fandom culture

A’TIN International: Meet the foreign fans of P-pop sensation SB19

Ysa Abad
A’TIN International: Meet the foreign fans of P-pop sensation SB19
'As long as what they want is world domination, I want to see them get it,' says American A'TIN Sam

MANILA, Philippines – Whether you’re a hardcore fan or just a casual listener, there’s no denying that SB19 has solidified themselves into true P-pop pioneers. In 2021 alone, we saw them release their second EP, headline three concerts, collaborate with other Filipino artists, venture into solo careers, and get nominated for international music awards

It’s easy to associate most of SB19’s success to their throng of dedicated Filipino fans. But, unbeknownst to many, the group also has passionate foreign fans, who, despite the cultural and language differences, are totally entranced by the five-member act. 

‘The feelings translate’

“I started discovering them while watching YouTube. I’ve always been interested and invested in all kinds of music – Latin, K-pop, etc. That’s why I was so intrigued about the fact that there’s Philippine pop. The mix of their vocals and dancing caught my attention,” Lou, a 23-year-old fan from Germany, told Rappler. 

She, and the rest of the “SLMT girls,” a group of international A’TIN mostly from the US and UK, all said that they came across SB19 through social media. 

Paige, a 23-year-old fan from the US, shared that she saw the viral tweet of SB19’s dance practice for “Go Up” in 2019 – the video that catapulted the group from virtual unknowns to internet sensations. Meli, a 30-year-old Filipino-American living in California, said she learned about SB19 because of a different Filipino artist. KT, a 25-year-old fan from Iowa, recalled that it was a Filipino friend, whom she met through a K-pop fandom, who introduced SB19 to her. 

Lydia, a 30-year-old fan from London, and Leann, a 22-year-old fan from Pennsylvania, revealed that they received several comments from Filipino fans on their YouTube channels, asking them to react to videos of SB19. 

“I was watching a lot of Filipino series and then people were asking me to start listening to SB19’s music…. I watched their YouTube FanFest performance and that was like the perfect video to watch for the first time. It was just a compilation of dancing, singing, all of their songs, visuals. I was dragged into this group easily,” Lydia said. 

Sam, a 34-year-old writer from Nevada, said she was doing research for the characterization of her Filipino-American character when she stumbled upon SB19. “I started looking for OPM and I didn’t like most of it…until I watched their “Go Up” music video,” she said. 

Admittedly, they couldn’t understand most songs after hearing them for the first time. But they all agree that despite the language barrier, there’s something about the group’s music that resonated with them. 

“When it comes to their music, it goes beyond any language. Their song, “MANA,” for example – I have never seen a good translation of the lyrics but I know it’s beautiful and I love it,” Sam said. 

Leanne recalled that she got emotional when she heard “Hanggang Sa Huli” for the first time, “Eventually, I knew its English translation, but when I first heard it, I still [had] yet to know its English meaning. But I heard something in their voices, and the orchestration itself; it made me cry.” 

Meli echoed the sentiment, “It’s a testament to their songwriting skills. It doesn’t matter what the words are, because the feelings translate. Everyone can just feel their sincerity.” 

Road to being A’TIN

You really don’t understand the meanings of their song at first. But looking up what the song means is an adventure itself,” KT said. “It’s the fun part of getting to learn more about a new group. It’s a whole fun process because aside from the language, you’ll start learning more about their culture, too.” 

While Google Translate has become their best friend, the foreign fans also appreciate how helpful Filipino A’TIN are when it comes to guiding them in the nuances of their fandom. 

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Sam recalled that getting into SB19’s stan Twitter was a whole new experience, considering that most of the conversations were done in Filipino. 

“But even when I was just less than a month into the fandom, I already had my first friend who would message me translations. As an international fan, if you don’t understand something, and you ask, there’s always somebody who will answer you, somebody who will translate for you and help you understand. Fans are really accommodating in each other’s own little ways,” she said. 

Paige agreed, saying that they’re lucky to have Filipino A’TIN who make threads of translations for the group’s live events, contextualize the members’ posts, or put English subtitles on the group’s video releases. “They’re willing to do that for international fans, and we’re grateful. But sometimes, even if we don’t know what the members are saying, we still enjoy the content no matter what.” 

