MANILA, Philippines – In the 1980s, then-high school student Vilma Sanez was an avid fan of the rock band Duran Duran. In the 1990s, then-college student Karen Santos-Herrera was interested in boy bands Backstreet Boys, Westlife, N*Sync, and Boyzone.
Over the years, they earned their degrees, established careers, and started their families – all while thinking there was no other group that would capture their attention the same way, believing that they’d reached their peak fangirl days when they were teens.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, when both found themselves getting into P-pop powerhouse SB19 – at 50 and 42 years old, respectively.
But Karen and Vilma are just two of the many A’TIN who pride themselves in being a tita, nanay, or a lola (an aunt, mom, or a grandma) fan of SB19.
The start of their A’TIN journey
“I also love U2 and Tears for Fears, but I’ve never been as passionate a fan as I am now with SB19,” Cel, a 51-year-old engineer, told Rappler.
Cel is a member of Gen X A’TIN, an SB19 fanbase for fans born between 1965 and 1980. Aside from Gen X A’TIN, several fan bases for older A’TIN also exist – such as A’Tin Mapa, A’Tin Young Hearts Club, and A’Tin Titos and Titas Worldwide.
Though each fan has specific stories about how they discovered SB19, many of them agree that the group came into their life when they “needed them the most.”
Bessie Gison, a 63-year-old retired accountant, shared that she discovered SB19 a year after she had a radical mastectomy for breast cancer. At that time, she had just completed her eight-cycle chemotherapy.
“I was so down, physically and psychologically. Knowing the [SB19] boys and discovering all these activities related to them really distracted me from my situation. They really made me happy and made me forget my problems,” she recalled.
For Vilma, a Filipino nurse in New Jersey, USA, she wanted to introduce Filipino music to her children who are into K-pop, only to end up getting into SB19 herself. “It’s like falling into quicksand, but you are happily trapped. Those boys are truly captivating,” she said.
“Falling into quicksand” – that’s the vibe behind how many of them began their A’TIN journey. Coming across a viral dance practice clip or coming across an SB19 song by chance ended up with them streaming the group’s whole discography and binge-watching their reality show episodes and interviews.
“In the beginning, I was curious about what the group could offer, so I continuously followed them for about three days – reading information, watching their vlogs, and listening to their songs,” Fen, a 47-year-old overseas Filipino worker, said. “In a short span of time, it [dawned on] me that I have already liked them as a group. Their individual personality, their songs, their love for their craft, their playfulness, and their vision for Filipino music makes me admire them more.”
“SB19 are not only good singers, exceptional in fact, but more importantly, they seem to be good people that are trying their best in their craft,” Sarah Balinas, a 48-year-old physician said. “They know their responsibility as an inspiration to the youth, and that makes them stand out.”
“There’s no question about their talents, but what made me really love them are their personalities,” Vilma said. “They are all effortlessly funny and unapologetically genuine. Watching their interviews and vlogs where they tell stories of their struggles pushed me even further into that SB19 rabbit hole. Each member is special in his own way.”
Being a fan transcends age
Most of them were admittedly astounded by how they’d found comfort in SB19’s music, given their age. Thus, some of them understood why relatives and friends could be a bit puzzled about their fangirling.
Some of them also opened up about having been shamed and judged for stanning (being an overzealous fan of) SB19 at their age. “May mga instances na nakakarinig ako ng negative,” Carol, a 46-year-old recruitment officer, said. “Kesho kung kailan daw ako tumanda tsaka pa ako natuto mag-ganito. At my age, parang hindi na daw bagay mag-fangirl.”
(There have been instances when I’ve heard negative things about me. They wonder, why choose to fangirl right when I’d gotten older? They said doing so at my age didn’t suit me.)
“Hindi natin matatanggal ang mga skeptics (We won’t be able to get rid of the skeptics.) I was in their shoes before,” Sarah said. “Pero meron talaga akong nakasagutan na katrabaho ko na sinabihan ko na ‘Please don’t bash them in front of me, nasasaktan ako. Medyo matindi ang discussion namin that SB19 is a P-pop group.”
(There was an incident where I got into a heated discussion with my workmate and asked them to not bash the group in front of me because I was getting hurt. We were arguing about SB19 being a P-pop group.)
Thankfully, though, such sour incidents are rare, and most of their friends and relatives are supportive of their growing fascination with SB19. All of these tita, nanay, and lola A’TIN agree that they’re at that point in their lives where they don’t let other people’s opinions affect them anymore. They’d fallen in love with SB19’s music, and there was no shame in being loud about it.
“My kids find it cute that I’m a fangirl at my age. And as for my husband, as long as I don’t neglect my responsibilities, and don’t make my kilig too obvious when we’re together, he’s good,” Vilma said, adding that she was even able to convince one of her brothers to go to the WYAT homecoming concert with her.
For Sarah, age was never an issue in being a fan. In fact, her 72-year-old mom is also an A’TIN, just like her and her sister. “We support SB19 in any way that we can, but we also know our limits,” she said.
“[My family] knows that fangirling on SB19 makes me happy,” Cel said. “They’re very supportive, including my husband. Of course, I still have some limitations for myself. I will make sure that my fangirling does not affect my work, and more importantly, my wifey and mommy duties. So long as you are able to find a balance between fangirling with work and family, it’s not bad at all.”
Fen quipped that her son is not against her fangirling because she’d at least be focused on something else instead of doting on him. “If I’m doing an SB19-related activity, that means I will leave him be, and his world will be quiet,” she said.
Vilma added that SB19 reminded her of her Filipino roots, especially now that she’s been based in America for almost three decades. “SB19 helped me find and revitalize the Filipino in me, once again taking pride in my culture and heritage. And I will ensure that my kids will grow up to be proud Filipinos, too.”
