“What?” by SB19
As elaborated in the bottom section of this post, SB19, despite coming from the Philippines, is fundamentally a P-pop group. And as with other popular P-pop songs, “What?” features an encouraging message. In fact if one were to watch the music video without understanding the words being rap/sung, he or she would probably miss the point altogether.
That being said, some of the specific meanings of the lyrics have obviously been lost in the translation. However, what the situation reads like overall is one in which the vocalists have resolved to stand strong despite disappointments and setbacks they have faced.
Lyrics filled with Inspiration
For example, in the first verse, Pablo comes off as if he has decided to take a step back from a particular goal he’s been pursuing. But that doesn’t mean that he’s quitting. Rather what appears to be going down is that he has suffered his fair share of demoralizing criticisms in pursuit of his profession. And whereas he knows he currently isn’t the best at it, he’s going to endeavor to get better, as he considers such to be his destiny.
This overall idea is sort of buttressed in the pre-chorus, where Justin and Stell mention the “many tragedies” they face in the past. However, they did not allow such to “budge” them. And now after staying persistent, they have “finally” arrived at their intended destination. And in their particular case (as well as Pablo’s and SB19 in general) we can probably interpret said destination as music superstardom.
Then in the chorus and the hook, the song goes on to take on more of a generally-inspirational tone. A “flag” is used as a metaphor for the vocalist’s pursuits in life. Thus ‘proudly swinging his flag’ is symbolic of his wherewithal not to be knocked off course in chasing his dreams.
And again, this sentiment is relayed in sort of a general, encouraging type of way. And as far as the title goes, it basically serves as an inquiry which allows him to make said assertion as a response.
Surviving Negative Criticisms
Next the second verse is once again based on this concept of the narrator being a victim of outside criticism. Or looked at alternatively, some people may consider the vocalist (Josh) a fool for pursuing his dreams. But he likewise perceives such individuals as those who have “closed their eyes to the truth”, i.e. not being able to perceive all that life has to offer.
And it is probably the second pre-chorus, which comes a bit later, that best encapsulates the complete sentiments behind “What?”.
Even More Inspiration
Stell put forth that despite taking losses, “blessings will come, much more than what was lost”. Then Justin reasserts a reality expressed in the first pre-chorus, that he’s not going to let these “many tragedies… budge” him. But this time around he also states forthrightly – perhaps the only part of the song where the thesis sentiment is outright expressed – that he “won’t stop until the end”.
And before closing, there is also another part of the song, the bridge, which we should focus on. Here, Justin starts off addressing a hater, which is one of the subthemes of this entire piece.
And what he is telling this individual is that he does not want them trying to instruct him on how to live his life. And again, similar to Josh’s verse, he is not keen to listen to what such people have to say in the first place. For they themselves ‘never learned how to listen’, which all lyrics considered sounds as if it is synonymous with them not possessing any faith whatsoever.
Then Pablo comes in to assert that “wherever the wind”, i.e. spirit, “takes (him)”, he will go proudly. In other words, he knows that he isn’t perfect or anything like that. But at the same time, ‘he’s not going to pretend he’s someone who he isn’t’.
What he may actually mean is that he possesses his own internal fears and shortcomings – the same types which make haters hesitant to chase their own callings and consider others foolish for doing so. But he is not going to allow such to hold him back. Then Ken concludes the bridge by once again repeating the “so many tragedies” line.
So in the end, this song isn’t really anything difficult to understand. In relating it to the vocalists’ personal lives, we can theorize that reaching the level they’re at now wasn’t easy.
That is to say that many people criticized and tried to dissuade SB19 along their path to stardom. But now they’re able to celebrate that having in fact gone through a number of setbacks, as such individuals have predicted, they have still made it nonetheless.
It’s almost like a diss track against haters, though K-pop/P-pop style. And as such in addition to reveling in their own success, the vocalists also encourage others to adopt a similar never-say-die attitude.
Who are SB19?
SB19 is a boy band from the Philippines who fall under a genre called P-pop. And no, the “P” doesn’t stand for Philippines but rather Pinoy pop. This is a brand of Filipino music originating in the last 20th century which experienced a renaissance in the 2010s.
And you may notice that the members of the group by and large possess English or Spanish names as opposed to those native to Southeast Asia.
- Josh (rapper/dancer)
- Justin (rapper/vocalist)
- Ken (rapper/dancer/vocalist)
- Pablo (aka Sejun, vocalist/rapper)
- Stell (vocalist/dancer)
That is because at a time the Philippines was actually colonized by Spain and subsequently the United States.
But all of that being noted, SB19 still traces their professional origins back to South Korea, i.e. K-pop. That is to say that the company that trained them, ShowBT, basically did so in the name of creating a Filipino K-pop group. In fact SB19’s first music video, to their track “Tilaluha” (2018), was actually filmed in Korea.
And while we’re on the subject of videos, it has been noted that the music video to “What?” actually features what is referred to as the Murillo Velarde map. Said document dates back to the early-18th century and is a player in the South China Sea disputes which have very much extended into the 21st century.
That being said, it should be noted that the said political reference would have nothing to do with the success of the video. It’s worth noting again that the video managed to rack up in excess of 1,000,000 views less than 24 hours after it was released. And this resulted in the band trending on both Twitter and YouTube.
More Interesting Facts
Billboard has been compelled to recognize the rise of SB19, as they have established a regular presence on the Billboard Social 50 chart. And the way it looks is that they are the first group from the Philippines to ever establish such a globally-recognized presence, despite boy bands being nothing new in the Pearl of the Orient.
And just to note the Social 50, as its name implies, “ranks the most-popular artists” on a variety of Social Media platforms.
This track made its debut on 9 March 2021. The release of the song was supposed to be highlighted by a Virtual Music Launch event hosted by SB19. However, said event was postponed after the group were exposed to an individual who went on to test positive for COVID-19.
As with other internationally-recognized acts from Southeast Asia, SB19 has their own distinct fandom. And in their case they are referred to as A’Tin.
SB19 has released one album prior to this song coming out. That would 2020’s “Get in the Zone”, which proved especially successful on Billboard’s LyricFind Global chart. Also between 2019 and 2020 they have won a plethora of music awards.
What was written by SB19’s Pablo, aka Sejun, aka John Paulo Nase. And he also produced the track with Joshua Daniel Nase, Jay Durias and Simon Servida.
This song’s music video was directed by Justin de Dios, who also helmed the original version of SB19’s “Hanggang sa Huli” (2020) clip.