Lydia pointed out that while they can’t fully understand what’s happening, especially without the translations and subtitles, it still didn’t stop them from seeing how talented and genuine the SB19 members were. 

“I started watching one episode from their Show Break series, then I just found myself already finished with 10, 20 videos. When I got off work, that’s when I realized that all I’m doing is binge-watching SB19 content. There’s just something about their personality that made me so connected to them. They feel like close friends who are really down to earth and are just having so much fun,” she said. 

Sam added, “I’ve never been a stan girl before ever. The closest I ever got was Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls when I was 12 years old.… But in SB19, I see how honest and genuine they are. It’s one thing to appreciate their music and its message. But when you start to see how much they interact with their fans and how much their fans really mean to them, it’s really powerful. It’s their devotion. I’ve never seen a group that gave that much of themselves back to their fans.” 

The same goes for Leann: “There’s so much about them that you’ll like but one thing I personally love is their personalities…. Sometimes, it’s so easy to forget that celebrities are humans. But with SB19, they’re just so genuine and down-to-earth and so kind that you can relate to them in a way…. They just never forget where they came from so it’s so hard to not like them.” 

Meli, who migrated to the US when she was 13 years old, said that she feels personally connected to SB19 due to her Filipino roots. “Being a Filipino-American who came to the US at such a young age, I kinda lost my Filipino culture for a long time. But SB19 reminded me of home. I regained fluency in my native languages (Tagalog and Bisaya) because of them. As I consumed so much of their content, it kept on bringing back memories,” she said. 

How meeting SB19 changed their lives

Fondly calling it “falling into a rabbit hole,” the foreign fans all agree that getting into SB19 wasn’t a conscious decision. At first, they didn’t realize that they’d caught up to most of the group’s vlogs, researched the meanings of their songs, or started to follow the members’ activities. But now, being an A’TIN plays a huge part in their lives. 

KT said, “Because of SB19, I want to learn the Filipino culture and the language. The more you get into them, the more you want to be able to understand them better and relate to them.” 

Leann agreed: “I find the Filipino language so pretty and so interesting. I’m starting to learn it now and try to speak it in my everyday life. It makes me really happy to learn a different culture, and language.… I’ve never wanted to visit a place more in my life. And I fully want to thank SB19 for that. Because they opened up a whole new world for me.” 

“SB19 does bring a lot of language awareness,” Meli said. “With Ken being Bisaya (the SB19 member released his first solo song in the Bisaya language), everyone wants to learn Bisaya now and everyone gets so curious about it. It makes me proud. And we’re wanting to learn it not just for him, but because we’re genuinely interested in his culture.”

Lydia added, “As foreign fans, we also try to adapt. The members speak English for us. So we want to learn for them, too. We want to communicate with them. We have to meet each other halfway because the group makes so many efforts to integrate English in their activities.” 

“I didn’t know there was something missing in my life until I found SB19 and the A’TIN fandom,” Sam said. “My world has become so much bigger. When I started listening to them, I knew nothing about Filipino culture. But now, I’ve learned so much and I made so many good friends from all over the world.”

Lou added, “I did not expect to find friends all over the globe. It’s crazy. We have to do our timezone chasing, we go out of our way to talk to each other. It’s very interesting to connect with people like this.”

Paige agreed: “There are some days we’re video chatting and we spend 10 hours talking about everything, not just SB19. I didn’t expect to find lifelong friends because of the boys. It’s just so cool.” 

While Filipino A’TIN are nice and welcoming, they also highlight that there is a different kind of joy in finding fellow foreign fans of a local group. 

“When you enter the fandom, you think you’re the only one who’s not from the Philippines,” Sam said. “But finding people who are like you that also came from other parts of the world, it’s refreshing.” 

KT continued, “The Filipino fans are welcoming and nice in many aspects… But we have to admit that it’s hard to relate in some ways. We feel like outsiders in a lot of ways. So I’m glad that we were able to find each other who all feel the same.” 

“Being in a fandom is all about sharing your experiences and supporting the artist,” Meli shared. “From the very beginning, SB19 brought us together. And after that, we kinda went off our way to actually get to know each other. It just happens that we get along so well, which is great, makes things so much better.” 

