they trended on Melon, the country’s largest music streaming service. Ben&Ben also went as guests to the Philippine leg of the Simply K-pop: Con-Tour, where The Boyz’ Kevin and Jacob danced to the band’s cover of their song Reveal.

Iñigo Pascual

Taking after his actor/singer dad Piolo Pascual, Iñigo started out as an actor, starring in several television dramas and teen flicks. His first single Dahil Sa’yo in 2016 opened doors for him in the music industry, topping the now-defunct Billboard Philippines Top 20 chart.

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Its lyric and music videos reached over 102 million and 14 million views, respectively. Sandara Park also posted a cover of the song on her YouTube channel with Ikon’s Jay, as a Christmas gift for her fans in 2020.

Pascual has since released internationally-produced songs, with his first single, Options, in 2019, produced by LA-based instrumentalist Bernard “Harv” Harvey. He also performed at the LA Clippers’ Filipino Heritage halftime show at the Staples Center.

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He was featured in American music collective 88rising’s online music festival Asia Rising Forever, where he sang a cover of Post Malone’s Better Now. Fans worldwide also got to see the singer at Simply K-pop: Con-Tour, where he talked about his activities during the pandemic and sang Big Bang’s iconic If You.

Ylona Garcia

Filipino-Australian Ylona made her first appearance on the Philippine version of Big Brother (known simply as PBB) at age 13, finishing as first runner-up. This was where she showcased her talent and love for singing. After PBB, she went on to have several acting jobs, mostly performing on musical television show ASAP.

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She has collaborated with several artists such as AJ Rafael, Jessica Sanchez and R&B artist Jay R, who featured on her single Walk In My Timbs and praised her songwriting skills for someone of such a young age.

In 2020, she returned to Australia where she revealed to fans that she was working at a fast-food restaurant in Sydney, with continuing her music career. Ylona performed at 88rising’s Double Happiness Winter Festival in the same year, performing her single Spilt Milk and a cover of Winter Things by Ariana Grande.

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Recently, 88rising announced Ylona as their new artist under Paradise Rising, a collaborative label with Globe Telecom dedicated to launching and promoting Filipino artists on the international music scene. The music video for her latest single All That has already garnered over two million views since its release in March.


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