Showing their support for SB19
Love, a 46-year-old businesswoman, shared that it was her “first time fangirling” through SB19. The same went for Fen: “I do admire some artists but not the way I do with SB19, in which my support to them is all throughout.” Both acknowledged that getting into the fandom intricacies was a refreshing learning process.
Vilma, who had experience being a big fan in her teens, noted that the fandom landscape has also changed. “Admiring a group back then was so simple. You just plaster a few posters on the wall, sing along to their songs, and watch their music videos,” she said. “Nowadays, stanning a group is like having a full-time career. And middle-aged fangirling has a lot of challenges.”
Newbie fangirl or not, navigating social media was something they found challenging, especially that it was perpetuated with lingo and jargon they didn’t understand. “I fell out of place being an older person in a fandom of mostly young people,” Vilma said.
Luckily though, their fellow fans were patient enough to guide them.
Many of them admitted that before getting into SB19, they only had Facebook accounts. But now, they’ve made separate Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram accounts for their fangirl activities.
“I joined streaming parties and voting parties even without any call from fanbases,” Bessie shared. “I stream continuously. I make my own playlist on YouTube and Spotify. I downloaded apps that I didn’t even know existed so that I can vote and stream.”
Vilma jested that her phone is on “24/7 SB19 duty.” “Be it streaming songs, hyping tweets, participating in voting,” she said.
But their support is not only limited to the digital platforms.
Karen shared that aside from buying the group’s official merchandise, she also purchases the products that SB19 endorses. Love said that she wasn’t really a concert-goer before, but she has now attended almost all SB19 concerts around Metro Manila. Sarah added that she’s gone to some of these shows with her 72-year-old mom.
Karen recalled that there was even a time where she lined up at 3:30 in the morning with her husband and senior citizen aunt to secure tickets. Cel said that her “craziest” experience was buying a new phone just to get a VIP pass for an event where SB19 were guest performers and brand ambassadors. “That’s the closest I got to see the boys,” she said.
“Never did I imagine that I would fly to Dubai just to watch them live. The cost and time I spent was totally worth it,” Fen said. “It is an amazing experience.”
Vilma shared that she even drove two hours to welcome SB19 at the airport when they landed in New York for their WYAT tour: “I could probably speak for all A’TIN that even though all these tasks seem tedious, we happily do it, to somehow, in our own little way, help the boys achieve their dreams.”
Having a safe space for fangirling
While they’re thankful to have understanding friends and family members, they say it was still a different story meeting fellow older A’TIN. Albeit strangers, they were able to form a kindred community that aimed to provide a safe space for their fan activities.
“Here’s a group of people from the same generation, even though from different walks of life, that have a common interest – SB19,” Vilma said of their fanbase Generation X A’TIN. “Here, I asked silly questions without being judged; we have different opinions which we maturely discuss; we reminisce about experiences when we were young; and we tease each other about the glories of being old and older.”
Each fan base varies on their age qualifications, but they all have a small team of moderators who screen applicants and keep the group organized. What’s of utter importance to them is that fan base members should not be judgmental so as to ensure an enjoyable fan experience for everyone.
By day, most members hold jobs as doctors, lawyers, government employees, and company executives, among others. They often choose to unwind from work by listening to SB19 songs, binge-watching SHOW BREAK or the members’ vlogs, sharing memes, unboxing their merchandise, and starting discussions about the theories on the group’s releases.
“It’s a big support system,” Sarah, one of the founders of A’TIN Young Hearts Club, said. “Masarap kausap at ka-bonding ang tao na pareho kayo ng mindset (It’s nice to talk and bond with people who share the same mindset as yours.) It makes you feel young, inspired, and energized. I came to know good people and made friends.”
Cel said that apart from making new friends, being able to express themselves openly was really a big help: “[We] get to freely do whatever we want without prejudice because we have the same interests.”
Karen shared that most of the fellow fans she met through A’TIN Titos and Titas Worldwide group have become lifelong friends. “Nagkakaroon kasi ng sense of belongingness (There developed a sense of belongingness),” she said. “Nagtutulungan at nagdadamayan na kami mapa-fangirl problems man yan o personal problems (We help each other out, may it be with problems as fan or with problems in our personal lives.)”
“It’s my second home and a comfort zone, as well,” Carol said.
These fan bases also initiate their own passion projects as a means to show support for the group and help put a spotlight on the growing P-pop scene.
The GEN X A’TIN fan base, for example, held the “Sandalan ng Bata Para sa Kinabukasan” initiative, wherein they donated student’s desks to a public school in Las Piñas City. They also created a radio channel in streaming app Stationhead to help boost streaming of SB19’s songs, wherein the DJs are older A’TIN.
In the A’TIN Mapa fan base, they often have charity activities during the members’ birthdays, such as feeding programs for kids and visiting homes for the aged. “We do this kind of thing to help, and at the same introduce and promote our MAHALIMA to casual non-fans,” Carol said.
“It feels great to have new friends and do good deeds at the same time,” Cel said. “These are the things that you can’t do alone nor with your friends outside of the circle. And we hope to do more in the future.”
Sarah said that they, as fans, owe it to SB19 for “being an inspiration for all ages.” “All of us want to believe in something good and SB19 brings that to the table.”
For them, it’s their way of repaying SB19 for the happiness that they’ve brought into their lives. And like devoted parents, these tita, nanay, and lola A’TIN are elated to see the group’s steady growth.
“As a fan, what I would really want to happen to their career as a group, is for them to really achieve their dream of world domination. It would be the proudest moment for every A’TIN to be part of that, and I was able to contribute in my own little way in achieving that goal,” Bessie said.
Vilma echoed the sentiment: “I do hope that a lot more people would discover SB19 so that they, too, may know the joy our MAHALIMA brings.” – Rappler.com
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