She continued, “We do have different fan experiences, as compared to Filipino A’TIN. There’s this different culture that we have to navigate, not just in the music. But being able to relate those struggles with someone who understands makes the whole experience so much better.” 

“We were connected by that sense of longing to see the boys live and longing to meet each other.… Everything feels so virtual to us, given the distance. But even though we’re still virtual, we still found that human connection with each other.” 

Growing with SB19

“I think many people are surprised to find out that international fans like us, also care just as passionately about SB19. We’re here because we love the boys and we support them,” Sam said. 

Aside from the language barrier, international fans have also had to battle with time differences. Despite these, they try their best to be active when it comes to supporting the boys. They stream the music videos, they vote for the boys on different sites and awarding bodies, they prepare events to celebrate the members’ birthdays and activities. They do these despite the distance, with the hopes that other people will be curious about SB19, too. 

Lou, for instance, prepared a billboard for Pablo’s birthday in Berlin. She said that she was surprised when several fans reached out to her on Twitter, asking about its exact location. Only then did she find out that there were a lot of European A’TIN, too. They just happened to not be as active on social media.  

KT said, “I don’t think SB19 realizes how much Americans have learned about them. Especially after they got nominated in the Billboard Music Awards, so many people are looking them up. I know that their concerts here are gonna be sold out. And then they’re gonna go out on that stage, still surprised. They have no idea how big they’re growing here in America.” 

“It makes me teary every time I think about SB19 having a world tour,” Leann said. “It makes me so happy and I can’t stop smiling. Whenever I pass a big stadium here in the US, my first thought is always, ‘SB19 could perform [on] these stages one of these days.” 

She continued, “I really want the fanbase to just grow more internationally.Not just because SB19 deserves it, but people don’t know what they’re missing out on if they don’t get to know SB19.” 

Sam shared, “I want them to be happy. As long as what they want is world domination, I want to see them get it. If that means a world tour or playing on the [radio stations] here in the US, I will do whatever I can to help them get it, because I strongly believe in their dream of bringing Filipino music to the world stage.” 

Lydia agreed, emphasizing that SB19’s talents deserve a bigger spotlight. “They’re at this level where they can be international superstars. At this point, we’re just waiting for it to happen.”  

To be given a front-row seat to SB19’s growth is, they say, the best experience. “They’re popular in the Philippines but they’re only getting started internationally. And that’s the most satisfying thing to watch,” Lou said. 

“Because we’re here early on for the international part, we’re seeing them come together internationally. Even during their BBMAs nominations, some of us were crying. We feel so proud of them and we’re not Filipino. I can’t even imagine what it felt like for the Filipino fans. It’s just so exciting to join them in this journey of making their dream of worldwide domination happen,” she added. 

SLMT girls watching SB19’s ‘Our Zone’ concert together.

They also pointed out that SB19’s exposure could lead to more international recognition for other Filipino acts. 

“They could open so many doors for other Filipino artists,” Lydia said. “I wouldn’t have learned [about] so many amazing Filipino artists if I didn’t stumble upon SB19. And they could help Philippines’ tourism a lot. All of us, foreign fans, want to travel to the Philippines so badly to see them.” 

Meli said, “They’ll be one of the country’s biggest ambassadors. Just like [what] K-pop groups did to South Korean culture, the same can happen with SB19. The more they’re recognized worldwide, they can be flag bearers of Filipino culture.” 

Paige also pointed out that SB19 was able to get these accolades in just a span of three years – almost two years of which was during a global pandemic. She said, if the group could achieve so much despite the limitations brought about by the health crisis, then SB19’s future definitely looks promising. “Once the pandemic is over, they’re gonna become this huge act. I’m just really waiting for them to blow up,” she said. 

Lou agreed, “We do believe that the scale they can reach is the highest. They have everything – the talent, the dedication, the looks. They represent an entire culture. We really want world domination for them, as long as they’re happy and they can still be themselves.” 

Meli said that their trust in the group’s capabilities was built upon months and years of seeing them hone their skills and pursue their craft. “They can reach the highest peak they want. We believe in that so much. As long as they’re happy, we’re also happy. They inspired us so much and supporting them is the least we can do for them.” – 

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